Due to the nature of Psygnosis' relationship with Sony, it was a stroke of sheer loophole-luck that WipeOut ever wound up on the Sega Saturn. Since there is little chance of that happening on Dreamcast, other publishers have scrambled to fill that void. MagForce Racing was one wretched attempt, and more successfully, Ubi Soft arrives with pod: SpeedZone. First the good news. SpeedZone provides numerous "pods" to race with, with more unlockable, ditto for the tracks. Each track contains a Beetle Adventure Racing-ish (read: tons) amount of shortcuts and secret paths. The better for racing, my dear, as well as swank Internet-play that allows up to four racers to square off against each other online. There is also a good number of weapons to derail your opponents with, a welcome factor since each pod has a damage meter, meaning you can permanently remove the opposition. On the downside, the pod designs are generally unsightly, blobbish disasters. The tracks could also use improvement. Ill-conceived obstacles and course diversions sap the flow of the races. But control is perhaps the biggest weak point as your car feels way too heavy to provide any sense of feedback. Instead, you careen into walls at sharp turns. The turbo boost never quite earns its keep either. Speedzone certainly provides ample value. Pity the gameplay doesn't follow suit.
To be successful, a racing game needs a sense of excitement. Whether it's created by really high speeds, flashy graphics, tough competition or the anticipation of having a missile shoved up your tailpipe, something needs to make your palms sweat. This game has none of that. The vehicles are weird, the power-ups suck, the tracks are boring and the music is plain bad. It feels like an old PC game (for good reason). Even decent online play isn't enough to save pod from mediocrity. This may have been a fine game were it released in September '99, but with titles like Le Mans and Ubi's own Speed Devils out there, pod is best left alone.
For some strange reason I kept getting Crash and Burn flashbacks while playing pod. and that's not a good sign. Perhaps the cars' sluggish feel had something to do with it, or the way they don't even really seem connected to the track, I don't know. It doesn't help that the power-ups are kind of poor, and the tracks seem way too long and uninspired at times. In fact, if it wasn't for its Internet play, I wouldn't have played pod for half the time I actually did This saving grace does get tiring after a while though (once you're in first it's too easy to stay there), so racing fans should just rent, and save their cash for Speed Devils for online thrills.