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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: Pinball FX 2 VR (Sony PlayStation VR)

Pinball FX 2 VR review

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.
The nine tables that are currently available are all taken from Zen Pinball 2, and I genuinely find myself performing better at them than I ever did with the 'flat screen' originals. I'm also enjoying myself much more because, as someone who has spent a lot of time playing pinball on real tables (and preferring that experience), this is as good as it’s going to get, short of spending a few thousand to buy a second hand pinball table, and then a few thousand more to get it back into working shape. As I was playing Pinball FX 2 VR I found myself leaning forward, trying to get the best angle on the action, as the ball flies around the playfield, all the while being utterly immersed in what I was doing thanks to VR’s ability to “shut out” the real world.

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.
If I could voice one disappointment, it's that the high scores don't replicate across versions, and they really, really should. For newer players this isn't such a big deal, perhaps, but as someone who has spent a lot of time playing these tables in Zen Pinball 2, I have some scores that I’m really very proud of on some of them, and re-earning those scores is a bit of a pain. Still, the same ‘score reset’ rules apply to everyone, so I guess there's a level playing field for everyone to contend with again.

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.



- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld

Review: Pinball FX 2 VR (Sony PlayStation VR)
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