Trust me, there is a sub-genre within indie games that now includes Pacer, a passion project by the folks at UK dev R8 Games that is the closest you’ll ever come to playing a new game in one of those series. I got the chance to sit down and try this out during Brazil Game Show, and even though I sucked pretty badly at it, after a couple of races I was hooked.
Pacer crosses all the boxes when it comes to delivering a fun racing experience, from the pure sense of speed down to the simplicity of play that sports a ton of depth to master. I’ve always been rubbish at the sort of racing game that relies on heavy use of brakes for turns, which is Pacer’s bread and butter, much more than its liberal use of weapon combat during races, something that I could possibly have lived without if not for the fact that I was losing my second race pretty badly until I shocked the crap out of my opponent, only to mess up and lose for real. Eh, what can you do?
The demo sported a few different vehicles to pick from, ranging from the so-called “glass cannon” speedy model, down to the heavier one that had the highest acceleration, as tradition implies. I went with the more middle-of-the-road racer, and did okay. I still need time to readjust to playing a hover racer again, and accidentally picking the hardest track right off the bat probably didn’t help me much. Still, even though I painted the rails with my car, the game felt great.
Controls-wise, there’s not much to memorize here: the triggers keep track of your air brakes, which work independently, while the bumpers control weapons, and one face button is your accelerator. Easy, right? Depends on how well you put the brakes to use, since turning in this game relies very heavily on them in order to keep your speed from dropping, obviously a paramount part of doing well in races, since the computer-controlled ships in the demo were merciless, and I figure they won’t be toned down too much for the final release.
I couldn’t help but think of the great times I had as a kid playing F-Zero, but the devs really seemed to have zeroed in on Wipeout when it comes to Pacer’s design. Sure, a lot of what was set in motion by F-Zero was later pushed farther by Psygnosis’ classic, so it’s no surprise that the movement and visual cues from that game eventually influenced a whole bunch of others down the line. It’s no different with Pacer, but even then there’s enough to its art direction that sets it apart from its inspiration, although it might not be evident from just looking at screenshots instead of having it in motion.
But perhaps the most exciting bit out of this preview time I had with Pacer came from the most unlikely of places: battle royales. One of the devs on hand commented that there will be a mode in the game at release where racers will take part in a battle royale match where the safe zone will move through the track, and it’ll be up to them to keep their crafts inside, while battling others and getting them off. For what is a tired concept in shooters, making it work in a racing game seems like a genius idea, especially because the race itself won’t be about getting first place, but being alive by the end of it. Even though there’s no indication that this game mode will play as well as it sounds on paper is a whole different matter, what was being shown proved that R8 Games has the chops to get it right. It’s only a matter of having the development time.
With that in mind, it’s still going to be a little while until we get our grubby little hands on the game. Pacer is scheduled to be released sometime in early 2020 for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.