Starting from the ashes of Formula Fusion, the creators of WipEout 3 release a new and demanding arcade racing game aboard gravity ships.
In this world there are people who tattoo the face of Messi, Sergio Ramos or Cholo Simeone. Yes, yes, there is. Others bet on tattooing the face of their pet or their partner. There are even quenes who choose their favorite actor or singer. We complain a lot about tribal people and “mother loves”, but someone should put the magnifying glass on face tattoos. We would only jump into that pool if Sony one day resuscitates the defunct Psygnosis (aka Studio Liverpool). And the face that we would choose would be that of Zico, the protagonist of one of the most mythical trophies of PS3 and a great headache for WipEout HD. Because crazy things like this are only committed by very, very special people. And that is WipEout for us: a very, very special saga. We hope it became clear in the Reviews of his latest installment, WipEout Omega Collection, whose title, An Eternal Legacy, and its conclusion, Thanks for the memories, are still valid today. In any case, sorry that we are with WipEout, WipEout and more WipEout. If today we have nothing else in our mouths, it is because we have to analyze Pacer, a game developed by its own creators that also collects the spirit of the saga and throws a ray of hope in the middle of the wasteland that it currently inhabits. Pacer is a GREAT speed arcade that will delight every fan of the genre and will provoke more than a déjà vu. You may even have to take the famous excuse for a walk that you are not crying, but that something has gotten into your eye. Because we had forgotten how much we missed running at thousands of kilometers per hour aboard gravity ships, using the airbrakes at the last second, touring spectacular cyberpunk cities and listening to electronic music at full volume. Or what is the same, living.
If this face tells you something, or if you had nightmares about it back in the PS3 era, you don’t need to read more of this review. Pacer is for you.
Pacer, aka Formula Fusion, aka WipEout
Pacer heard the starting gun back in 2015, when it was announced on Kickstarter under the name Formula Fusion. The game has come a long way since then, as it successfully raised the more than 80,000 euros it requested and ended up launching an early access version for Steam with which it survived until June 2017, when the title was terminated and posted on components. It did not go too well, why fool us. He obtained a 58 mark in Metacritic and was far behind Redout, his great rival and another of the contenders for the throne of WipEout and F-Zero, which to make matters worse was launched a year earlier, in 2016. As if that were not enough, Formula Fusion went on sale the same week that WipEout Omega Collection did, and to see who was the handsome one that could bear such a comparison. But its developer, R8 Games, did not throw in the towel. The studio was aware of talent and knowing what it hoard. After all, its founder, Andrew Walker, was one of the great architects of WipEout 3, and since 2016 the company had become the favorite destination of those who lost their jobs after the closure of Evolution Studios (MotorStorm), which in turn, it was the place where many of the members of Studio Liverpool had ended up after their respective lowering of the blind in 2012. The cycle of life, as they said in The Lion King. Or that life always makes its way, according to Jurassic Park. The fact is that, three years after that first failed version, Formula Fusion reaches digital stores again, although this time it also lands on consoles; He has a new identity, Pacer; and it offers a much, much better result, which finally lives up to the names that sign it.
It is a racing game with gravity ships. A difficult arcade that at times requires pinpoint precision. It has CoLD SToRAGE on its soundtrack and The Designers Republic is in charge of its design and art. If we played riddles and gave such clues, who would not put their hand in the fire that we are talking about a WipEout? The only difference between the Pacer and the Sony series is licensing, quality and budget. Teams and game modes are called differently, but their essence is the same. In his entry artwork, the one that appears when starting the title and consists of a yellow background with three ships, we even distinguish the shapes of Auricom (on the left), Piranha (in the center) and Mirage (right). At a visual, sound and conceptual level, Pacer has so many similarities with WipEout that we finished before explaining its differences, at least with respect to the latest installments. In Pacer there are no augers, we now have a turbo button (which we load as we pass through the speed plates) and the objects that we pick up can not be absorbed to gain life, nor are they random. The rest is practically the same, with all the benefits that this implies. There are few games with more and better sense of speed, and its control, even with some “must”, is exquisite.
Pacer has so many similarities with WipEout that we finished before explaining their differences.
