Arcade racers used to be my jam. I grew up on the high-speed raceways in games such as Wipeout and F-Zero, being both frustrated and inspired by the challenges they brought. The difficulty of these games has always been high, with one mistake often leading to an unassailable mountain to climb to reach first place. Now we have a new high-speed futuristic racer on our hands, Pacer.
Pacer aims to capture the intensity of previous anti-gravity racers by instilling a great challenge in a racing game that has a tremendous sense of speed and powerful weapons to attack with. The question is, has developer R8 Games Limited managed to pull this off?
In Pacer, everything you do will be managed through the garage. This garage is where you have the options to create and name different loadouts that are optimised for various situations. There are various different things you can equip to your craft that can benefit you in many ways. These upgrades are in two categories: Performance and Weapons.
Performance-based upgrades alter your ship’s capabilities. You can tune it to have better acceleration, a higher top speed, more agility and better braking.
Weapons upgrades are also self-explanatory, as in Pacer it’s a case of being not only the fastest but also the deadliest.
Looking to go on the offensive? Equip some lock-on rockets. Looking to play a bit more defensive? Equip something that knocks other racers away from you. There’s so much variety that you can have hundreds of possible combinations across your performance and weapons loadouts.
There’s a ton of options and it pays to create lots of different loadouts as what works in one race will not necessarily work for another. You have to be as adaptable as your loadout and that’s one reason that makes the game a great challenge to overcome. This makes the game so much more challenging but also adds a lot of replayability to the game as you will have to try out different loadouts for different events and tracks. Finding your best loadout is really fun as you can choose your favourites and use them across the various game modes and even online.
Where this garage loadout mechanic becomes troublesome is in how it’s unlocked. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as choosing the upgrades and just equipping them, they each have to be purchased with the in-game credits. There are lots of upgrades and each one costs a minimum of 600 credits, which is probably 5 races worth. This means you’re in for a bit of a grind just to simply unlock the upgrades, that’s before you then begin trying to find out which ones will serve you best for each race.
What this means is that progressing through the game won’t be as simple as just jumping into each race and winning, unless you’re amazing at the game. Instead, you are likely to be replaying events over and over to improve your times and skills whilst also trying to get enough credits to buy the upgrade you might need. This can make the progression feel a little too slow, as you can be stuck on a particular event for a while which can get a bit disheartening, especially as there are no difficulty settings.
So, how exactly does Pacer feel to play? Well, imagine a super high-speed futuristic Mario Kart and you’re pretty much there. The sense of speed in this game is astounding, especially in the Elite class of ships. It borders on insanity, requiring fast reflexes and hand-eye coordination to master that class, but my word does it feel amazing when you get it right.
You have a few methods of controlling your ship that you must learn to fully understand how to manoeuvre the ship the way you plan to. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be as simple as push left and push right if you want to ‘git gud’. Instead, you must learn to pitch up and down correctly, boost efficiency, and make use of the airbrakes to veer your ship either direction around corners. Get all of these right – and they will take some practice – and you will feel like a cyberpunk Colin McRae. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it just clicks and you’ll feel like you’re gliding over water, performing satisfyingly smooth turns and super clean boosts. It feels absolutely fantastic and more than rivals Wipeout for that satisfying learning curve.
The campaign is pretty bog standard, you race for different teams to build up their ranks and progress through numerous stages across the 14 tracks and each of their 8 variations. The campaign in a racing game really isn’t the be-all and end-all of the experience and Pacer certainly follows that mantra. That being said, it would have been cool if there was some sort of story to make it feel more unique than simply just playing certain races in a specific order. It’s not necessarily a negative to the game but it could have been an extra positive with just a bit more of the background in the world of Pacer.
Alongside the campaign, there are lots of modes to play on Pacer which really helps mix things up when you’re stuck on a particular race. You can jump into either mode, each providing different challenges and things to master if you want to be the best anti-gravity racer around. I’m not going to go into each one in detail instead, I’ll list them and name my two favourites. So, we have 8 modes, these are Elimination (don’t be last), Endurance (survive for the longest whilst taking passive damage), Storm (a battle royale mode where you must stay away from the edge of the storm), Time Trial (best time possible), Quick Race (no bells/whistles, just race), Speed Lap (Fastest lap wins), Destruction (First to destroy a number of enemies), and the very unique Flowmentum (get faster every lap).
Without a doubt, my favourites are Elimination and Flowmentum. Elimination is by no means a new mode in racing games, whereby the person in last place, at specific times, is eliminated until only one remains – but it’s never felt quite this brutal and intense. The high-octane speeds and the incredibly diverse weapons mean that one mistake or one well-timed attack can be the difference between elimination or pacing through the pack. It is definitely a mode that gets the heart pumping which is perfect for a game like this.
My other favourite mode is Flowmentum, which is definitely something new to the genre as far as I’m aware. Essentially, you need to travel as far as you can on one health bar, with each lap increasing the speed of your ship. You’ll need to manage your shields and your health bar by avoiding collisions with the wall while still trying to go as fast as you can. It’s a really interesting mode that is useful for training you on courses without the nuisance of enemies ramming you or the pressure of a clock in a time trial.
Despite the above being my favourites, it’s not to say the other modes are bad at all, I just prefer those personally. The fact that there are so many options is testament to the dedication of the team at R8 Games Limited to provide a full experience with a lot of replayability. There’s always something to do, so if you’ve been struggling with a specific race in the campaign then you can recreate it in quickplay and practice so you can get better. Of course, as I previously mentioned though, you will need to play a lot if you’re going to unlock all the upgrades needed to get your ship in top shape, which will either make you satisfied with the prolonged gameplay or left feeling annoying and frustrated – depending on how much you enjoy the game.
There’s also the ability to play the game online. I’ve only managed to play a handful of games but damn, some of the racers I played against are good! I’ve been second once and nowhere near since. Pacer runs fine once you’re within a race, with no obvious lag or online issues, and it’s an exciting feeling pitting yourself against other players in the world. You can also opt to race against friends rather than strangers if you wish.
Feel The Speed
If you’re anything like me, when you’re playing a racing game you like to play some pulsing music to add to that sensation of speed. Nothing beats going at hundreds of MPH with Dragonforce playing at the speed to match. Thankfully, Pacer has a thumping soundtrack of its own. The mastermind behind the music on Wipeout, CoLD SToRAGE, has again taken the reigns to provide the backdrop to the super-fast racing in Pacer. His music took Wipeout to new heights and is doing the same here for Pacer by using fast electronic beats that accompany your every drift, rocket fire and collision. It all adds to the futuristic feel and makes the experience massively.
Pacer is definitely a match for Wipeout in so many ways. The gameplay is fantastic and the sense of motion you get from the smooth anti-gravity racing feels very satisfying. The customisation options allow you to personalise your ships and create loadouts which are both the best and worst part of the game for me. I love the option to design the ship I want and being able to chop and change on the fly, but locking out all the upgrades makes the game too much of a grind for me. If you’re a fan of other high-speed racers I genuinely can’t recommend this enough. There’s enough content to keep you going for ages and it definitely lives up to the inspiration of Wipeout. If I had to call a winner, it’d be a photo finish, so just play both of them if you can.
As of today (17th November 2020), the Xbox One version is still listed as ‘coming soon’. I’m not sure when it’s going to release but I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long!