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PACER review: Is this the Wipeout successor we need?

Pacer review

The Background

It’s been quite a while since the last Wipeout (or wipEout if you want to be stylised) was released. Sure, we got the “Omega Collection” in 2017 but that was just a remaster of Wipeout 2048 and Wipeout HD. All things considered, we’re overdue some new futuristic anti-gravity racing.

PACER first came into existence as “Formula FUSION” following a Kickstarter from R8 Games. You probably hadn’t heard of them before today and that’s because PACER is its very first game as an independent developer. That doesn’t mean they don’t come with some significant pedigree though – a number of the team come from Psygnosis including Studio Head Andrew Walker, who won a BAFTA for Wipeout 3. There was also a contribution from The Designers Republic, the team that designed visual assets and marketing for the first three Wipeout games.

The Kickstarter was launched in April 2015 and raised just £79,000. Not a huge amount of money to create a whole game on. To be honest, at that point the game looked a bit… ropey.

Pacer on PS4

Despite all the challenges of raising money and creating a viable product, the game launched as an early-access title by August 2015 to mixed reviews. Since then, it’s undergone a lot of redesign and development work before ultimately being rebranded “PACER” ahead of a relaunch in October 2020 on PC and PlayStation – over five years after the initial release.

The Xbox version finally releases today, 9th March 2021. With that in mind, we thought it would be a great idea to jump back in and see what PACER looks like in 2021 and whether its a great buy regardless of what machine you’re playing on.

LOADING…

From the moment you get into a race on PACER, the Wipeout vibes are all around you. Vehicles are similarly styled, the tracks look futuristic and you’re listening to some funky beats from CoLD SToRAGE, who’s work you might recognise from Wipeout as well.

The game looks visually stunning. It’s created in Unreal Engine 4, with some custom tweaks of course. It’s a world that is rich in colour and style. The courses zoom up and down through a variety of different environments – from cities to jungles and more. Whilst it’s nice to see all this visual work, once you’re racing at 500kph, it’s easy to forget about the scenery and focus more on your opponents. That and just trying to avoid the walls!

Very pretty, if not a little dystopian.

Initially, you can take some training to get up and running. You work through the controls and the game limits the functionality of some tactics, including weapons, whilst you find your feet.

Although nearly identical to the Wipeout games, the control scheme takes some getting used to, particularly if you’re used to using trigger buttons to accelerate and brake. In PACER, the triggers are for the air brakes and you’ll be using the classic X/A buttons to accelerate. Firing your weapons with the shoulder buttons can be a little tricky as well. You can of course reassign these buttons to your preferences in the menus.

Once you do get hang of the controls, it’s pretty satisfying to go flying through the beautifully designed landscapes at full-speed while hitting all of the boosts perfectly.

Firing weapons is a tactical affair. You can customise and choose between different load-outs before the race for different tactics. Some weapons hit every opponent, some others are targeted and you’ll also be able to choose the lay some defensive mines to hit those behind you. The choice is yours and it makes for some varied gameplay.

Career

Once you’ve started getting into the real racing, post tutorials, you’re first placed in the F3000 series – no, not that motorsport series that was incredibly popular in the 80s and 90s. The F3000 is PACER’s slowest series and serves as a good starting point.

Without trying to blow my own trumpet, after the first race, it got pretty easy reasonably quickly. I was mostly able to lead after the first lap and if that was the case, there wasn’t anything that was going to stop me from pulling out a gigantic lead once you get used to where the boost pads are. There’s no way of tuning the AI either, so you’ll just have to progress through the ranks to faster vehicles.

Following your F3000 successes, you’ll be able to sign up with a team. I signed with Garuda for no other reason than its colour scheme was pretty close to a classic Force India F1 car.

Pacer, Frenetic action
Get ready for some frenetic action

The challenges and different game modes were pretty fun. The elimination race style was great, and the challenge to run the vehicle for as long as possible with a depleting shield store was also enjoyable.

My main criticism is that there should be a bit more story. You have to read what each challenge is, which isn’t completely torturous but it doesn’t feel like the grind of the career mode is connected. It would be a great improvement if there was a storyline that helped you become more connected to the different teams and pilots.

Customisation

Throughout your racing, you’ll be earning credits. These can be used on a fairly rudimentary customisation programme through the “Garage” on the main menu.

You can buy additional wings, unlock colours, change your exhaust trail and do… not much else. That said, it’s quite a nice feature if you’re the kind of person that likes unlocking things or making your vehicle look the way you like. It’s just a shame there isn’t a full paint booth.

Multiplayer

One big shame is that it’s a struggle to extensively cover the online multiplayer in this post-release lull. Which is kicking the developers when they’re down, in a way. There simply isn’t enough of an audience for sustained online play at present. Also perhaps there’s not enough of a ranking system or XP payout incentive to try it either.

Unfortunately, on PC, the number of people playing is tragically low. Source: Steam Charts.

At the moment, on PC and PS4 at least, there is a very limited number of players online. Visiting the server list often led to a blank list and the word ‘searching…’ pulsating on a loop.

Perhaps for Xbox users on launch day, there will be more people to play with, but we think that a lack of new content or modes has stifled the online community – for now.

Pacer server list

Conclusion

PACER is a very beautiful anti-gravity racer that deserves to be named a spiritual successor to Wipeout.

It is a fast-paced thrilling ride that offers a lot of fun throughout. The lack of resources doesn’t seem to have hindered development significantly but perhaps a more seasoned publisher would have been able to convert more sales for this game. Fingers crossed that more players pick up what is an excellent game. It would be great to see more people playing online in particular.

The Traxion.GG Review Verdict: Wishlist
Developer R8 Games
Release date 6th November 2020 
Available platforms PC (Steam) and PS4
Xbox One as of 9th March 2021
PS5 and Xbox Series X via backwards compatibility
Version/s tested PC and PS4
Best played with Controller

Full disclosure: We bought copies of this game for the purposes of review. Here is our review policy.

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