The absence of augers is because there are many more curves than jumps, but we still miss them. After having made the impossible spins at Anulpha Pass and Moa Therma, we were able to try the odd bit on certain sections of Pacer. We assume that its loss is the result of a scenario design with wider circuits, shallower and full of areas with electromagnetism. In addition, the bits consumed a little life and here we are much more fragile. At higher speeds it is common to explode at least once per game, so without them the options of injuring ourselves even more and jumping through the air several times are reduced. In WipEout HD, for example, blowing up the ship on Elite difficulty and Phantom speed automatically meant losing the race. In Pacer no, the respawn is much faster and dying does not penalize as much. Now, dying as many times as the augers would have supposed might have done it. But it’s the same, I wish I had the option.
Pacer exudes WipEout scent right down to his promo art. Doesn’t anyone else see a ship from Auricom (left), another from Piranha (center), and a third from Mirage (right)?
Our own gravity ship garage
As for the objects, the management of the weapons previously provided a great strategic component, since we had to choose what to throw at others and what to sacrifice to recover the energy of the shields. In deliveries like WipEout 2048 we even had weapon plates of one color or another depending on whether they were offensive or defensive. In other words, you also had to know what to take at each curve. Here if we want energy we have to go through the “shield plates” and the entire strategy has gone to the anteroom of the races, in which we can invest the credits earned in each test to unlock new weapons and performance improvements for the ship. There are all the weapons you can remember from the WipEout saga. Once chosen we go to the garage, we equip them and trust that we have chosen the most appropriate, as happens in Formula 1 with the type of tires and the number of stops. In the middle of the event there is no possible change. It is an interesting and original proposal that is worth tinkering with. It gives a certain value to the credits that we add after each game (which in WipEout were used to obtain skins and little else). In the first races, the easiest and the ones in which we will spend the most time in the lead, it is best to equip ourselves with mines, shields and skills that serve to defend ourselves and hinder the pilots who follow our trail. That approach will change in the elimination games, where we will bet on heavy and frontal weapons, pure destruction; while in the endurance challenges we will try to carry everything that can give us a little more life, speed and time on the track.
The idea is good, but as the hours go by, and when it comes to playing the beans, we will always end up using the same pieces. There are those that are off-road and serve to win in any discipline during a good part of the season. But there are also those that, in specific tests, are so superior to the rest that they will become our favorites as soon as we find them. In the end, some variety and spontaneity is lost during the races. If we are wrong, there are not so many options to turn the situation around once we enter lap three, four. In addition, precisely in WipEout the weapons were always relatively fair. There was no blue shell for the last and bananas for the first. All the positions on the grid were more or less similarly likely to obtain the different objects, something strange in the genre, genuine and grateful. And something that is also lost. Nor are we going to say that it penalizes, as we appreciate the experimentation and that there is something new in the proposal, but these few additions do not fit as well as those of the original formula.
The objects that we receive during the races are not random and the performance of the ships does not depend on the team. Everything is chosen and customized in advance in our own garage.
Difficulty and AI, its big drawbacks
We may be failing to be too technical and specific in the Reviews, but Pacer is like that, a very technical and difficult game, pure reflexes and skill. It even lacks aids that are activated by default in the WipEout saga, such as pilot assistance, which prevents us from bouncing from one side of the track to the other due to the side barriers. Newcomers to the genre have to assimilate that the learning curve is merciless. To get a gold in all the events we will need that the aerodynamic brakes are an extension of our conscience; we will have to know the circuits by heart; Get the strategy right and, why not, have a bit of luck. Despite this, Pacer is addictive and in the long run rewards patient and consistent students. We just have to accept that it does not give anything away and that the improvement is that, in the long run. Suffice it to note that, a week after its launch, your campaign, which, as we will see later, is not excessively long, only 0.3% of those who started it have completed it, and none (NONE) of those who reached the end did so taking a gold medal in all his tests. And on Steam, more than three years after its departure, no one has yet completed Formula Fusion. Interestingly, we also warn experts in the Psygnosis saga that the game will not pose a real challenge until its final stage. It seems contradictory, but this is due to artificial intelligence and because the difficulty is not well calibrated.
