May 19, 2022

Pacer First Impressions; R8’s Lovesong to a Forgotten Genre


This week we’re taking a look at Pacer. Full disclaimer, this is an early access copy that R8 games have lovingly provided. The copy we have features a somewhat sparse selection of maps although promises more on full release, which is penciled for October 29th. There’s both a single player with a host of varying modes which we will get to, and a multiplayer option for the more competitively minded. It comes ready stocked with all 5, fully customisable craft variants, and what is in my opinion, an absolutely stellar sound track.

It’s a Competition Wipeout

It immediately transports me to those halcyon days of F-Zero on the N64, and later the now disenfranchised Wipeout series on PlayStation. To be honest, this game is Wipeout in all but name. Originally Formula Fusion, Pacer came into being way back in 2015 as the result of a successful Kickstarter project, unashamedly labelling itself as a spiritual successor to Wipeout. And no doubt, with a host of the early R8 staff themselves having worked directly on Wipeout 3 in 1999. In fact, Pacer’s founder, Andrew Walker was even part of the team that were awarded a BAFTA for its design on that very game. But it doesn’t end there.

Above: F-Zero GX. Consider your 1990’s hover-racer itched well and truly scratched

The music is the perfect fit for a high octane, futuristic racer, marrying eye-watering speed with rare beats, themselves pushing 3 digit BPMs. Liquid drum and base melts into sublime, ethereal EDM, designed perfectly to accentuate the visual onslaught to your adrenalin. Frankly, it doesn’t miss a beat. And that’s to be expected because, surprise surprise, composer Tim Wright, aka CoLD SToRAGE provided the score for the original Wipeout series.

So if you’re longing for the next Wipeout, or even wondering what happened to F-Zero then this game is without a doubt something you need to check out. Pacer glides perfectly into that void, and it does so with all the graphical panache you’d expect in 2020. I mean, just look at it, it’s beautiful. The neon-future-scape glides by seamlessly at 100fps, with absolutely no screen tear or other graphical faux pas you might expect cruising jaw-dropping 1000km per hour. American’s take note, this game doesn’t use old money measurements. For ease of conversion that’s about combined the speed of 97 hungry trash pandas.

The Obsidian Skies of Tomorrow

Speaking of how it looks, the courses and surrounding vistas are something you’d expect in Cyberpunk, the vehicles themselves gliding gracefully with enough RGB to make even Superman salivate.

Why is there so much neon in the future? Maybe I should open a shop #futureproofing

But then again, it’s not exactly ground-breaking. I say you wouldn’t be surprised to see it in Cyberpunk because, well, neon-clad cityscapes silhouetting obsidian skies are fairly generic picture of the future that could be imagined into any ultramodern urban landscape. It does tend to get a bit samey, and let’s be honest, when you’re cornering at 14 gs there’s not a lot of time to take in the view.

“Must go faster….must go faster!”

Let’s not beat around the bush, this is a game about speed. Visceral acceleration with at eye-watering velocity; this game has one, clear purpose. It wants to make you feel like you’re going faster than you ever have done before. It wants to make every hair on your body stand hairs stand on end, quivering at this unnatural speed known formerly by only the gods themselves. And I have to say, it does exactly that.

Of course, idiot that I am I jumped straight into the fastest possible speed category and, well, it wasn’t pretty. You’re welcome to check this out in the video linked below, though my ego would prefer you didn’t.

Going extremely fast and walls are not the best of friends

Tail between legs I returned to play the game as intended. There are 5 different leagues, culminating in “Ultra”where the very fastest speeds are achieved. Each of the tracks are utilised, in either day or night, forwards or mirrored. There are 5 different race modes, including Quick Race, Time Trial, Speed Lap, Destruction Elimination, Endurance and Flowmentum. This last entry an interesting addition that sees your pace quicken for every gate your successfully steer your craft though. Qualify in enough individual events at a particular speed and you’ll unlock the final grand-prix. Place in that and you’re free to repeat all the way up to Elite.

