R8’s Pacer is finally here, giving fans of games like WipEout something to get excited about after more than a decade without a proper new console title in the Sony series.
Pacer’s own journey towards this release wasn’t without a few bumps in the road either. The game was originally released as Formula Fusion after being kickstarted way back at the start of 2015, but that game was pulled from Steam after a while and subsequently dubbed Pacer – now a multiplatform release. In recent months the game’s release was pushed back a few more times as well, including a few last minute delays – but at least I can say the wait has mostly been well worth it.
Obviously, Pacer draws a lot of inspiration from WipEout, and the team at R8 even has a few people on board who originally worked on that franchise as well. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a WipEout game though (not counting the Omega Collection), and Pacer manages to add a few touches of its own to the formula – which on the surface is still a futuristic anti-gravity racing game.
We’ll start with the familiar though, and that’s the fact that you’re airborne and newcomers will no doubt bump their way through their first few laps, running into every wall they can find. As you get more comfortable, you’ll start to properly sail through corners as you apply the air-brake at exactly the right time, and the game’s responsive controls make for a great learning curve – in most cases, you’ll see players improve their lap times even within their first race.
How your racer handles isn’t just down to your skill at handling the throttle and the air brakes, but is also affected by your vehicle’s stats, which in turn are influenced by the loadout you select. You can emphasize speed, or push for more firepower in order to blast faster opponents off the track. There’s also a fair amount of cosmetic stuff to use, and more upgrades become available as you start spending the credits you earn from your wins. Selecting the right loadout for the next event might involve knowing your own driving style, but can also depend on your ability to pick the right loadout for the track that’s coming – which may or may not suit your current skill level.
As with similar games, Pacer features four different speed classes to race in, offering different levels of challenge. There are 14 tracks to race on, but each and every one of them also has mirrored and reversed modes, as well as an ability to drive the track by night. There’s also a good amount of game modes available, including a slightly disappointing campaign mode that is not much more than a sequence of races with a few menu screens tucked in between. The core racing experience is where it’s at, and the additional modes like elimination and endurance are solid extras, with Flowmentum (accelerate through gates until you crash) and Storm (kind of a battle royale mode) mostly feeling like nice diversions.
Online multiplayer is included, and with support for up to 10 players, online leaderboards and the ability to engage with others in any of Pacer’s game modes. It’s very well done and will certainly add to the game’s lasting appeal, but I wish that local multiplayer (which was part of the kickstarter promises for the original Formula Fusion) had gotten the same kind of love. While games like Grip featured four player split screen action in its take on futuristic racing (which later also included hover cars), the emphasis in Pacer is firmly on the online multiplayer portion. While that part works great, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Having said that, the actual racing is absolutely great, both in single and online multiplayer modes. If you’ve been lamenting Sony for not rebooting their WipEout series, then Pacer is what you want to treat yourself to. It plays and looks great while in-game, and I only wish there was more to its campaign mode and had support for local multiplayer. Now excuse me as I try to work my way up the leaderboards again.