In WipEout HD, for example, we had three levels of difficulty and four levels of speed (Venom, Flash, Rapier and Phantom). It worked great, because if at slow speeds the game was easy for you, you raised the difficulty to Elite and solved it, the test requirements increased and it cost you from minute one. But in Pacer we have returned to what happened in the classic WipEouts. There is no more difficulty than its speed (F3000, F2000, F1000 and Elite). Due to this, the most experienced in the genre will reach F1000 practically taking gold in everything and without excessive complications. The challenge level from there shoots up and goes from zero to one hundred. This means that at many times the game will be too easy for veterans and, at the same time, difficult for newcomers. And both groups shake hands in their last campaign, directly impossible. The lowest speed, F3000, is already quite fast, making Elite something crazy and tricky at times, more with a set design with so much curve. (It’s a shame to have removed F4000, which was in Formula Fusion). If in those last races and tests we have any option, it is not so much because of our ability, but because of an artificial intelligence that can be improved. Without being useless, we have noticed that it is not excessively aggressive and precise, and even sometimes we will feel that it always turns in the same places and that its route is predefined, which makes it predictable. By repeating the same elimination test several times, for example, we have realized that, even going last and behind the platoon, we can always get a weapon in certain places on the circuit because, simply, none of the rival ships passes over it of certain plates. As if they were a tram guided by rails. Seriously, they never go through certain sites. Of course the AI and the difficulty are one of the weakest and most debatable points of the title. Let no one be alarmed either, as there are many matches matched and competed until the end. Some tests make our heart run wild with an overtaking in the final corner, or with a blow that leaves us without shields and charges us with adrenaline until we cross the finish line and get to safety. But the most trained eye will occasionally come across these types of details and reflections, which take it away from the excellence of its great references.
The game is a speed arcade game that demands patience and pinpoint precision. It can be overwhelming for newcomers, but for veterans of the genre it will seem easier than usual.
Duplicating the content
As our colleague Javi Oria explained well in the Reviews of Formula Fusion, one of the main flaws of that one was the “lack of content in general: short campaign, few ships and a fair amount of circuits”. Pacer, its version 2.0, does not want to stumble over the same stone twice and has tried to duplicate what it offers. We have gone from eight to fourteen circuits. In addition, the new additions expand horizons and are no longer set solely in the United States. We will travel around the globe and compete in Peru, South Africa, China and Australia, among many other places. And to the night modes and reverse direction, with what we had in its day, a third option is now added, the reflex mode, which adds new and small variations with which they give the impression of being much more than fourteen tracks. As if that were not enough, R8 Games intends to update Pacer for the summer and decorate its layout depending on the date we meet. Right now, for example, on the occasion of Halloween there is a special horror decoration, with ghosts and pumpkins everywhere. A nice mini-point for them.
The six original game modes have been preserved: race, time trial, elimination (where the one who is last is disqualified from time to time), resistance (in which we are constantly losing life and you have to try to catch shields and make perfect laps to be the that we can endure more) and destruction (in whose classification we add points for each rival we eliminate and blow up.). But from Formula Fusion to Pacer two more are added: storm and flowmentum. The first is a very curious kind of battle royale. As its name indicates there is “a storm”, as in Fortnite, a circle of fire that surrounds the participants and closes as time passes. If you are first, you cannot go ahead and open a hole, because you will cross the limit of the storm and if you pass it it will take your life. But of course, if you go last you can not fall asleep and get off the hook or you will stay out of the circle and more of the same, little by little you will lose energy. The objective is to gather all the ships more and more and let them go to each other to see who is the last one standing. It is frankly original and quite exciting. Those final moments with four rivals circling in parallel are wonderful. For its part, flowmentum comes to be like the zone mode of WipEout. Laps and laps of a circuit through which we are going faster and faster, to see how much we are able to endure. Although yes, this is not like getting a shot of psychotropics. There are no color filters, no stage effects. These look just like they do in all other modes. What a pity.
