Pacer (Xbox Series X)

Once known as Formula Fusion, Pacer is an anti-gravity combat racer, aiming to become the successor to WipEout – the game that helped make the PlayStation brand ‘cool’ in the ’90s.

A pounding soundtrack accompanies needle-nosed ships streaking around beautifully designed tracks while decked out with a combination of deadly weapons. Like the saying goes, gotta go fast.

There are a couple of things that Pacer does strongly. Firstly, the sense of speed is exhilarating. Secondly, the music expands with more instruments and grows louder the faster you get, injecting you with the fiery desire to go faster still. On Xbox One Series X I opted to prioritise frame rate over resolution to get the best performance and I’m glad I did.

Onboard weapons have a variety of functions to help you steal first place. You can load out two at a time, so you can test the way they chew up your opponents and create your own track dominating combination. The track is generously populated with essential shield pick-ups, boosts that are deployed via button, and weapon utility so you can’t just zoom around the race with the fire button held down the whole time.

The tracks are significant in size, rivalling GTA 5’s crazy sky races in their variety, style and difficulty. New tracks can be unlocked as you collect more currency. They look great too – the scenery is beautifully detailed almost to the point of distraction, although you might go too fast for some adequate sightseeing.

Or perhaps not. There is a flaw in Pacer and it’s in the reliance on precision. Going 700 mph is great and all…if you can sustain it and win races. Generally, I’m ok at racing games, but Pacer isn’t the kind of game you’ll pick up and instantly be good at. The sense of speed and lusty exhilaration gets spoiled quickly when you’re going so fast you end up ricocheting off the sides of the track like a bottle shooting down a drainpipe.

I can’t figure out exactly where the problem is, as I’ve tried every build tuned for a different role and they all seem to pretty much handle the same way. The handling is super sensitive, seemingly at any setting, so you are going to have to put the practice in. I also dealt with a lot of muscle memory confusion due to the button layout which made things extra spicy. These can be remapped if you configure them to your specific needs, though.

It doesn’t get much better at higher classes either. Perhaps a little counterintuitively, the lower the class number, the faster you’ll be going. It starts off fun as you blast from the starting position, but the precision factor is amped up by lightyears meaning you’re back into spending far more time correcting your mistakes than making time back against your competitors. They fall out of sight pretty quickly, and it can be difficult to gain ground particularly if you get knocked around early on at the start of the race. Can’t go fast, tasting concrete ballast.

If you’re looking for a casual arcade racer experience, you might get some of what you’re looking for in Pacer, but it will leave you in the dust. You’ll either love it and get better and play better or get discouraged and annoyed because of the steep learning curve,

I like to think people would pick this up because its spiritual predecessor WipEout holds such culture-status now; and while it is showy and impressive visually, I think they’d be a bit disappointed at first until they’d fallen on what side of “ok” Pacer is. Is it only OK because I suck at this kind of high octane, precise shooty spaceship race, or is it only ok because despite being visually appealing, it’s let down by over-sensitive/unclear controls? Is it me, or is it the game? It could be a bit of both.

After a few false starts, Pacer is out this week on Xbox One.


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