It’s been twenty-four years since WipEout – the iconic Psygnosis anti-grav racer, not the watery Saturday evening TV show – brought block rockin’ beats and floating spacecraft to the world’s living rooms. Inspired by club culture as much as by F-Zero and Mario Kart, it’s been a formula that’s often been emulated, but arguably never bettered.
It’s been seven exceedingly long years since the last original entry, Wipeout 2047, and though Sony have poked at the series with a remastered stick, it’s fair to say that fans are looking for something fresh and exciting. Due to release ‘soon’ across PS4, Xbox One and PC, Pacer is hoping to be that something, and while its futuristic anti-grav racing may look familiar, R8 Games are promising a more in-depth experience than we’ve come to expect.
Grabbing a controller for the first time, it’s apparent that for all that is fresh and modern, the team have clearly taken Wipeout as a spiritual starting point. That’s not that surprising when they include a number of ex-Wipeout devs. The weight of my chosen vehicle feels immediately familiar, and with the controller layout nigh-on identical I soon found myself air-braking into tight corners like I’d been playing my entire life. What’s remarkable is just how close it feels to Psygnosis and Sony Studio Liverpool’s work.
While that ticks the boxes for a multitude of anti-grav racing fans, it’s clear that Pacer is aiming to be so much more than a simple carbon copy. You’re given an array of loadout options with which to customise your craft to within an inch of its life. From the expected choice of different craft types, skins and paint jobs, you can alter the handling and both offensive and defensive weaponry, bringing it further in line with something a little bit more sim oriented, while still retaining its arcade racer roots.
Taking the time to go through this set up showcases the range of weaponry and options that are going to be available to players, and there’s already an obvious meta to dive into to find the strongest builds. Do you take the electric wave weapon that slows every craft in its path or go for a missile that deals damage to a single rival? On the defensive end do you opt for extra shielding or mines? You can only pick one of each, and it’s a level of personalisation I feel is really going to resonate with players, leading to some fascinating battles once the game launches.
While all of the weapons are available to you from the off, you can collect tech cards through play that allow you to modify them, changing the way they behave or strengthening them. While this is expected to bring some level of grind to proceedings, it’s one that everyone is going to be subject to and there’s no artificial way for anyone that can jump ahead. You have to assume that some smart matchmaking here will keep things competitive wherever you are in your multiplayer career.
There are 14 different tracks at launch, each of which have day and night-time settings, as well as mirror modes, giving you 56 variations to race around through both the single player campaign and the ten-player multiplayer modes. Our single player hands-on was no walkover, and trying out a few different builds across a number of tracks I regularly came in a sobering third place.
Multiplayer meanwhile showcases the thrills that you can expect from going up against human opposition, and the competition was fierce and unforgiving. The rhythm of insane speed, even more insane boosting and vicious combat feels brilliant, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into the different craft builds to find something truly superior. As it was I had to settle for third once again. Maybe that’s just my place?
Despite my woefully adequate performance, Pacer looks pretty spectacular in motion, and the tracks take in the various locale types we’ve come to expect, from arid desert plains through to lush jungles. No matter where you are, each track is a warren of twisted metallic routes that leap and plunge through the landscape like a nightmarish version of the M25. Fortunately it’s pretty hard to get lost.
It simply wouldn’t be an anti-grav game without a banging soundtrack, and Pacer is all set to tickle your earholes with thumping tracks from a number of artists including Wipeout and Psygnosis alumni Cold Storage. They immediately set the tone, and once again reinforce the sense that R8 are drawing on the genre’s history while keeping a firm eye on its future.
It’s not as though the anti-grav genre has been entirely defunct without Wipeout at its head, but where Redout, Antigraviator and Fast RMX added their own wrinkles to the future racing formula, it looks as though Pacer is expanding beyond the genre’s boundaries to deliver a racing experience worthy of the 21st Century and beyond.