Campaign mode reinvents itself
Formula Fusion’s recovered modes have several options that transform them as well. As in that one, we can do races without weapons, tournaments or 1 vs 1. They are adjustments that completely change the way of playing and among them we detect some new ones. The time trials, for example, can be set so that only the areodynamic brakes are worth using, and now we can also make them like in Formula 1, with 10 rivals trying to make the best lap time at the same time, which forces us to fight with the traffic and with the rest of (annoying) participants. But if something has changed, it is the campaign mode. To start, now we start with a tutorial or training mode perfect for neophytes. Once finished we will start with the events of speed F3000, if we overcome them with those of F2000 and so on. But these events are no longer limited to “win in this game mode, on this circuit and at this speed”. Now there is a certain story. We will have to sign contracts with the different teams of the game and carry out around 7 tests for each of them. Races in which, in addition to being first, we must try to meet the “team objectives”. These can be to always stay above a specific rival team, make a perfect lap per event, or blow up an enemy in each race. Secondary tasks, wow. And then the tests are very varied and different. Sometimes there are those that are just races, or sessions of destruction and resistance, as is normal, but we will also find them much more original. For example, in one we had to overcome a time trial on a track full of mines, so we went much slower so as not to die, and in another we had to compete using only a special weapon that was exclusive to a certain team. We even remembered a test in which we had to do three laps of a track by ourselves, but with machine guns firing continuously from the stands. We had to use all the shields and invisibility objects within our reach to have any option. In total there are ten contracts (and about 70 tests) with the same 10 teams that we met in Formula Fusion. A set of tests, as we said, very varied, very funny, which nevertheless still seems somewhat short, not so much because of its numbers (which also, since WipEout HD had 86 series events, for example, and that without adding its expansion , Fury, who doubled them), but also seems short due to its difficulty, which will take us to complete the first seven campaigns in just one or two afternoons.
The number of ships (5) and teams (10) in Formula Fusion is repeated, but the maps go from 8 to 14, the game modes from 6 to 8 and the campaign has taken a huge qualitative leap.
It is a pity that, with so many advances, there is still content that is neglected and with “somewhat fragile” numbers. It is inexplicable, for example, that we still do not have a split screen mode. It has been a constant in the genre and is present among Pacer’s great rivals, such as Redout. The menus, loading times and at times, the game interface, the HUD are also somewhat annoying. Navigating the menus is slow, cumbersome and the information they offer is not well displayed. Often we will not know what the secondary objective of our team is, and all because of how things are explained. As for the HUD, it is too intrusive, despite which it does not offer key information such as the circuit layout and the position of the ships in real time. In fact, there are times when the important data that it does provide does not place them well on the screen, taking them to the margins of it, where at more than 1000 kilometers per hour it is a bit difficult to see them. It would have been nice to make it more customizable, or at least offer multiple models. On the other hand, the loading times are still there, as we said, and we are still waiting for its creators to dare to make it compatible with virtual reality, even more so after the excellent experience that WipEout Omega Collection represented in VR. As for the issue of “somewhat fragile numbers”, we refer above all to the ships and teams, which are still five and ten respectively, which is not enough. We understand that having a garage where you can edit their appearance, characteristics and weapons, it is not so important, but we would have liked there to be more skeletons, more frames to work on and that the teams were not something anecdotal, but rather offered some basic characteristics very different from each other. Finally it remains to mention its online mode, which allows you to create all kinds of games with how many options and modes the singleplayer has. In return, today we have found it soulless, with few people and community, at least on consoles. At least a couple of friends are enough to make fun sessions, because we can add bots to our multiplayer games. What is eaten for what is served.
Even having grown a lot since Formula Fusion, there is still room for better. Absences such as a split-screen mode are incomprehensible.
Gone are the jerks, frozen screens and technical problems suffered by Formula Fusion during its PC journey. Pacer is impressive on a hearing level. An explosion of colors, effects and visual stimuli that now always runs at 60 images per second (solid as rocks) and that reaches 4K resolution on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. We do not want to imagine how it can be seen in the new generation, Xbox Series X / S and PS5, for which R8 Games is already working on a free update that will arrive in the coming months and will exploit the benefits of the new consoles. In any case, the title looks great to this day. Those who come from Formula Fusion will notice that some density has been lost in terms of on-screen elements (there are fewer billboards in some scenarios, for example), but it has been compensated smoothly. The game is smooth and stable, with ships that are releasing smoke of different colors depending on how damaged they are and constant explosions and sparks. But if there is something that is worth highlighting on a graphic level, that is the lighting and the games of lights, the designs of The Designers Republic and the stages, especially the stages. The designs are a dagger to the heart of every WipEout fan. Futuristic, with electric colors and touches of cyberpunk aesthetics. It is incredible that four posters, banners and advertisements are enough to make us travel through time in such a way.
