Futuristic sci-fi racers generally fall into one of two categories: F-Zero or WipEout. Pacer, the latest title from genre specialists R8Games, is most definitely the latter. This is a neon soaked metallic world where your anti-grav vehicles dance across the track to uptempo music at ridiculously high speeds. Pacer is not a racing game for simulation purists.
The game begins by suggesting the player runs through the four-stage tutorial. ‘But it’s just a racing game!’ I hear you cry. While that may be true, there’s a lot to Pacer that takes some work to familiarise yourself with. First up is the fact that accelerate is on a face button, opposed to the right trigger. Decades of controllers with multiple shoulder-mounted triggers has taught us that the acceleration should be based on the the depression of said trigger. However, Pacer instead uses this (and the sister left trigger) for airbrakes, allowing you to tighten that turning arc when the races so demand. And they will; many times per track.
Furthermore, the tutorial gives you the basics of the loadout customisation options. The player can equip up to two weapons, each with up to two mods. The weapons are fairly standard for the genre – rockets, mines, shields etc. – but the mods bring a new layer of depth. Are you all about destructive power, or are you too busy holding your driving line so would prefer some guidance assist? The mods revamp familiar weapons and make them more versatile.
This of course, is in addition to the ability to customise your craft. You can buy new components with in-game currency earned through wins and sponsorship. You can then save your creations as bespoke loadouts, switching between each race as the track and course objectives demand.
And those tracks are indeed demanding. Oddly given its name, Pacer seems to have very little respect for the pacing of difficulty. The tracks the player is presented with in the core Career mode jump from basic to huge sweeping corners to twisting, s-bend centric challenges within the first few races. Before the player has even become accustomed to the nuances of airbraking on 45-degree turns they’re being challenged to do it six-or-more times in quick succession. As individual entities the track design is varied and interesting, but as part of a campaign more thought may have been given to their order.
Visually Pacer achieves a very high standard. The vehicles glisten under the sunlight and reflect the neons at night time beautifully. Meanwhile, the track surfaces are varied but not so much as to draw your concentration from the task at hand. The backgrounds – though almost always a blur if you’re playing correctly – steer clear of the eccentricity of SEGA’s efforts in F-Zero’s last home console outing, F-Zero GX on the GameCube. The audio, as would be expected from a WipEout inspired racing game, of an impeccably high quality. Offering more than 80 songs including original tracks by CoLD SToRAGE, Pacer doesn’t shy away from what has become one of the defining characteristics of the genre.
That is really Pacer in a nutshell. It does very well at everything it attempts to do, but those goals were limited from the offset. It’s an enjoyable but formulaic take on the genre, meaning that if you’ve already experienced one of R8Games’ recent titles – such as the hugely popular Redout – you’re not going to find anything that redefines the genre here. Pacer is a great example of a WipEout clone, just like many that have come before it.