Review by Matt S.
You've got to admire just how capable Zen Studios is with the game of pinball. Over the years the company has brought its eye for quality original pinball design to every platform known to mankind; you can get Zen Pinball on your iPhone, your 3DS, your Apple TV or PlayStation 4, and in each and every case the developer has gone out of its way to take full advantage of what the platform offers to provide players, with everything that fans of pinball could possibly want in a pinball game.
Related reading: Matt's major feature on the resurgence of pinball as a hobby.
Now Zen Studios has brought pinball to PlayStation VR, and I now know what game I’m going to use to show VR off to family and friends: pinball is absolutely perfect for the VR experience. If you think about how pinball works in real life - you're standing over a table in a relatively stationary position watching the action play out in a constrained space in front of you - there isn’t much need to move the head more than a few degrees in each direction. Yet at the same time, this is a game where depth perception is essential; judgment needs to be precise, and as hard as developers try to recreate the pinball experience on flat screens, it’s never quite perfect.
Pinball FX 2 VR gives you a genuine 3D recreation of pinball. Yes, it’s a virtual table you’re playing on, but aside from the physical feel of the buttons (shoulder buttons on the PlayStation 4 DualShock do feel differently to the buttons that control the flippers on a real table), the experience between a real table and the VR tables is exactly the same. Eerily so.
This is my favourite pinball table in VR. #PS4share https://t.co/g2ibTDYQ0k pic.twitter.com/LAsvlpN6Pb— Miku McMikuFace (@DigitallyDownld) November 30, 2016
Another really nice addition that Zen Studios has thrown in is the ambient design. When you boot the game up, you’ll find yourself in what looks like a living room space of someone who is incredibly wealthy. The penthouse-style glamour room has three pinball tables in it, and by going into the menu (sitting down on the “couch” and selecting the pinball table you want to play on the “TV”), you’re able to then go to that table in the room and start playing. When you do, the room itself transforms into a scene reflective of the table. The Wild West table turns the space into a giant western. Castlestorm meanwhile has a dragon perched on the top of the table and he’ll do some comical stuff with some nearby sheep if you lose a ball. While you could argue that the process of getting into a game through this interface is far more clunky than in vanilla Zen Pinball 2, where you simply select the table from the menu, the effort that has gone into the immersion within the game is a more than reasonable trade-off.
As I mentioned, with only nine tables, there is currently nowhere near the same number of tables available in Pinball FX 2 VR as there are in the standard Zen Pinball 2 game, and aside from The Living Dead table, what is in that table selection is not Zen Studio’s licensed tables. Given that the most popular tables are the ones based on Marvel properties or Star Wars, the selection of tables might feel thin and limited to some players. That being said, I would argue that the Castlestorm, Wild West and Paranormal tables are deeply underrated because people have been so busy playing Star Wars or Avengers tables. I think that this release is a good chance for deserved classics of pinball table design to get a new look-in. It is, however, really odd that the Bethesda tables, which were just released as DLC in Zen Pinball 2, have not also been released in VR, especially since the Skyrim table is a masterpiece of complex pinball design, and the Doom table is a better take on the “extremeness” of Doom than anything else I’ve played in years. Hopefully, going forward, the VR and “normal” releases can be simultaneous.
This pinball experience is just amazing. Even if it's distracting me to bad scores #PS4share pic.twitter.com/f1hfyR8fOE— Miku McMikuFace (@DigitallyDownld) November 30, 2016
Zen Studios is by far the most proficient developer of digital pinball out there. I don’t think there can be any debate about that. But the studio has utterly outdone itself with Pinball FX 2 VR, to the point where I can’t actually see myself playing pinball outside of VR going forward. I obviously would like to see more tables to go with the improved playability and ambience, but the nine tables that are there currently will last me a good length of time. Now I genuinely do not feel the need to own a physical pinball table, which was something I had been contemplating before. That’s how good this is.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld