Let’s start this Pacer PC review with reference to Wipeout and get it out of the way. The similarities are evident as it’s an anti-gravity racer, fast-paced and set in the future. Obviously.
With a decent soundtrack, the comparisons are inevitable, and despite opening with a disclaimer, you know that I’ll mention the other title once more. Just making it clear I’m self-aware of it too.
Driving/racing games are some of my favourites, and I never tire of the genre. Rally games, racing, open-world – I love ’em all, but I’ve never been a sci-fi fan, nor of futuristic racing with F-Zero or… here it is: Wipeout.
There’s no doubt about it, the original Wipeout blew me away, and the HD remasters are equally great, but I always found it too hard to play – regardless of the difficulty. For me, Pacer, from R8 Games, isn’t like that, even though you feel like you leave your testicles behind (if you’re sporting any) with the ludicrous speeds.
It’s all very sharp, and as I’m still green with getting back into PC gaming, I was impressed with the visuals straight away. Shortly after that, I was marvelling at how many features are present in the game from the outset.
The problem with anti-gravity games is they’re hard to control, and from my perspective, a bit gimmicky. After a race or two experiencing speeds you only witness in Black Friday sales, you soon put it down because you’re bored or can’t win anything. ‘You’re’ meaning me.
Imagine my surprise then when after a few customary races of finishing last due to my signature bouncing off the sides, I started finishing 5th, then 3rd, then 2nd. As a veteran Mario Karter, Gran Turismo and WRC 9, I’m used to finishing first, but up for the challenge (particularly when there’s scope to improve).
Shifting Up A Gear
I hate to break this to you, but the vehicles and courses in Pacer are all fictitious. Sorry. That said, some elements will resonate with gear heads such as the number of vehicles that are on offer – not those lazy ones of three models with dozens of skins, but no real difference in stats – the crafts in Pacer are excellent.
Again, I’m not into this sort of thing, but the modelling of these ships were brilliantly, and they don’t just look good, they handle well too. I don’t stream or capture my gameplay for many reasons; one being that I can’t be doing with YouTube comments of ‘you suck’. I know.
This could be an excellent opportunity to say that I excel at the game, and while it’s much easier to control (and enjoy) than Wipeout, the early experience did mimic a game of pinball; ricochetting off the sides. Unfortunately, you do have health, and there’s only so much your ship can handle, plus patience levels, but in some respects, Pacer feels like those buffers you get at the bowling alley.
There’s a little more hand-holding, rather, it’s more forgiving than its peers, reeling you in so that you stick with it then just when you start getting cocky, you progress in the career or unlock higher craft such as the Elite, and that’s when you realise, you ain’t shit.
Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
Something offputting about driving at speed is the crash factor and slowing momentum. With Pacer, it’s all about speed, there is a pick-up and play feel with the modes available like Quick Play and the usual Time Trial which is surprisingly good, and you can get straight into the action. I didn’t set any records with trials, but it was a great chance to improve.
Expect a variety of weapons to choose from to help gain an advantage (or disadvantage if on the receiving end) and using these on top of the fast speeds was a little tricky. There are elimination modes, a bit like a Battle Mode in Mario Kart, if you want to focus on them, but I was more of a fan of racing.
In the extensive career mode, you will ride with other teams and get set goals such as winning the race or not using weapons. It adds a bit of variety to the campaign and makes you think a little about how to upgrade your ship. This is where we touch on the ‘C-word’: customisation.
Customisation in Pacer is excellent. Aside from the speed classes, there are so many distinctive ships to choose from so that you can stand out with something unique as opposed to a generic ship, which seems to be the norm in similar titles. Not that you’ll get to marvel at them as you’re going to fast. You can upgrade said ships with in-game currency, which is pretty generous and encourages you to invest your time in customisation.
Remember To Wear Your Seatbelts, Kids
Pacer is a high-speed game, but again, not so that you can’t control or enjoy it. The early classes are great training grounds to get accustomed with the speed and controls, though it’s not an easy task as, as mentioned early, expect a pinball experience at first.
First-person perspective is easily my favourite in driving games, and like I said in the WRC 9 review, my driving significantly improves in this viewpoint. Not so in Pacer. It’s not unbearable, but it’s far from practical. It’s the perspective you switch to show off to your mates. Then crash.
It’s a bit like playing a motorbike game where the screen rolls to the left and right rather than strafing/panning. It doesn’t induce motion sickness or anything (well, depends on the person), but due to the battle elements of the game when racing others, you want to see the whole of your ship for manoeuvrability.
Pacer is a good turning point for the sub-genre. While Wipeout fans will be in familiar territory and may still pledge their allegiance, for folk like me who love racing games but not so much anti-gravity, this game is a convertor and worth looking into. Wipeout was a benchmark back in the day, but for me, Pacer is an evolution.