Ever since Wipeout launched way back in 1995, the anti-grav racing scene has been flooded with clones. But honestly, even though gaming has changed much in the intervening years, none of them have been able to match that PlayStation title for the thrills, nor the massive adrenaline rush. That’s not going to stop the team at R8 Games from trying though, as they thrust gamers into the futuristic, highly explosive, seriously fast world of anti-grav racing with Pacer.
Pacer is sold as being an explosive anti-gravity combat racer, and throughout your time with the game this is the overwhelming vibe that is projected. It’s a seriously quick affair; one that will have you jumping into the cockpit of numerous anti-grav machines before attempting to navigate your way around multiple circuits as fast, and as safely, as possible. It’s also absolutely lag and glitch free, running as smooth as butter throughout, no matter how fast, how frantic or how filled the world around you may be.
Credit has to go to R8 for creating a racer that manages to deliver such an accomplished feel. Not only does it look great, from detailed racing machines, well-designed tracks and intricate backgrounds, and sound awesome thanks to the electronic dance official soundtrack coming from the creative minds of CoLD SToRAGE, DUB FX and a ton more, but much of the success is down to the well thought out control scheme. Button placement is absolutely key to allowing the player to feel at one with their race craft and it works really well here. A simple hold of the A button will engage thrust, with any braking requirements handled neatly by the right and left triggers, initiating right and left airbrakes as they go. These are needed too as the sheer speed that Pacer runs will leave you unwilling to blink, with any loss of concentration seeing you ending up smashing your craft against other competitors and track barriers, damaging not just shield levels but overall health in the process.
Further to this though the left stick pitches your nose up and down, and a quick move through two camera viewpoints – chase cam or bonnet cam – can be instigated by the Y button, B allows a quick flick of a reverse viewpoint so you can check up on what is happening behind you, and X speeds things up further still by switching on a warpspeed KERS Boost once built up. It could have been easy for R8 to mess things up here, preferring to utilise a trigger for the throttle like most other racers, but they’ve absolutely nailed the scheme in use. Yes, it takes a few laps to really understand the requirements of what is needed, but once it clicks you’ll appreciate the setup.
But that’s not all and you may have noticed I’ve missed out any mention of the bumper buttons and their use, and that is because these are tied directly into the weaponry your ship has installed. With each ship allowing for two separate weapon types depending on either the event in place, or your own personal preference, both the LB and RB buttons are handily placed for full destruction opportunities, mostly as you go about utilising the numerous weapon types that Pacer contains. You’ll need to fly over weapon pickups as you race in order to use their limited supply, with constant decision making whether you take an offensive attack, or instead grab speed boosts or shield pickups to preserve your own life, always present.
The main stars of Pacer are the anti-gravity racers themselves and these come in various flavours. Starting off with the comparatively slow (and when I say slow, that’s just in relative terms) F3000 class, things get more frantic with the move into F2000, F1000 and then Elite classes. But don’t think your choice of ship is only dependent on the minds at R8 Games, as from there the depth within just keeps going.
There are many options on the table in Pacer and those start with the cosmetic look of your ship. Base units can be changed, exhaust trails can be amended and snazzy running lights and bodykits can be added, letting you personalise things totally. There are then also different performance levels, with the most simple running along Agility, Defensive, High Speed and Drifter setups. Each brings differing levels of acceleration, top speed, handling, braking, anti-grav levels and defence. It’s simple enough to choose any of those to let you race to your liking, but it’s equally possible to run your own unique setup, mixing in some ideas, matching up others, and then dropping a ton of mods into play too.
It’s a similar vibe running throughout the weaponry also, with all manner of options available for use. Hiding behind in-game credits that are earnt as you play and win, you’re able to assign various weapon types to both the left and right side of your ship. Default options come in the form of Track Control, Long Range, Disruptive and Defensive equipment, but should you wish to create your own loadout, running Shockwaves off the left and Nano Rockets from the right, or enabling your ship to drop Mines on the track, fire off a Flashbang at nearby racers, turn invisible with a Cloak or Tether to others, damaging them whilst restoring your own shield, you can. That’s just a smattering of the options available and from there all manner of weapon mods can be placed as well, with two types per weapon, increasing their base abilities in one area, and slightly reducing them in others. Honestly, the sheer depth of what R8 are allowing in terms of race craft options, cosmetic feels and weapon abilities is pretty overwhelming. Perhaps too overwhelming.
For the most part Pacer plays out pretty similarly no matter which event or race you are partaking in. But that’s not to say there aren’t many options. In fact, much like the allowance of ship and weapon customisation there are a host of different events that will keep the game feeling pretty fresh as you go – standard racing, time trials, speed laps, elimination events and endurance options are all standard fare. But there are also the inclusion of Storm and Flowmentum events which play on Battle Royale ideas and increasing speeds respectively.
It’s the career which is the deepest of choices, taking you through the different classes with numerous events – building up from the lowly F3000 class, and through to the speedier merchants as you become one with the game. With a little narrative pulling these together – mostly based around X team wants you to test Y scenario – it’s well put together too, mixing up game types to ensure things stay fresh. It’s a fairly simple task to move forward through this career, and even though there are secondary team objectives which will earn you big rep and credits, for the most part these can be ignored if they prove too taxing, leaving you to just finish in a top three position in order to unlock the next race. It’s not so simple that you’ll ever find yourself flying through the career with ease – and I’ll admit that a couple of the events have left me trying all manner of ship performance and weapon combinations in order to achieve that converted podium spot – but on the whole it rarely frustrates.
That career is super deep, certainly not a ‘weekend one and done-r’, and this should mean you’ll be playing Pacer for many an hour, as you slowly begin to understand the intricacies and demands required of all the options found in this accomplished anti-grav racer; unlocking tracks, locales, cosmetics and more as you go. It’s complemented nicely though by shorter affairs found in Quick Race, letting you pick and choose your poison, running specific races in certain tracks as one-off hits whenever you are either short on time or trying to best some global leaderboard times. Pacer certainly comes with a form of bragging rights as you try to shave milliseconds off of lap times in order to climb boards, and with interchangeable variants bringing night racing, mirrored racing and reverse tracks you’re unlikely to tire of the 14 included locations too easily.
And even if you do want something more, as you would expect to hear from any racer worth its salt, Pacer comes with a very accomplished online scene too. Capable of hosting up to 10 racers at a time, with lobby systems, map voting, event types, matchmaking and complete clearance for racers to take the crafts they want into battle, Pacer once more excels. The whole thing runs just as smoothly online as it does off, and there’s the appreciated chance to spectate races once you find yourself eliminated from any event; even if this spectate mode can see a little lag occasionally pop up. Obviously the entirety of how Pacer performs going forward will depend on a hardcore online population, but I see no reason why the masses shouldn’t swarm to this.
So it’s all pretty positive for R8 Games and Pacer, and in fact there’s little to not like. Perhaps the menu system is a little clunky, especially navigating through the career mode, and I’m amazed that there isn’t a map of each track, or split times to other competitors in play as races progress, but other than that all is fine with the good ship Pacer.
All is so fine in fact that it’s easy to recommend what R8 Games have created here. Pacer is quite possibly the finest anti-grav racer available on Xbox – a slick, smooth, super fast roller coaster of a game that lets you go as deep as you want, in more ways than one. If you’ve been hanging on for a Wipeout beater, you’ll still be waiting, but this is about as close as it gets to a modern day anti-grav masterpiece.