Nestled beneath the rain-drenched, trench-coat filled streets of Chicago is the Pond Punk bar; a “secret” area which lacks any proper gameplay significance. The club is hidden in the bowels of a building decorated with a garish red neon sign, the only place in the entire level that appears to have any kind of commercial function. After traipsing down a grotty spiral ramp, lit by the signature glare of the game’s spotlights and enclosed by walls made up of exposed red bricks and slabs of battered concrete, you come to the entrance of the seedy den.
Gaining access to the place can be a hit-and-miss affair. Depending on how quietly you’ve made your approach into the building (the streets are patrolled by a myriad of secret agents, corporate guards and a sentry-bot, after all), there may be a guard standing duty inside a ticket booth by the graffiti-stained entrance. The doors will likely be closed, and so, in substitution for a polite rap of your knuckles on the door, you must unload your weapon as loudly as possible like some kind of suicidal moron, in the hopes of goading out the guards holed up within, opening up the entryway in the process.
Assuming you succeed in this task, likely murdering a great many people along the way, you can feast your eyes upon the inside of the club. Unfortunately, you’ll probably find yourself left quite hungry – the club itself is pretty sparse in terms of props and interior design. It’s not particularly impressive nowadays, but back then, in an era of levels that were more content to be abstract constructions than any kind of real-life analogue, it was refreshing to see an environment that attempted to emulate a public place, no matter how poorly.
There’s an airless atmosphere to the place – wood-panelled walls surround an open floor filled with empty space, couches sit tucked into the corners. The bar is completely silent after the guards have been cleared out of it, save for the dreary warble of the level’s music and the sound of the thunderstorm on the streets above. Empty chairs lie perfectly arranged around a long stretch of desk, featuring what appears to be a stripping pole. The lack of life eventually becomes somewhat unsettling and surreal, the place feeling like the forgotten shade of an actual location. Uniformly dim lighting blankets the entirety of the area, with the exception of the restrooms, which are harshly lit by a single white lightbulb. Inside the angular shadow of one of the bathroom stalls is a toilet containing a blocky slice of cheese – a functionless Easter Egg that is found hidden in every level of the game. It doesn’t have any true reason to be in the game, and yet it’s one of the most iconic and fondly remembered aspects of the title.
In that respect, the Pond Punk club isn’t overly dissimilar to the block of cheese – it might not have any purpose, but it still remains in my mind as one of the most memorable corners of the Perfect Dark universe.