Zen Studios has a proven track record of making some fantastic pinball tables on countless platforms over the last decade. Whether the table is an original design or a unique take on one of many licensed properties, pinball as a video game wouldn’t be the same without Zen’s dedication to creating challenging yet compelling content. Moving to yet another platform, Pinball FX2 VR brings a fun set of tables to the world of PlayStation VR while providing some immersive environmental moments that add a simple but satisfying extra dimension to previously released tables.
Pinball FX2 VR as a base game is $14.99 and includes the Mars, Secrets of the Deep, and Epic Quest tables. The Season One expansion pass is $24.99 and adds CastleStorm, Wild West Rampage, Paranormal, BioLab, and Earth Defense. The Walking Dead table is a standalone purchase for $5.99. While these tables have been previously released (and are likely in many Pinball FX2/Zen Pinball 2 fans’ libraries already), Zen has done a lot of work to bring each table’s theme to life while they are actively being played in virtual reality. I can just hear some folks grousing that they are being double dipped by Zen for having to re-buy tables they’ve previously purchased. While I can’t disagree that is the case, be thankful that Zen Studios allowed players to apply the license of previously purchased tables from PS3/Vita to PS4 without any additional cost.
When the game starts up, players enter a virtal posh apartment/home where three full standing tables can be seen. Between the tables is a recessed space which contains a large display panel. Beyond the tables and the display is a large bay of windows looking outside to a bright sunny day. Looking to the right, another room can be found where there are three additional displays mounted on the walls. These displays offer up leaderboard information as well as a player’s Super Score and Wizard Score. Next to that room is a display cabinet showing off trophies from each table with descriptions of what events or obstacles a player had to achieve in order to unlock them. This is a really nice feature to have since Sony has yet to figure out a way to display trophy pop-ups in game while playing in VR. This display shows off all trophies possible, with a generic placeholder icon for any unearned trophies.
While the available tables at this point are all re-releases, recreating them in VR provides a richer depth of atmosphere and immersion that is worth the upgrade. For instance, Secrets of the Deep changes the entire living room from posh opulence to an underwater ecosystem, where mini subs swim by and sharks dart and zoom and bite at the player. In Paranormal, Nessy swims and bobs her head around the side of the table, while the doomed airplane from the table careens across the player’s vision to great effect whenever a ball is lost. In Epic Quest, the living room has the scrawny knight from the table battling with a life-size man-eating plant. The Walking Dead table turns the surrounding environment into a dank, scary nightmare apocalypse, walkers looming through the windows outside while Clementine rolls and tosses a soccer ball over and under the table to distract the far-too-close-for-comfort zombie that’s within arm’s reach at all times. Earth Defense changes the room into an epic space battle with lasers shooting past the visual frame, while space ships chase and dodge alien craft whenever a battle is won on the table itself.
I mention all of these things to give perspective to the fact that clearly a lot of extra work has been put into making Pinball FX2 VR more than just a new way to play old tables. I remember when I first played the Plants Vs. Zombies table on a 3D TV, and how I was completely blown away by how dramatically the depth of field changed the way I was playing the game. VR takes that field of view and puts you right on top of the table. Literally. You can move your head around and see the table from different vantage points (to a degree—I didn’t try to break the game or the PlayStation Camera tracking), just like standing in front of a real pinball machine. I found myself easily getting submersed into these older tables and doing way better this time around than I ever did playing in the past.
Back to the leaderboard room for a moment. With Zen Pinball 2, any scores earned while playing on the Vita couldn’t be counted toward the same player’s overall score on the PS4, and vice versa. This is one of the only big gripes I’ve had with Zen’s pinball tables (and I know many other players did too). To acknowledge and deal with this annoyance, Zen has a new set of leaderboards for Pinball FX2 VR. As in previous games, leaderboards break down into three sections. Each table individually has its own high score leaderboard. Then there is a Super Score, which compares ranking of the individual leaderboard for a particular table and calculates a score based on 1000 points and where players fit globally plus all other Super Score points from every other table played. As an example, in the Mars table, my high score is 45,014,00, which puts me in 8th place out of 58 players at the time this review is being written, which gives me a Super Score of 879 for Mars. Wizard Scores then take into account how many friends you have that have played the game (and their Super Scores) and adds the two numbers up and multiplies it by how many tables you have played. The Wizard Score almost feels like a Ponzi scheme to get players to encourage all of their friends to buy Pinball FX2 VR to help boost their own scores.
Aside from the touchy subject of rebuying tables, the only minor complaint I can truly lay against Pinball FX2 VR is that some of the tables look a bit muddy and jaggy in VR. I don’t have a PS4 Pro so I can’t say whether the tables would look cleaner with the enhanced power of that console (and I haven’t read whether this game will eventually get a Pro patch or not). Zen’s pinball games are fun because they have so many moving parts within them that I can understand how some of the tables have a higher number of jagged lines compared to the ultra-crisp look of non-VR Zen Pinball 2, but it is something worth noting for folks who have a much higher regard for visuals. I also should mention that even though you spend most of the time looking down at a table, the PSVR headset is so light and comfortable I didn’t notice any neck strain even after playing through all of the tables in one long session. Subsequent revisits for leaderboard chases also proved to me that I could play one table for almost an hour without any physical exhaustion.
Pinball FX2 VR is a great collection of previous tables done up to the nines with immersive periphery visuals that truly pop. Having a true view of standing over a table adds to the immersion and provides a better sense of timing for when a ball is coming down a lane toward a flipper. Fans of Zen Studios will also find plenty of new leaderboard hijinks to tackle with this VR collection.
+ Great living room environmental effects unique for each table
+ True depth of field visuals
+ New leaderboards
+ Trophy display case in game
– Some jagged visuals
– Having to rebuy tables you may already own
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation VR, also available on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 11/29/2016
ESRB Rating: E10+
Source: Review codes provided by publisher
Buy From: PlayStation Store