As for the tracks, there are those that are simply crazy. They are full of references to real locations, such as the Grand Canyon, and many have a lot of elements and background details that are in constant motion, like a certain scenario in which there is an airstrip and, in one of its straights, we see to several fighters to approach little by little, descend and land passing a few inches above our heads. They are very varied in their color palette and design, even though the majority are in the city and without too many jumps. There are them wandering around skyscrapers. Others in which we cross the Golden Gate, with nature in the background, several lanes and wide streets, and then we enter a tunnel like the one in Monaco, with neon lights and a narrow track like the subway. And we even find them in the heights, in which we go around the last floors of a building and we do it on a translucent path. They are overwhelming and reminiscent of such iconic tracks as Metropia, Ubermall and Sol 2. In addition, their version at night is the same or more impressive depending on the case. Too bad, for looking for the three feet to the cat, that there are no more weather effects on them and that the staging of the weapons is not more varied and forceful.
At the audiovisual level we have no problems. The game is imposing at times, it has gained in stability and its soundtrack has more than 80 songs that have CoLD SToRAGE as the icing on the cake.
In terms of sound, the soundtrack extends to more than 80 songs by authors such as Ed Harrinson and Squarepusher, or by groups such as Kaya Project or Dub FX. The jewel in the crown is the special collaboration with CoLD SToRAGE, which crystallizes in 8 new tracks made exclusively for Pacer. In general we talk about electronic and experimental music, reminiscent of the nineties and the end of the eighties. All songs can be activated or deactivated from the menu, so that we can make a playlist with our favorites. The result is remarkable, but make no mistake, most of the members of his album are new people, almost unknown, and not all of them have the strength that The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy or deadmau5, among others, did in the past. The sensations are not the same as in WipEout, but they do not differ so much as to complain and not admit that a great job has been done. To the soundtrack it would be added the effects of the ships, their weapons and the different plates that we are taking, which comply, sound familiar to us and end up assembling a very powerful audiovisual package.
* Reviews performed with a code for the PS4 version.
If Pacer is not called WipEout it is only because Sony or R8 Games do not want it. At the moment of truth, the game could well go through a new installment of the saga. Its proposal, concept and audiovisual display are identical to the work of Psygnosis. Even more so with the collaboration of CoLD SToRAGE and The Designers Republic, which are a good injection of nosalgia and great memories. Looking so much like the work of Studio Liverpool has its good points … and its bad points. The good news is that the result is once again a remarkable speed arcade that requires patience and skill at the controls. A pinpoint precision and technical title that boasts exquisite control and a sensation of splendid speed. The bad news, that we have many big names to compare with, and when we dissect some sections and do it (compare) we see that the AI, the difficulty and the amount of content, among other things, are far from excellence. There is no doubt that Pacer has evolved a lot since Formula Fusion, gaining above all in fluidity and stability; significantly increasing the number of tracks, modes and settings; and managing to hit the key in his campaign. But still, it still has a way to go and room for improvement. In any case, if you like the genre, you are already taking a long time to give it a try. And if you like the WipEout series, run fools.
- Outstanding control and a wonderful sense of speed.
- Its new campaign mode and the increase in circuits, game modes and options with respect to Formula Fusion.
- Collaboration with CoLD SToRAGE and The Designers Republic. You breathe WipEout on all four sides.
- The stages. Extremely varied, visually stunning and with night, reverse and reflection modes.
- Your own contributions. The garage to edit the ship and the storm mode, in battle royale plan.
- The AI, less aggressive and precise than usual, and the difficulty, somewhat easy for what is the genre, but still impossible in its final stretch.
- It continues to seem lacking in content, even more so when compared with its great references.
- Things that still cannot be fixed: the absence of a split screen, the menus, the loading times …
A game with a remarkable finish that we will enjoy and remember. A good buy, highly recommended for lovers of the genre. It is well cared for at all levels.