Pacer is a fast-paced racing game that’s more than a little reminiscent of the Wipeout series. However, it’s not just a re-skinned version of the classic game, and brings many of its own quirks and mechanics with it. It’s certainly not an original concept, and at first glance you might be forgiven for mistaking it for simply being a remaster of Wipeout, but the more you play it, the more you recognise the differences in the two games, and the more you really appreciate what Pacer brings to the table. R8 Games, the indie developer behind Pacer, have certainly brought the goods with this, their flagship game.
The first thing I noticed when I loaded the game is that you’re met with multiple language options, a rarity for many indie games, and a great way of making the game more accessible to gamers. The sound effects when you make a selection are also really cool, and in keeping with the genre; that futuristic ‘zwump’ sound that just triggers all the nostalgia.
The designs on the loading screens are super fun, either showcasing the vehicles, or the tracks that you’re about to enter. One thing that I did notice when playing Pacer is that often the loading screens are silent, and I feel like they could benefit by implementing music so as to build the hype for the actual race. Even during the loading screens that do contain music, it’s often not the right tempo to really be able to make you feel excited for the race, and I encountered the same issue on the selection screens. The music just doesn’t seem to fit the game genre, which is somewhat disappointing, and I’d love to see them amend this in a future patch.
It has been a while since I’d played a racing game, and so I was grateful that Pacer offered a training section to teach you the basics when you started the game for the first time, and I’m sure many hardcore gamers will appreciate the fact that this training is optional. That way, it’s perfect for those gamers like me who like to get to grips with the controls before diving straight into the main game, but it also suits the more cavalier gamers who like to learn as they play.
The training was pretty all-encompassing, and had you complete several sections to focus on different aspects of the game. The first training session was to help you grasp the basics of racing, and taught you things like how to brake, and was just an opportunity to get used to the game physics. I did notice that Pacer didn’t explain all of the controls, and I had to guess some of them, but thankfully most of them were intuitive (although I did accidentally change the camera angle at one point, and it took me longer than I care to admit before I realised that I just needed to press Triangle to change it back).
The other sections taught you useful skills such as how to use weapons, and gave you some experience with the different types of races there are throughout the Career mode of the game.
Pacer contains a whole range of race types as well as the standard ‘try to be the first past the finish line’ that is often the only goal in a racing game. Other race types include Elimination, Endurance, Flowmentum, and Storm. Essentially, you’re not always just doing a regular race, and sometimes you have to win by alternative methods such as getting the most kills, or not being last at certain time intervals. These unique game types offer a sense of variety that keeps Pacer interesting.
The actual racing itself is high-paced and intense, exactly like Wipeout used to be, but with enhanced graphics that really bring the game alive. You reach momentous top speeds, and the acceleration is incredible. The handling is a bit tricky to get used to, so it does take a while to get the hang of how to drive, but once you start to really learn the way your vehicle moves, Pacer gets a lot more exciting and immersive. It’s the kind of game that I wish I could play in VR, because I bet that would be a phenomenal experience.
Similarly to Wipeout, this game offers the opportunity to use weapons, however, whereas in Wipeout you would pick up the different weapons on the track, Pacer takes a different approach. Weapons are selected via custom loadouts in the Garage (a selection screen where you can modify your vehicle), and then power-ups are available on the track which provide ammo for whichever weapon you’ve chosen.
Some of the weapons are actively offensive, some are defensive, and others are intended as a disruption to other racers. You can select up to two weapons to equip your car with, and so deciding on a balanced combination is a tricky task that requires plenty of forethought. One of my favourite weapons is Tether, because it serves a dual purpose. Tether saps away from your opponent’s shield and adds to your own, simultaneously providing offensive and defensive benefit. Another useful weapon is the Gauss Cannon, because it fires a series of shots against your opponent, which not only cause a small amount of damage to their vehicle but also slightly blur their screen and can cause them to crash.
You can create multiple loadouts, and you can even purchase boosts for different weapons (more on that later). This means that you can select the perfect combination for a particular track or race type. In regular races you might favour a balanced approach to ensure you don’t take too much damage that it causes you to lose a position, whereas if your goal is to get the most kills, then you might consider going for two offensive weapons.
