Pacer review: fast, frantic fun

Playing Pacer was something of a novel experience for me, in as much as it’s the first time I’ve played a game that used to be a different game.

Pacer, from R8 Games, is an anti-gravity racing game, reminiscent of such titles as Wipeout, F-Zero and Redout. More to the point, it’s very similar to Formula Fusion, an anti-grav racer that was released in 2017, withdrawn from sale in 2018, and relaunched today as Pacer. Originally Kickstarted in 2015, Formula Fusion was not particularly well received in its first incarnation, with the most pointed criticism focused on its lack of content.

Two years and the departure of the Creative Director later, Pacer has emerged from its convalescence as a more enticing proposition. There are more tracks, more game modes and (mercifully) training missions explaining how everything actually works.

As you’d expect, the aim of Pacer is, generally, to get your super-fast racer around the various tracks as quickly as possible. There are various game modes beyond just a straight race to the finish, some of which work better than others. Elimination sees the racer in last place eliminated every 30 seconds, whereas Destruction requires you to focus on blowing up your opponents with your vehicle’s weapons.

More uniquely, there’s the Storm mode, which adds a little battle royale to the mix. Racers need to remain within an increasingly restricted safe area, or take damage from the eponymous disturbance. It’s a fun mode, and is a surprisingly successful addition. I didn’t enjoy the Flowmentum mode as much though. The idea is your vehicle gets faster as time elapses, with your racer taking steady damage which is only maintained by passing through gates on track. It’s a neat concept, but actually resulted in me driving as slowly as possible, which seemed opposed to the game’s general theme.

There’s a single-player campaign, which unlocks additional tracks and cosmetic options for your vehicle as you progress. The campaign is broken into different formulae, with speeds increasing as you go along. You’ll be offered contracts with different in-game teams at each formula, with each team having their own specific objectives. This is all very surface level stuff though. You’ll need to complete all the offered contracts before you can move on, and just repeatedly finishing in first place will suffice.

There’s online multiplayer for up to 10 players which, if Pacer can garner enough of an audience, you’d feel would be the real heart of the game. There’s no local multiplayer though, which is a bit of a shame. Surely half the fun of such titles is being able to laugh in the face of your friends as you steal victory on the line (local restrictions permitting)?

Most importantly though, Pacer is just fun to play. There is a definite feeling of speed, which is a must for this kind of game. It feels like there’s quite a high skill ceiling too. Although I found it pretty easy to get wins in the campaign, I nonetheless spent a lot of time pinballing off walls at the higher speeds. It feels like the real competition is against the clock as opposed to the AI racers.

It’s very satisfying when you get the laps right though. When you start to work out how much airbrake to apply on which corner, then nail the apex and boost away. For all the additional game modes and vehicle customisation, Pacer is at its best when it just lets you focus on driving fast.

The overall presentation is really solid, too. It’s a good-looking game. Every track has its own distinct aesthetic and feel. There’s a nice variety in design as well, with some wide, fast tracks, some twisty, narrow ones and others with a mix of different sections. The soundtrack is generally excellent, although the music often seemed absent from the races themselves (although not always). Maybe a bug, but odd either way.

Although I am by no means a racing game aficionado, the vehicles felt like they handled well. You can unlock customisation options that alter the balance of traits like acceleration, breaking and handling, although I confess I couldn’t tell you exactly how much of an impact they were having. The different weapons are more noticeable, and have plenty of punch and variety to them. I favoured a Gauss Cannon/Cloaking Device combo, just for reference.

You can also customise the look of your vehicle, including paint jobs, exhaust colour and other items. However, in reality, I was entirely unable to apply these changes for races. My custom performance and weapon options were available just fine, but never cosmetics. I can only assume this is a bug, as the mechanics behind the options are basically the same.

On the whole though, I enjoyed Pacer. It’s good game to hop into, fire up a Quick Play race and just blast around a track for a while. There’s not a huge amount of depth to the content, and it’s a little lacking in personality, but it does the fundamentals very well. The online leaderboards give a constantly evolving target to the more competitive players, and if it can take off the multiplayer has a lot of potential. There seem to be a couple of bugs in regards to cosmetics and music. Regardless, Pacer brings enough high-speed shenanigans to keep you coming back for more.

Pacer was developed by R8 Games, and it’s available on PC and PS4, with an Xbox One version due soon. We played the PC version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Pacer was provided by Renaissance PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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