It is hard to believe, but at the time of writing this review it has been seven years since Pinball FX 2 was released and five years since it has made its debut on Steam. Instead of focusing on hyper realistic table designs and authentic physics, the series became known for innovative tables and the type of pinball experience that would be impossible to replicate with real tables. From 3D characters moving around on the tables to innovative mini-games that takes place on separate screens, Pinball FX 2 offered something that more serious releases like Pinball Arcade couldn’t. Zen Studios also released a steady flow of new tables based on some fantastic licenses, such as Marvel and Star Wars. However, the time has finally come to leave Pinball FX 2 behind and embrace the shiny new future that is promised by Pinball FX 3.
Like its predecessor, Pinball FX 3 is completely free of charge and includes the same free table, Sorcerer’s Lair, that was included with Pinball FX 3. Additional tables can be purchased either as “Season” bundles, themed table packs or, in some cases, individual tables. So far, Zen Studious has released more than sixty tables and the good news is that the majority of them are now compatible with Pinball FX 3. Even better, those who already own the tables for Pinball FX 2 will find that they carry over nicely to Pinball FX 3 at no extra cost. Initially there were some issues with certain tables not registering in the new game, but this appears to have been fixed. The “Downloadable Content” section of the Steam page is also a bit of a mess as it doesn’t correctly indicate which tables players already own. This is due to the fact that changes has been made to the way that Pinball FX3 bundles tables compared to Pinball FX2. Hopefully this is something that can be rectified in the future as it can be confusing and potentially lead to players purchasing tables that they already own.
We mentioned earlier that the majority of Pinball FX2 tables carries over to the new version, with the exception of a handful that do not. Unfortunately, amongst the ones staying behind are a couple of really great tables, like the South park two table pack, Plants Vs Zombies table and Ms. Splosion Man table. This is really unfortunate, but if there was any way to bring these tables over to Pinball FX3 we are sure Zen Studios would have done so. Of course, there are still 68 tables available to play, which includes the brand new Universal Classics Pinball pack featuring, E.T, Back to The Future and Jaws tables. All three of them are a great showcase for Pinball FX3, but even the older tables are looking better than ever. Improvements such as real-time lighting and shadow projection provides some additional visual gloss and it could be our imagination, but most of the older tables look a bit sharper as well.
Pinball FX 3 has had a user interface overhaul as well, which makes it easier to access all the new features. The rate at which Zen Studios has been adding new tables has been causing the older interface to become a little cluttered, so the new interface is a nice touch.
It takes a while to get used to the new layout and some players will obviously be resistant to change, but on the whole we think it is a big improvement over Pinball FX 2. Starting up the game provides you with the option to access all your tables, take part in a matchup, enter a tournament, view the leaderboards or mess around with the game options. There is also a “Quickplay” panel to jump straight into a suggested table and a “News” panel where you can see what your friends have been up to.
The new interface also highlights the bigger focus that Pinball FX 3 has on community. It is now easier than ever before to take part in multi-player matchups or user generated tournaments that you can browse or set up yourself. This doesn’t mean that Zen Studios have overlooked players who prefer playing solo either. The game now has brand new single player modes as well that adds a lot of longevity and replay value to all of the tables. In the past, once you have put up a high score and unlocked the achievement for a table there was little reason to return to it unless a friend managed to beat your score. Now, there are new challenges for the tables with stars to earn and abilities that can be upgraded. Passive upgrades include a bumper score bonus, multiball score bonus, skillshot score bonus, combo time bonus, distance bonus and ball save time bonus. You can enable two of these at a time and they become more potent as they level up. For example, if you choose the bumper score bonus you’ll get additional points when the ball hits bumpers on the table. In addition, hitting the bumpers will also contribute to the level of the bonus, so at level 2 you might get an 80% bonus while this goes up to 120% at level three
Also available as upgrades are “Wizard Powers” which range from slow motion and score boost to rewind. You can only equip one of these at a time and they must be unlocked by reach a certain level in the star challenges. Unlike the passive upgrades the Wizard Powers require you to hold down a button, which activates the power, but also drains it. This means you have to time the use of these powers for when they will be the most helpful because if the meter runs out you can’t use the power again for the duration of that game. The Star Challenges we mentioned earlier consists of a one ball challenge, five minute challenge and survival challenge. In the first, you get one ball to put up your highest possible score while the second gives you five minutes and unlimited ball saves to do the same. The survival challenge is the most interesting as you get one minute per score milestone along with unlimited ball saves. Reach the score milestone and the clock resets to one minute, but if it runs out before you do then it’s game over. These challenges are a lot of fun and offer a brand new way to play the old tables and challenge friends. Of course, there is still the “Classic” single player mode for anyone who thinks the new upgrades and powers sound too much like cheating
Another new interesting feature in Pinball FX 3 is the inclusion of experience points and levels. Wining matches, achieving high scores, completing challenges and a host of other actions all reward you with experience points. Get enough experience points and you level up, giving you access to new avatar frames and backgrounds. It is a clever way to get players more invested in the game and provides you with another reason to keep coming back to older tables. Everything in Pinball FX 3 is pretty self explanatory, but in case anyone is still confused, the game now also includes a new guide character that pops up with helpful advice and suggestions. She can become a little annoying after a while, so thankfully there is an option to disable her. The ability to switch off menu voice-overs is also much appreciated as they can begin to grate when you regularly play the game
While on the surface it might seem like Pinball FX 3 is just Pinball FX 2 with a new coat of paint, it doesn’t take long to discover how much more it has to offer. Steam owners will find that the game is cross-platform enabled with Playstation Network, Xbox One and Windows 10 when it comes to Leaderboards, Matchups and Tournaments. The launch of the game hasn’t been perfect, but Zen Studios has already released a couple of updates, the most useful of which addressed issues some players had with the game lagging during experience point pop-ups.
Overall, Pinball FX 3 definitely feels like a step forward for the franchise and is definitely more newcomer friendly while still offering enough to keep veterans busy for ages. There are still some rough edges that need to be smoothed over, but it is clear that Zen Studios are fully committed to the game and it is going to be exciting to see what else the future has in store from them. The bottom line is if you love pinball then Pinball FX 3 is not to be missed.
- OS: Windows 7 / Windows 8 / Windows 10
- Processor: Dual Core CPU @ 1.6GHz
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvida GTS 450 or AMD equivalent
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 6 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX compatible sound card / integrated