Zen Studios has released Pinball FX3 for PC/Steam as well as PS4 and Xbox One. We played the PS4 version.
Reviewing Pinball FX3 as a new game release feels a bit strange, since about 95% of the content available for it isn’t exactly new – it was previously available to those playing either Pinball FX2 (on PC) or Zen Pinball 2 (on console). Confusing matters more, those two titles were actually the same software package as well, so Zen Studios merging the two for their next generation is probably a good idea.
What Pinball FX3 actually is, is the new version of Zen’s pinball platform – and it’s compatible with a lot of the existing content. What’s great is that you can import older tables free of charge as well, and they have all received subtle improvements in how they look too. The biggest change in this regard are the new shadow and lighting effects, which are no longer pre-rendered, but now make use of the extra horsepower that today’s consoles have in making sure everything is calculated in real time.
These enhancements apply to all tables, except the ones that didn’t make it over to FX3 because of licensing issues. For these tables, which include the South Park ones, you’ll have to boot them through Zen Pinball 2 (or FX2) if you want to continue playing them. And if you don’t own any tables just yet, then FX3 comes with the Sorcerer’s Lair table for free.
Gameplay is of course extremely familiar to anyone who’s ever played pinball, though Zen takes a few creative liberties on account of the fact that this is a digital version of the game and that allows them to include animations and effects that wouldn’t be possible on a real table. If you’re looking for a straight up pinball simulation then Pinball Arcade might be a good starting point for you, but if the “sim” level isn’t as important as playing a game of pinball then FX3 is a great platform with a diverse range of tables from a variety of backgrounds.
Released alongside FX3 is a selection of tables based on three classic Universal Studios movies: E.T., Back to the Future and Jaws. All three tables do a great job at offering excellent fan service, something that Zen previously did with their FX2 tables based on the Star Wars universe. From the new selection of tables, my personal favorite was the Back to the Future table – from the visual design and light effects right down to the sound effects that are so typical for the franchise, it’s the kind of table that Back to the Future fans will enjoy even if they don’t care about pinball at all.
FX3 doesn’t just enhance the existing tables visually, it also adds new game modes for them – most of them centered around competitive play within a community setting. For instance, you can try your hand at maximizing your score using just a single ball, or seeing how far you can get within a strict time limit. While playing with one ball will force you to avoid risks in order to stay in the game longer, having a time limit turns games into frantic affairs as you try to seize every opportunity even at the risk of losing a ball or multiplier streak. It’s modes like this that breathe new life into existing tables you may not have played in ages – though they appeal mostly to expert players. If you’re not in that group, then FX3 also does a great job at showing you the ropes – which includes lengthy descriptions of the specific rules for each table that you’re about to play.
One new feature is that you can unlock ‘abilities’ that increase your scoring potential when you spend enough time on a table to reach certain goals. Using these boosts will allow you to drive up your scoring potential even further, but for me it tends to be the vanilla rule set that I keep playing with – so I can better compare my scores to what I got before.
Obviously, as a free product, anyone with a passing interest in pinball should try out Pinball FX3 and its included table. What you’ll buy afterwards is up to how much you enjoy the game and appreciate the licenses that Zen has secured for their extra tables, but with more ways to play than ever there is no better time to jump into the platform than now – even though the cost required to play every table available is a bit overwhelming.