You can’t talk about future or anti-gravity racing without talking about Wipeout. Psygnosis’ seminal racer was the defining launch game for Sony’s then-brand-new PlayStation, setting a tone that drew on club culture and urban joie de vivre to startling effect, while its competitors’ azure hedgehogs and Italian tradesmen looked on in wonderment.
Similarly, you can’t talk about Pacer without talking about Wipeout. This future racer has been built by a team that includes a number of Wipeout 3 devs, boasts a soundtrack that calls in Wipeout luminaries like CoLD SToRAGE, and puts you in control of a hovering future-ship that you’re going to launch through more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It is, to all intents and purposes, the most spiritual of spiritual successors.
Pacer is an anti-gravity racing game. You want to be the fastest, the quickest and the toughest pilot out there, while you negotiate impossible, futuristic tracks that bend and contort in ways quite unbefitting of a road. Thankfully your craft is agile and nimble, and hovers some six feet off the ground, which surely makes it an absolute cinch to navigate those corners with ease. Right?
Wrong. Just like Wipeout, F-Zero, Redout and Fast RMX before it, the anti-gravity vehicles in Pacer require a certain amount of finesse to get around the course without the constant sound of pranging ailerons against every available surface. To help you in this task your vehicle is fitted with air brakes that you can skilfully engage to smooth away those turns as if they’re the wrong kind of peanut butter. Once you get it right, the effect is so magical you’ll feel like Gandalf – at least, you would if he was more into futuristic anti-grav racing rather than getting short hairy men to do his bidding.
There’s everything you’re going to need here for the foreseeable future, with a Career mode that takes you through four speed classes, across fourteen tracks with a host of variables to keep things fresh. The majority of race types will likely feel familiar to Wipeout fans, especially the non-stop Flowmentum, but it’s exactly what you would have hoped for. Beyond the offline options, you can head out online for ten player races and I can well see this becoming a hot-bed of competitive clashes.
As you progress through the career mode you’ll sign contracts with different companies, each of which will give you a number of team goals to achieve. They’re not the most obvious goals in the world, appearing amongst a stream of text, and even then they’re unnecessarily obtuse. “Finish ahead of Neu-Tron in every race” basically means you need come first in every single event, except when it’s not, and there’s no real indication of which company each racer belongs to anyway. It’s a good idea, but poorly executed.
You can tune your craft to suit your playstyle in Pacer far more than its inspiration ever did, creating different loadouts to fit particular needs. Performance subsets allow for High Speed, Agility, Defensive and Drifter modifications, or your own custom setups where you can alter the parts for your Engine, Handling, Braking, Anti-Gravity and Defence. New parts and mods are bought using credits earned in-game, and it all flows together very nicely, with a decent array of items to spend your futuristic moolah on.
Following on from there, you can also alter your weaponry loadouts. You can pick from the Defensive end of things through to Long Range offerings, and then modify them so they do exactly what you need them to. I settled for a lock on missile, plumped for a modification that let it bypass enemy shields, and then increased the payload for good measure. Despite sounding like it would decimate everything in its path, it still felt balanced. It certainly became more effective in certain situations, but was far from an automatic win button.
One of the things I love about Pacer is how competitive it is. I detest obvious rubber banding in racing games, and I was impressed to find that if there is any here, it’s beautifully well hidden. Races feel close, they feel realistic, and there’s often a sense of fighting for position with a well-matched human opponent, as opposed to a pre-programmed reproduction of one.
There is always a sense of danger and drama to proceedings, with incidental narratives forming as you try to hold off other racers. A few accidental brushes of the track walls will have you looking over your shoulder, while the low shield warning will have you praying for the chance to reach the next shield pickup. R8 have done an incredible job of capturing both the essence of competition and of racing, pulling them together in an emphatic manner.
Similarly, Pacer’s immense soundtrack unwraps the mid-90’s strands of electronica and binds them with twenty-five years of musical evolution. It’s fantastic to have CoLd SToRAGE, aka Tim Wright, return to the genre that he’s so indelibly linked with, while DUB FX and a host of others turn in an embarrassment of bangers. The soundtrack is a huge success – there’s over 80 tracks! – and the only disservice the game does to it is having it set too low in the mix as standard. Be sure to dial it up; it’s far too good to miss.