Archives by Day

July 2019


Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Developer: R8 Games
Release Date: 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Pacer'

by Thomas Wilde on June 17, 2019 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Pacer is a pulse-raising future generation anti-gravity racer that mixes high octane speed with fully-customizable craft, allowing players to tweak until they’ve outfitted the perfect winning killing machine to complement their skills.

According to Steve Iles, the senior producer at R8 Games, the natural point of comparison for Pacer depends on the audience he's presenting it to. Whenever he shows it to European crowds, they compare it to Wipeout, Sony's long-fallow racing series. In North America, however, where Wipeout was never quite as popular, people usually bring up F-Zero.

Either way, Pacer is a deliberate attempt to jump into a gap in the market that the developers at R8 believe to have been created by the current unaccountable lack of anti-gravity combat racing games. They were all over the place in the '90s — I guess because it was easier back then to go full science fiction? — but have been supplanted since then by kart racers and super-realistic simulators.

In Pacer, set in a sort of low-key dystopian 2075, you can select one of 10 different teams and five different anti-gravity racing craft, and then take them on high-speed life-or-death competitions around 14 different tracks. Each of those tracks features four different versions — day, nighttime, mirrored, and reversed — with gaps, hairpin turns, ramps, and physically impossible stunts available throughout the race. The craft never actually touch the ground, and the tracks curve, spin and weave in ways that cheerfully thumb their nose at physics as we currently understand them.

As Pacer is a combat racer, each craft also comes with a full assortment of customizable weapons. The projectiles all have homing ability by default, since at the speeds you operate at in this game, any missile without homing capability is effectively worthless. You can customize each weapon with up to two behaviors, such as burst fire or launching in a spread, with options like simple rockets, an electromagnetic shockwave that hits everything in front of you, or a special tether that drains the power and shields out of its target.

Further upgrades can be unlocked gradually across the course of play by earning tech credits, which can be exchanged for special cards that represent new equipment. Notably, Pacer features a fairly simple upgrade path; you unlock new things mostly by just playing the game, as was the case in olden times. Each of the in-game teams has a single-player campaign, which explores the background and stories of each one, and upon completion unlocks a unique paint job for your craft.

Pacer is made as a "party game" for up to 10 players at once, with integrated voice chat, dedicated servers, and a spectator mode with four different positions for an observer's camera, including directly on the nose of a racer's vehicle. While nobody brought up eSports while I was in the room, Pacer did have a big live demo on Twitch during the first day of E3, and the multiplayer has a Storm mode that gradually reduces the size of the track during a race, battle-royale-style.

Talking to its developers, though, Pacer really does come across as a deliberate attempt to make a brand-new, modern Wipeout, to the point where Ian Anderson, who provided graphics for the original Wipeout, is involved with Pacer. It also has a brand-new OST from Wipeout's Tim Wright, also known in EDM circles as ColD SToRAGE. (I am told that mentioning that name would make large parts of Germany lose their minds.)

Pacer looks really good in motion. It's a pairing of modern consoles' horsepower with the high-speed, soft science fiction approach of early-2000s racers, as well as the always-welcome ability to ward off that idiot behind you with a brace of homing missiles. (I've always felt that what Gran Turismo was really lacking was an independently targeting antipersonnel device.) I do remember the violent, deliberately unrealistic racers of the 1990s with some fondness, though, so it's nice to see something like Pacer making its way to store shelves.

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