As well as choosing weapon combinations, Pacer also lets you create various performance loadouts. These are vehicle modifications that change your stats, and may increase your abilities in certain areas. Some upgrades will provide a small boost to one or two areas of your stats, while others will lower one stat in favour of a larger boost to a different one.
Finding the right stat combination for your driving style is crucial, and can make a huge difference when it comes to the races. For example, I’m one of those people who rarely brakes in a game like this, as I feel the time lost decelerating is worse than a potential small crash if I don’t quite make the corner. So when I pick my loadouts, I trade braking ability for handling, as being able to take a corner harshly is a lot more valuable to me than being able to brake in good time.
The track you’re racing on also makes a big difference in choosing your performance stats, and so it’s good to create several loadouts so that you’re prepared for a range of tracks. Pacer does come with some premade ones with different focuses, but it’s better to create something personal to your style.
Pacer has a credits system that allows you to earn when you race. Credits are the in-game currency, and you earn them every time you race. The amount you get from a single race depends on a number of factors. You get a higher amount of credits for placing near the top of the leader board in a race, no surprises there. However, you can also earn a tidy sum of credits by overtaking several times throughout a race. This tends to happen more frequently than you’d imagine, as Pacer is so fast and volatile that your race position will change regularly. Killing other players with your weapons is also a way to earn credits, and so being aggressive on the track can be a great way to afford upgrades.
Once you have your credits, these can be used to unlock a variety of upgrades. Firstly, you can unlock modifications for your weapons (all base weapons are available as standard) to improve their usefulness. Otherwise, you can buy vehicle modifications to vary your vehicle’s stats. You also have the opportunity to buy cosmetic upgrades to change your vehicle’s appearance. Ultimately, the game offers a decent variety of customisation, and I like that it’s not all immediately available. I always find it very rewarding to earn my upgrades, and the credit system is a great way to keep people playing.
Pacer offers an impressive 14 different tracks, double the amount that Wipeout had back in the day. These tracks all provide a very different racing experience, and will test your skills as a racer. You’ll need to be incredibly versatile as a racer to do well in all of them, and I found some tracks significantly more difficult than others.
One of my favourites is called Midtown Trafik, and I loved it because it had a great mix of straights and corners, with very few of them being so tight that I needed to slow down. It meant I could really drive and focus on the pure joy of moving at such a fast speed. It also has a decent mix of shield, weapon, and speed boost power-ups, which are scattered throughout the track.
Other tracks play with gravity, and have you driving at different angles including sideways and almost upside down, a decidedly odd experience. Those tracks certainly take a while to get used to, but can be really exciting once you get the hang of them.
The mix of tracks is fantastic, however they could benefit from having a mini map to show the layout. As it is, you have to memorise the track layout to avoid crashing, as you go at such fast speeds that you can’t really prepare for corners, so you might need to do a track several times before you master the turning. This is another thing that I’d love to see in a patch, so that you can be aware of which corners are coming.
Overall, I was pretty impressed with Pacer. The graphics were gorgeous, and surprisingly detailed considering that it’s an indie game. They could have gotten away with just making nice looking cars and tracks, but they also chose to create stunning backdrops for the tracks, which really makes the game feel that much more complete.
The gameplay is exciting, and when you’re racing you really become fully immersed in what you’re doing. I like that you have the option for first person or third person view, and it’s fun to toggle between them. There are several different vehicle designs, and when you combine that with the cosmetics, the possibilities are endless. The performance and weapon upgrades really let you create your own racing experience, a must for a game like this. My only real criticism is the music on the selection screens, which isn’t really that serious of a gripe. The sound effects are brilliant, and hugely improve the experience.
All in all, I’d say that at £32.99, Pacer is a little pricey for what it is, however it’s definitely worth picking up if you see it on sale.
Summary: PACER is high-octane anti-gravity racing at its most destructive. Customise your craft and weapons then engage in the campaign, a single-player race or compete against your rivals in explosive online multiplayer for the ultimate combat racing experience.
Platforms: PlayStation 4(Review Version), Xbox One, PC
Developers: R8 Games Limited
Publishers: R8 Games Limited
Initial release date: 29 October 2020
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