Pacer Preview: A Wipeout Beater?

It’s been three years since I last sat down to play Formula Fusion, a Wipeout-style racing game developed by R8 Games.

There was a lot to like about it; it had stunning graphics, a banging soundtrack, and moved at an incredible pace – but for some reason it just didn’t quite take off. Though I do remember one thing that particularly irked me about it: its campaign. It felt unfinished. In fact, looking back, the whole thing just lacked a certain level of polish.

Well, here we are in 2020, and Formula Fusion is no more. R8 Games has gone back to the drawing board and revamped the title, changing its name to Pacer in the process. Those who have bought Formula Fusion on PC will have noticed its name change a while ago. And when the game launches on 17th September, they’ll find a new and improved experience waiting for them.

Pacer isn’t just releasing on PC, however; it’s also launching on PS4 and Xbox One on 17th September. And with the anti-gravity racing genre being rather neglected these days, it’s something fans might want to look out for. Especially if my time with a preview build of the PC version is anything to go by.

The first thing I noticed booting up Pacer is that its menus are a hell of a lot better than those of Formula Fusion‘s. They’re clearer, more colourful, and simply easier to navigate. It makes a good first impression. PC gamers will be happy to hear that there’s a wealth of graphical settings to tinker with too, allowing them to tweak the game to their desired performance. Though it shouldn’t take much work, because it appears to be fantastically optimised.

Pacer 3

Jumping into a time trial to get used to how the game feels, I was greeted with stunningly beautiful visuals. But even better, at 1440p, the framerate was pretty much locked at 120fps, the highest my TV can handle. Even jumping into an actual race with ten competitors didn’t bring it down a great deal; it hovered around the 100fps mark. This is all on an RTX 2070 paired with a Ryzen 5 3600, by the way. Not a bog-standard PC, but not exactly high-end, either.

Of the four tracks available to me in the preview build of Pacer, however, there was one, Sonashahar, that inexplicably performed much worse. It’s perhaps got more going on than the others – it’s certainly got some sumptuous lighting in some areas – but it pretty much halved my framerate. Maybe it is more demanding, maybe it’s just not as optimised at the others; I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Pacer 2

The visuals and performance are good for nothing if the game isn’t fun to play, however, and I’m glad to report that Pacer appears to be a marked improvement over Formula Fusion. It still moves at an insane speed, especially when you hit the boost button for a bit of extra oomph, but the anti-gravity craft at your disposal handle better, giving you more of a chance of making it around the track without bouncing around like a pinball.

The new tracks in the preview build feel a little more open too; or at least a little wider. You’re given a bit more room to breath and manoeuvre, which is particularity important when you’re in the thick of the pack, trying to gain a position or two. There’s a nice variety to the them, too. They’re all futuristic and full of sharp turns and stomach-churning inclines, but while some are pristine, others have a worn grittiness that you don’t often find in the genre.

In Pacer, zooming around the track often isn’t all you have to worry about though. The inclusion of weapons also adds another element to the gameplay. As well as being able to take the fight to those around you, perhaps allowing you to nip in front of them, you also have to be aware of enemy attacks and do as much as you can to avoid them. In some event types, utilising the weapons available to you will be crucial to your success.

You’ll earn money as you compete in events, which will allow you to customise your craft’s loadout. You might want to tweak its performance in a certain way, for example, such as improving its handling, or you might want to prioritise more ammo over damage. This layer of personalisation enriches the game, allowing you to make your craft more your own. Especially once you’ve customised its look, too.

When it launches, Pacer should have all the modes you expect. A quick race mode will let you jump into a multitude of event types, such as time trial, where it’s just you, your craft, and the track, and the new Flowmentum, where you’re challenged to go as far as you can while your craft gets ever faster. For most events you’re able to define things such as how many competitors there are and whether weapons are enabled or not. There’s online multiplayer too, of course, where the competition will really heat up.

Pacer 1

A single-player campaign mode will also be present, although I’ve not been able to sample it in the preview build. According to the game’s Steam page, it “lets you develop from a trainee Pilot, advancing through 10 unique race teams from around the world unlocking rewards and challenging yourself in blisteringly fast races in an effort to become the PACER world champion.” Hopefully it will be better than the campaign found in Formula Fusion.

With a few more years of development under its belt, Formula Fusion appears to be the futuristic racing game it perhaps should have been as Pacer. I’m glad, too, as it’s a game that deserves its second chance. Things appear to have been improved across the board, which may secure Pacer a seat next to the almighty Wipeout when it comes to anti-gravity racers. But only time will tell if it actually manages to do so.

Pacer launches 17th September on PS4, Xbox One and PC.