Pacer is future racing’s brightest hope

The future is all about pushing limits. Seemingly bored with the mundanity of their futuristic, hovering cities and a handy supply of Soylent Green food capsules, future people love to find some kind of ridiculous new sport to focus on. Whether it’s Rollerball or Speedball, Death Race or the Thunderdome, there’s a clear belief that humanity will lose interest in the simple purity of jumpers-for-goalposts soccer shenanigans, fire up their grav-cycles and strap on some leather and a helmet to go fast, until they’re probably dead. There’s no need to wait though, as Pacer brings us future racing today (leather, helmets and death entirely optional).

Pacer is borne out of the past of Formula Fusion. A Wipeout-esque future racer whose indie credentials – and ex-Wipeout staffers – helped it find a number of fans when it released into Early Access back in 2015. However, as it slowly wound its way towards a full release, and console versions, the decision was made to step back and rebuild everything from the ground up. Pacer doesn’t feel like a reskinned Formula Fusion, it feels a like a new game.

Despite the fact they don’t exist yet, there’s an expectation that floating race-craft handle a certain way when they’re flying around a circuit at eye-watering speeds. Much of that comes from 1995’s Wipeout. The poster child for the PlayStation’s club-savvy, tech-heavy brand, Wipeout built a perception that every future racer has since attempted to emulate. Pacer’s take is tight, controlled and believable, and it just feels right.

There’s more customisation available within that though, certainly more than its inspiration ever had. Alongside different craft, and their expected statistical differences, you can tune them up to fit your play style perfectly.

Loadout’s give you a baseline level for performance and weaponry, but you can then dig down into the engine type, handling, braking, anti-gravity and defence, as well as the weapons and their subsequent modifications. New parts are then purchasable via Tech Credits you’ve earned while racing, allowing for even more specialisation. It’s a classic racing game setup, but it’s one that’s never really been applied to the future racing genre.

Our preview version of Pacer featured four tracks to wrap our brains around, from the twisting Forests of Satawald to the Peru-set Aguila, all of which show a keen eye for what makes a futuristic track shine beyond the chrome and neon. SonaShahar is the current highlight, its plunging circuit mixing classical architecture with a neon-city underbelly; it’s the kind of track you’re begging to return to, trying to balance the fast-paced action with a desire to stare beyond the cockpit.

Pacer looks absolutely fantastic, whether in motion or in the pre-race fly-bys. It’s hard to detach yourself from the essence of Wipeout here. Again, the R8 Games team boasts a number of ex-Wipeout devs, and there’s so much here that’ll feel familiar to fans of the former Psygnosis series that it’s sometimes difficult to separate the two. The truth is that Pacer looks like Wipeout would if it was being produced today, every inch a modern-day future racer, and while it might owe much to another’s legacy, it brings the concept straight into 2020.

The audio is a big part of that too. Electronica and the broadest church of dance music has always felt like the right fit for this style of game, and that’s no different here. The tracks on show for this press preview had me grinning mid-race in a manner most unhelpful to staying at the front of the grid, and that’s thanks to the return of Wipeout alumni Cold Storage and the arrival of dubstep supremo Dub FX’s reggae and ska-influenced beats, mixing the old and the new in emphatic, joyous style. Pacer doesn’t just sound how you’d expect, it lives and breathes the future racing genre from every pore.

We were limited to Quick Play events for this preview, rather than getting a taste of tournaments or campaign features, but within them you’re able to see the different race types you can expect to be indulging in. There’s the standard race and time trial options, but they sit alongside Destruction, where you’re aiming to put the hurt on your fellow racers, and Elimination where you’re trying to stay out of last place.

Endurance is all about how long you can survive, while Flowmentum resurrects the classic Wipeout ‘Zone’ mode, with your craft steadily increasing in speed as you hurtle through gate after gate. It’s a tough thing to innovate here, but Pacer at least has the bases covered for a varied and engaging experience.

On the cusp of its full release, Pacer looks, sounds and feels like future racing’s brightest hope. While Sony has forsaken the Wipeout series and its legion of fans, R8 Games is all set to sweep them straight off their feet. Lucky there’s all that anti-gravity about, eh?