Slowly but surely you start edging up the ranks, with your speed following suit. You begin to get a feel for your machine, air-braking round corners like Lewis Hamilton’s great, great grandson. And fuck me, does it feel good. You can sense your heart-rate inching up, your eyes widen, hairs stand on end and yeah, it feels damn satisfying to fly around these undulating tracks in pole position, as buildings and lighting blur into a streaking haze of colour, rainbow stripes of neon registering briefly on your peripheral vision as you battle to keep control of your vessel. It is truly a rush, and on this point Pacer hits the nail firmly on the head.

Where we’re going, we won’t need…a story

There’s no story as such with Pacer, which is not something anyone really expected with a game of this size, in this very specific genre. But Pacer introduces another element to the mix, taking things beyond the hover-racers of old. Your car can be kitted out with an array of weapons, both offensive and tactical. Gatlin guns, and rocket launches can take the competition out of the race entirely, whilst stealth cloaks, or mines can afford a tactical edge to the race. Some game modes, like Destruction or Elimination make this a central feature, encouraging a more aggressive approach to play. Alternatively, you can kit your craft out to tank the blows and simply put your foot down.

The craft in Pacer look themselves weapons, neon bullets fired from an invisible gun

Whilst this is certainly an interesting spin on the game, taking it less Gran Turismo, more Mario Kart, most of the time I found it to be a distraction, particularly racing AI. If you’re good enough at the core mechanics of racing, then you can pretty much avoid using weapons completely. Most races I finished first, first time around, with only sporadic occasions requiring multiple attempts. It’s true that the challenge increases as you work your way up the ranks, but it’s not a particularly sharp curve and given the right upgrades you can sail through the core game in 5-6 hours, no sweat. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast doing it, but if you are looking for a really challenging racer, then maybe look somewhere else.

The Burden of Choice

A word on the upgrades, too. From the get go all upgrades are available to purchase from the garage. This might change in the release proper, but for the beta the only thing standing in your way from beasting out your ride is earning sufficient in game credits to do so. The trouble here, and this is a personal gripe, is that with so much choice on offer it’s easy to slap on an enhanced engine that, say, increases your handling before you really get a feel for how the car handles without it.

Increase those choices to breaking, acceleration, top speed and anti-gravity and its hard to know what exactly is causing your car to handle a certain way. Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer being drip fed upgrades. Need for Speed Underground did this well, with certain engine upgrades locked behind progression walls. This presents the player an obvious upgrade to how the car previously handled, giving them a chance to familiarise themselves with the performance alterations rather overloading them with choice. But hey, as I said at the start it’s just my opinion. I’m sure this is something enthusiasts will love, and it certainly does make customisation more in depth. Just not something I’m that into.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, I really enjoyed the time I got with Pacer. This is unquestionably fun and exciting game to play. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think was the intention of R8 Games. That and producing the definitive successor to the Wipeout series. But as I said at the beginning, this game really is Wipeout, in all but name. And it’s here that I could level some critics. Looking to play Wipeout in 100fps in glorious 4k? Then look no further. But if you’re looking for something that goes beyond that admittedly beloved formula then you might be a little disappointed.

If imitation is the highest form of praise, then this is the ultimate love letter to a franchise all but forgotten at Sony HQ. Pacer is at least as good as any remaster of the classic series at current gen standard you’re likely to get, and maybe that’s enough. And for a start-up developer with just £79k, this truly is fan-service if the highest calibre.

Pacer really is a spectacular game. Hol’ up a sec that’s Wipeout Omega…

You could be inclined to argue that at close to £30 on sale, it’s a bit pricey for the total content available. Those looking to purchase at that price point would do well to consider how much they will utilise multiplayer which is where replayability will no doubt come into it’s own. But price considered, this still gets a big thumbs up from us, and a well earned stamp of approval. A recommended purchase for most, but an absolute necessity for any lovers of the all but forgotten hover-racer genre.

But this was just my first impressions, and represents my opinions. But what do you think? We’re you a fan of the inspirational Wipeout series, and if so, do you think this is gonna scratch that itch? Or maybe you’re new to the genre and Pacer looks like something you’d pick up? Either way it’s out on the 29th of October, so let us know you thoughts below.

YouTube player

Pacer release on Steam on the 29th of October. It is currently on sale with 15% off, available for purchase for £29.74.

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