How much you enjoy playing Pinball FX 3 depends on how much you enjoy playing Pinball. This may feel like a lazy summation of my review, but that doesn’t stop it from being eminently true, as Pinball FX 3 is the deepest and most convincing virtual recreation of pinball yet. If that sounds a good thing then you’ll like this game if not then there’s nothing here to change your mind.
Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball, so with my wealth of ball hitting experience please take it from me; the manner in which the ball behaves is key to the success of any pinball game. If the developers, in this case Zen studios, are unable to replicate the sensation of the ball interacting with the active bumpers, mushroom bumpers, flippers, gobble holes, horseshoes lanes and, most importantly, gravity then they have failed. Table variety, multiplayer options and online facilities will not be enough to rectify such a glaring fault. And with Zen Studios’ latest attempt, I’m afraid its not good news… its great news!
They absolutely nailed those ball physics – an uncomfortable turn of phrase without context. The ball behaves exactly as it should do, rolling, rebounding and responding to every element of the playfield. This clarity of control quickly leads to high score chasing addiction and soon hours of your life will be lost, clutching your controller between sweaty palms and eroding the plastic on the L1 and R1 buttons with frantic finger pressing.
Essentially, as with Pinball FX2, the initial game that you download is a simple hub in which to access your pinball tables. In a generous touch, any tables you downloaded in the previous title are available to instantly play on Pinball FX3, and all of these tables, from Marvel and Star Wars to Bethesda, are updated to run with FX3. The hub itself has seen vast improvement and is now more logically laid out, making finding the right table and game mode a brief distraction rather than a tedious chore.
There’s a host of reasons to upgrade your tables from FX2 to FX3. The ball mechanics have seen a significant improvement, feeling heavier in its movement and more realistic. It also, in my opinion, is easier to keep sight of the ball whilst the madness of the tables unfurl in front of your eyes. How Zen Studios have achieved this feat I’m not too sure, yet very rarely did I lose sight of my ball entirely. Graphics have seen a significant improvement, with more detail to each table and a greater range of animation. It’s a delight to see the graphical upgrade bring older tables to life.
There’s a ton of new content to go alongside that visual improvement too. The most important addition for me are the table guides. No longer did I stare at a screen filled with flashing lights and frantic pinball action and gently cry as I had no idea where or what to try and bounce my ball off of to achieve a high score. Instead, a quick check of the table guides would soon dry my tears with its details on where to go to achieve combos, multipliers, bonus points and other table features. Rather than spoil any surprises, I feel the table guide instead heightens the players enjoyment, giving them some helpful starting hints before letting them discover more on their own. And besides, knowing how to activate a combo is quite different to actually managing to activate a combo.
There’s an attempt to add replayability to each table by including challenges and power-ups. The challenges are an uninspiring addition, as they’re the same three choices of challenge repeating unchanged over every table in the game. More variation on the types of challenges available would have certainly made this a more important and interesting feature. Power-ups can be unlocked and levelled up through playing and gathering points on any table. These offer some fairly big revisions to the pinball formula and allow the player to gain additional points, activate slow motion to achieve pinball precision and even rewind time when things go horribly wrong. The power-ups increase in their potency until they’re a real game changer and provide genuine motivation to return to tables and experiment. A selection of power-ups can be applied to both weird and wonderful affect. Alternatively, if all you want is a pure pinball then all of the added shenanigans can be turned off.
The first new table pack, based on the classic properties of Universal Studios, is a strong indicator of what is to come. Each of the tables – ET, Jaws and Back to the Future – are utterly gorgeous to look at. Zen Studios are clearly fans of the films, as characters as varied as Doc Brown, Jaws and Elliot interact with the tables, providing context for the missions the player will undertake and commenting on your pinball prowess. Character voice work and animation are to a high standard throughout.
However, the table quality does vary. Back to the Future is the clear standout, as it’s time travelling mechanic allowing access to all three films, while ET is as utterly charming as the film and a loving homage to all things Spielbergian. The Jaws table meanwhile feels strangely empty and dull, despite the threat of a large shark swimming beside your ball.
Pinball FX 3 is a fantastic sequel and offers everything a fan of the series could hope for. It brings added sheen and shine to every conceivable area that was lacking in Pinball FX2. The true test of its longetivity will be in its forthcoming table packs but judging on the quality of the Universal Film Studios pack, we’ve nothing to be worried about.
Version Tested: PS4