It’s been eight long years since we’ve gotten a new Wipeout game (2012’s Wipeout 2048), six since the last F-Zero (F-Zero Climax), and eighteen since Star Wars Racer Revenge let us yell, “Now this is podracing!” unironically. And there’s no sign that will change anytime soon. Which is why I found myself being so forgiving when playing Pacer (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC), a futuristic and combative racing game that’s a rather blatant rip-off of Wipeout…and is just as fun.
For those who never played Wipeout,
the most recent installments of which are available on the PS4 in the Wipeout Omega Collection, they were a series of arcade-esque racing games in which you piloted a jet-powered hovercraft around tracks that are as twisty and curvy as the best rollercoasters. But your ship isn’t just fast, it’s also strong, as they come standard with weapons you can use to temporarily disable or even destroy the competition.
The same can also be said for Pacer. Seriously. Piloting a ship that looks like what race cars in Blade Runner must look like, you speed around some truly curvy (and thankfully wide) tracks that will, at times, mess with your equilibrium with all their loop-de-loops, especially since you go way faster than any car or kart racer ever could. As you do, though, you have to make sure to pick up ammo for your ship’s weapon systems, as well as the fuel for your boost.
What makes Pacer a bit different from Wipeout is that it has even more depth. Though unlike some racing games we could mention, it also presents this depth in a way that isn’t overwhelming or only understandable by people with PHDs in mechanical engineering.
For instance, there are nearly a dozen different weapons to choose from, ranging from missiles, machine guns, and mines to an earthquake-esque shockwave, a tether that drains a competitor’s energy into your shields, and a cloaking device. You also have two at any given time, and have the ability to modify these weapons to make them stronger, more accurate, and so on. Though, unlike Wipeout, you don’t pick up weapons as you drive, you only pick up ammo that works for every weapon. Which means that while you don’t get to use multiple weapons in the same race, you do get your use your favorite ones more often.
Similarly, Pacer gives you the option of upgrading your ship, both cosmetically and mechanically. And, again, it’s done in a way that never makes you wonder when this stopped being a video game and started being a virtual training simulation. You can even create loadouts for your weapons and engines, giving you different set-ups for different events.
It’s here where Pacer, again, has a good amount of depth, as there’s eight different racing modes. Not only are there ones where you have to cross the finish line first (naturally), this also has such variations as “Elimination,” where the driver in last place at the end of a lap is taken out, permanently, as well as “Destruction,” in which there are no respawns.
What really makes Pacer fun,
though — and very Wipeout-esque — is how good it is at giving you a real sense of speed and a visceral sense of gravity. Not only does this really make you feel like you’re flying at hundreds of miles an hour, much faster than even the fastest cars in Forza, Gran Turismo, or Mario Kart, but when the track nosedives downward, this really makes you feel like you’re driving straight down a cliff. But it never (thankfully) overdoes it. While you do feel a sense of vertigo during those downward drives, these moments are few and far between, and never last long, which means they add a little excitement, not a little nausea.
Of course, like the Wipeout games, Pacer is not perfect. But most of its problems are the kind that will bother some people a lot, and other people not at all.
For starters, while Pacer has tons of options when it comes to the races and vehicles, it only has two viewpoints: third person and whatever you call it when it looks like you’re strapped to the hood. It has no cockpit view, nor any options when it comes to how far behind the vehicle you are in third-person view.
More annoyingly (to some), Pacer takes the middle ground when it comes to use of air brakes, a divisive topic among Wipeout veterans. While the original Wipeout games were more arcade-like, the series gradually introduced air brakes as the best way to take turns, ultimately making their use essential, much to the chagrin of people who prefer the arcadey approach of momentarily laying off the acceleration and letting inertia do the job it’s been so handsomely paid to do.
What Pacer does is split the difference. While you can use airbrakes if you prefer, you can also use inertia…to a point. This doesn’t, admittedly, doesn’t work on the sharper turns. Which means that neither camps will be happy, but neither will be terribly pissed, either.
Of course, all of this is academic if you didn’t like Wipeout. Or F-Zero. Or, really, any futuristic racing game where you pilot a Viper from Battlestar Galactica around a rollercoaster track. Because in the end, Pacer doesn’t do anything they didn’t do. But that’s okay because it’s doing it now and they’re not. Sure, Wipeout Omega Collection was only three years ago, and a remake of Star Wars: Episode I: Racer came on Xbox One this week after being available on PlayStation 4 and Switch since June, and they were fun…but they weren’t new.
Which is why,
despite its lack of originality, despite its potential problems, and despite it not having the cockpit viewpoint that’s legally required in all racing games, Pacer still manages to be fun and engaging, even if it is in a very familiar way.