The Vacant Crown
It’s always amusing to think how varied a genre like racing can be in the world of gaming, from a simple premise of slapping a bunch of vehicles on a track and competing for first place. Some people like the sim based recreation of their favourite disciplines like Rally Cross or Formula One whereas others prefer it a bit more down and dirty with some Destruction Derby or MotorStorm. There are also those of us who like things to go a bit more sci-fi and one title that always stands out featured antigrav ships racing at insane speed’s while firing all manner of deadly weapons at each other, think Mario Kart meets Star Wars and you might be on the right track.
We are of course talking about the legendary Wipeout. A staple point for the majority of PlayStation consoles in its day but it has been a long time since we have been able to enjoy this classic. But fear not, Pacer (formally known as Formula Fusion) is here to pick up the slack and add a few new tricks to the show along the way. But can this spiritual successor recapture the classic feel of its inspiration, strap in and let’s take a look.
The Future is Bespoke
Pacer has been developed by R8 Games, a studio that features staff who have worked on previous Wipeout titles and although we will aim to focus on what Pacer brings to the table in its own right, there is no avoiding certain comparisons here. As we dived into Pacer we were greeted with a well-paced tutorial that didn’t outstay its welcome and got us to grips with the fundamentals, everything we expected was present and accounted for. Fast-paced racing with an emphasis on momentum and the use of air breaks to take sharp turns smoothly, holding down A powered our vessel with L2 and R2 providing directional breaking or holding down both at once to slam on the heavy breaks.
A choice of five different vehicle models are available each with their own stats to suit your racing style and they all look superb and for this reviewer especially, the customisation was very welcomed. From performance upgrades to tweak top speeds and handling to paint jobs, decals and swanky cosmetic items, we soon had our vessel looking spot on with lavish black paint complimented by skeletal bones around the framework and all topped off with a Halloween pumpkin just for show, hey, if it’s good enough for Alice Cooper!
One core difference here was how the combat worked, those familiar with combat racing whether that be Wipeout or Mario Kart are familiar that items are usually procured on track and used accordingly. Pacer on the other hands opts to grant us a selection of preset or customisable loadouts with a wide range of weapons that are powered by energy capsules collected on track. From offensive favourites like cannons and rockets to crowd control classics like shockwaves and mines, there is something for everyone’s taste.
The Vibrancy of Variety
Each vehicle can be equipped with two weapons and each weapon can receive a series of mods that unlock as you win races. On one hand, this allowed for a more personalised racing experience which was fun to play around with, choosing whether to go in all guns blazing or balance things out with a mix of defence and offence but on the other hand, it took the adaptability out of the races, picking up randomised weapons always kept things fresh and made race strategy somewhat unpredictable, although we didn’t mind the loadouts as there was a lot on offer, this may put some players off.
Unfortunately, all these fancy weapons feel a bit flat due to lack of feedback, locking on and firing a guided missile should provide a satisfying jolt followed by a nice crisp impact but the majority of weapons just tend to fizzle, even when an enemy racer is destroyed the explosion is minimal and just ups and vanished like a fart in the wind taking all the grunt out of what should be some heavy-duty combat.
When not tinkering with load-outs or tarting up our vehicles, we were racing at breakneck speeds around the beautifully designed tracks. Pacer hasn’t gone full flashy future like F-Zero or earlier Wipeouts but instead, the glossy neon-filled tracks intertwine with “modern” architecture giving the presentation a nice balance between old and new and somehow makes the experience feel a bit more grounded. Heading straight into the career we raced through several teams from the lower (slower) leagues up to the big time where things really start to spice up.
Alongside a great selection of tracks and locations, there are several race types to keep everyone entertained including classic races, time trial, endurance, elimination, and flowmentum. These help keep things interesting and with online multiplayer available we can foresee some stiff competitions happening between friends and strangers alike.
A Successful Successor?
The overall presentation is impressive, we can’t say we were blown away by the graphics but they are not bad by any stretch and when we hit the faster tournaments there was little in the way of slow down or stuttering. Where Pacer really shines however is in its sound design. The game features over eighty music tracks that range from fast-paced trance to more synthy electro which is the perfect genre for a game like this. The weapons, although lacking punch when used, all sound fantastic, the sizzle of shockwaves and the heavy drumming of cannons all sound great when mixed with the sounds of zooming anti-grav vehicles.
Pacer is a great experience for those looking to scratch that itch left by Wipeout but we can’t help but feel R8 Games missed a golden opportunity to shake up the formula and add something a bit fresher feeling to the experience. The track selection for example, while they look great and overall are fun to race on, do at times feel a bit cramped with too many tight bottleneck sections, this becomes a bit tedious when you are in first place and just face a barrage of attacks from enemies, with no potential to pick up an extra defensive weapon if your loadout isn’t up to scratch and with no room to manoeuvre you are left solely relying on shield pickups for the rest of the race.
We had a good time with Pacer and although it will feel very familiar to Wipeout fans it is a great addition to the PlayStation library. Though the combat may have less bang than an AEW pay per view ending, the fast-paced racing and great customisation make up for it and all for a friendly price tag of £33.49.