After having been available in early access on PC for a while Zen Studios’ Pinball FX has now officially launched for all systems – we checked it out on a PlayStation 5.
With install sizes for games getting larger and larger, there are only a few titles that somewhat stick around on our hard drives – Ubisoft’s Trials and Zen’s Pinball FX3 are definitely two of them though. Titles with tremendous lasting appeal that you can just keep coming back to, in the case of FX3 there was also a steady stream of new content in the form of new tables. Now, the developer behind it has launched a new generation for its hub environment – resetting the naming scheme and dubbing it Pinball FX rather than Pinball FX 4.
With a potentially exciting new Pinball Royale mode for 64 players coming in a few months, the biggest changes in Pinball FX (not to be confused with the version that originally launched on the first Xbox) are under the hood. Zen Studios has switched over to the Unreal Engine, which meant that large parts of their pinball engine and their existing tables all had to be ported over. It’s something they took their time with, and apart from a few odd glitches here and there and a somehow slightly darker look to some tables it’s a good port that will feel near-identical to most FX 3 players.
Content-wise, there’s not too much to discuss – until there is. Pinball FX only comes with a single table included, but since it’s a free platform that’s already pretty generous and Wild West Rampage is a fun table to play on. Other tables are available though, and there’s a wealth of content coming – at launch you can pick up 86 tables and Zen is ramping that up to a very ambitious 120 by the summer. That’s almost three dozen tables in the scope of six months or so, or six new tables every month.
That’s great news to look forward to, but our main concern with Pinball FX is not in looking forward but in looking back. Look at the two games side by side, and Pinball FX 3 still looks fantastic, with little to see in the way of visual improvements. That’s not the biggest issue though, because we’d gladly swap over for a few new game modes. No, the biggest issue is that if you owned a large (or even small) percentage of the 67 pre-existing tables that return for Pinball FX, then you’ll have to buy them all over again. Unlike the switch from FX 2 to FX 3, tables you already own will not be imported for free (or at all), which we can imagine will be a tough nut to swallow for people. In their minds, they already paid for these tables, and the engine switch is not their concern if it doesn’t come with improvements they can see and feel.
This’ll become less of an issue with time (those 67 tables currently make up the vast majority of the tables but this number will drop to about half within a year), but we can see it stopping people from making the switch – at least initially, until more exclusive content and modes are available. New tables won’t be making their way towards FX 3 anymore, even though players can still switch to it and play their existing tables there.
So let’s see where the main draws are for Pinball FX at the moment, which brings us to its new collectible system and the online challenges and leaderboards – the latter of which of course aren’t completely new but will be expanded upon in the new platform. The collectibles are interesting though, because each table now has a trophy cabinet of sorts that you can fill with table-specific trophies – essentially giving players a more tangible reward system than the old PlayStation trophies.
Most exciting, however, is that the launch of Pinball FX also means that a host of new tables has come to pinball enthusiasts. Sixteen of those were already available on the early access PC build and include family friendly tables about Snoopy, Garfield, Trolls, Kung Fu Panda and My Little Pony as well as classics like Bride of Pin-Bot and World Cup Soccer (the ’94 edition). Brand new for all systems are two tables based on Gearbox IP (Borderlands and Brothers in Arms) and a recreation of the classic Addams Family table – which is a highlight among the new content.
Pinball FX plays a great game of pinball, but whether or not people will jump on board will depend on the content and features that get added over time. Until then, those with large FX 3 libraries not willing to re-invest in what are essentially the same tables will see little reason to jump ship. This is a platform that will get increasingly attractive over time, but there’s a high entry barrier right now – especially because the optional pinball pass doesn’t even feature access to ALL the titles, creating a weird mix of having to buy and subscribe at the same time.