PACER by R8 Games started life in 2015 as an early access title on Steam called Formula Fusion. Its five-year development cycle was overseen by veterans of the WipeOut 3 development team, which gives it some pedigree. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely obvious where five years’ worth of work went, and while the core gameplay is satisfying there’s a number of smaller issues weighing the game down.
There is plenty to do in PACER whether you want to race solo or in multiplayer. The number of options available from the beginning can actually be a bit overwhelming, but simply running through the campaign mode will clear most things up quickly. This has the added benefit of unlocking the maps either by running through them in the campaign or using currency earned in-game to access them early. You will also quickly find which modes are better than others, and which are simply not fun at all (looking at you, storm). The campaign does an overall good job of easing players into the game with its ramping difficulty and slow introduction of new race types and faster engines. That said, you don’t get to choose your game modes in the campaign, and there were several events I simply endured to move forward.
The actual racing itself is finely tuned, and whether you’ve never played a WipeOut/F-Zero style racer before or you’ve been playing since the Super Nintendo era it won’t take long to acclimate. Just don’t jump straight into the fastest class if this is your first foray unless you enjoy smashing into walls at high speeds. As you’d expect from a WipeOut successor weapons also play into the game, and I found most of them to be nuisances rather than actual threats. You can eventually wear a ship’s shield and health down with persistence, but for the most part, you’ll win or lose on racing skill.
For a game that runs at this speed – system performance is essential, and in my experience, on PlayStation 4 the PACER runs smooth. The cost of the smoothness though is it sacrifices a bit of the beauty that it hints at. The tracks themselves look good for the most part and have some lovely lighting, but the backgrounds have a tendency to fade into gray smog rapidly. That’s not true on every map, but it is often enough that it is a problem. I’m going to assume it’s the price for smooth frame rates, but it is still disappointing and takes some of the character away from the maps.
I mentioned above that there were numerous small issues that drag the game down, and the gray smog backdrops are just one of those. The most prominent issues I noticed involved odd oversights in the race UI. For instance, in time attack mode (not to be confused with time trial mode) there is no way to see your current cumulative time, only fastest lap and current lap, even though you are measured on your total time. Similarly, although you can see your own split times at various points on each map there is no way to see how you are doing relative to your opponents other than by rank. There is a meter at the bottom of the screen that will tell you the distance to your nearest opponent, which is difficult to read even on a decent sized HDTV, and doesn’t give you a useful measure of how far ahead/behind you are.
The customization options are also not intuitive and it is not always clear what can be modified in each given race type. The UI in general just needs a lot of work, and it does have a noticeable impact on the game.
PACER Review Final Thoughts:
The PACER campaign is meaty, though not always enjoyable. There are many different types of races to play through, but several of them are better in theory than in practice, like the time trial with mines and storm modes. There are plenty of tracks to play, and each has both a mirror and reverse mode to go through. But, they could use a few more passes with the artist’s brush.
On the other hand, the roster of five cars seems small at first, but with the amount of customization available to you it turns out there’s significant depth there. It feels weird to say this about a game that’s been in development for at least five years, but PACER really could have used a little more time for polish. The core experience is good, and the $20 tag is easy to justify, but the small imperfections add up the longer you play. With the new console generation just around the corner, I can see this slipping between the cracks for most gamers, but if you are indeed in the market for a new WipeOut style game, PACER is worth a look.