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Pinball FX2

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Casual
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: Aug. 14, 2014

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox One Review - 'Pinball FX2' - Aliens vs. Pinball

by Brian Dumlao on June 3, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Pinball FX2 takes the pinball genre to another level with the most advanced ball physics and social features to date, along with a new collection of beautifully designed tables.

Fandom marketing knows no bounds when commemorating film properties. "Star Wars" has May 4, a play on words for one of the film's famous quotes, and "Back to the Future" has Oct. 26, the day that Marty McFly arrived in the new century. Not wanting to feel left out, Fox staked out April 26 as "Aliens" day based on the planet LV-426, where the Xenomorph action film is set. Among the merchandising, which included shoes, was a trio of tables from Zen Studios, a developer that certainly knows how to do digital pinball tables. As expected, the latest set, Aliens vs. Pinball, doesn't disappoint.

The table that everyone will likely gravitate toward is Aliens. Based on the iconic James Cameron action film, which is a sequel to the equally iconic Ridley Scott sci-fi horror film, Aliens is the package's centerpiece. There are a ton of sound clips used from the movie, ranging from recognizable sound effects like the pinging of the motion tracker to spoken lines. Everyone expects Bill Paxton's "Game over" line, but the pitch to get Ripley on board with the mission really sell this as the movie experience in pinball form.

Aesthetically, the table is perfect. The iron grates for the ramp floors and dingy steel of the table sides is true to the interiors seen in the film. Copper pipes line the table walls, and the exterior rain shots are rather brilliant. The alien queen at the top of the table is intimidating enough in still shots, but seeing it move is awesome to behold. Similarly, the table's floor is adorned with movie artwork and a fully functional motion tracker screen at the bottom. Aside from that, there are little touches, like the mover clamps activating each time a flipper moves.

One of the more interesting things the table does has to do with mission order. From the beginning, you can choose to have missions play out in the normal pinball method, where you select which ones you want to play when the mission trigger is hit. Conversely, you can choose to have missions presented in movie order, where the big elements play out as the story dictates. It's a departure from how things are traditionally done, but it's a good experience for those who aren't interested in skipping around.

The table layout is balanced. The top portion has four ramps that are evenly spread out, and there are lots of pathways to lead the ball back to the flippers. Instead of crossing over the middle like most tables, the paths tend to hug the sides to give you a clearer shot of the action. The top left portion hides a bonus drop that is otherwise obscured unless you have an active camera following the action, and the top right contains a separate playfield with its own goal and flipper. The middle portion contains a flipper on the left and a set of stylized bumpers on the right as well as a chute for the ball to enter and exit. Additionally, the middle has a mission activation computer and loads of light to guide you toward the many ramps and routes for missions and jackpots.

The bottom of the table can feel a tad empty since there's not much to hit aside from the usual bumpers above the flippers. Then you realize that the space where the ball is funneled into the flippers is a bit narrower than the rest of the table. This would normally mean that losing the ball should occur far more often, but in practice, that didn't seem to be the case. As for the launch area, players will note that there isn't a visible active plunger, so it can be tough to gauge how powerful your launch shot is going to be. The skill shot asks players to curve it almost 180 degrees to get a million-point shot.

Zen Studios' signature is how it incorporates video game elements into traditional tables. The alien queen at the top snatches balls as part of a lock bonus. Ripley stands guard over the mission activation terminal and occasionally torches the area with her flamethrower. The turret on the lower left moves around and activates for certain missions, while the armored vehicle in the lower right serves as your ball dispenser. The table also uses the same car for a minigame to get a massive point bonus; you need to drive as far as you can while trying to avoid debris.

If Aliens serves as a table that presents the most authentic movie experience, then Aliens vs. Predator goes in the opposite direction. It may take its setting from the first movie, but that's all that it has going for it. Gone is the ability to play missions in a set order, so you can dictate which missions you want to play. The original cast is replaced by stand-ins, but that's not necessarily a bad thing since the fans of the movie are happy to get a table at all. The human duo's cheesy dialogue and lack of emotions don't help to convert players who might skip over this table entirely.

Aesthetically, the game nails the setting well. Artwork of the two movie monsters makes up the floor of the table and is just as striking as the Aliens table. The temple walls, complete with ancient writing, adorn the sides while a smaller replica of the temple is at the top. The table exterior makes it look like the table is floating above a myriad of ceiling accessories and paraphernalia from both franchises.

The layout is both wide and squat. The bottom of the table features various chutes that lead to the flippers, while the bumpers above the flippers are set further apart than normal. The middle area can seem sparse until you start up a few missions that bring targets into the middle. There's also a chute in the middle where a Xenomorph can grab the ball and start up missions. Since the top of the table houses the large temple, what would normally be part of the top section is pushed down, contributing to the table's squat look. Two ramps adorn the sides of the middle top area, while the center contains various bumper areas and trigger points.

As far as unique video game elements go, there's not much here. One mission presents the game in the Predator's signature thermal vision and sound effects. The other element is the puzzle at the top, where you must match the four totems with what's displayed in the center of the temple. It isn't a difficult challenge considering the amount of time you're given, but it's a nice distraction.

The Aliens vs. Predator table presents more opportunities to get big points, so it's easy to score massive point amounts. Missions seem to activate more easily, the lanes seem better designed to save your ball, and there's a good amount of bonus points to be had. It is by no means a cakewalk compared to other tables in Pinball FX 2, but if you're trying to build up your overall Wizard score, this is that table you want.

Rounding out the trio is Alien: Isolation, which based on the Sega game of the same name. You play as Ripley's daughter, who has gone on a mission to find her whereabouts. That gets derailed quickly when you're stalked by a lone Xenomorph that's hell-bent on killing you. With barely any weapons at your disposal, you'll have to hide and hunt down ammo.

The team has done a good job of nailing down the aesthetics. The outer area makes it look like the table is situated in one of the rooms of the ship. The upper half features a nice doorway and window into space, while the lower portion features parts of the ship that still look like they're in pristine condition. The walls are similar in their cleanliness, but the upper left side sports a pretty nasty-looking Xenomorph gestation area. Also, like the other tables featured, this one has some nice-looking artwork for the floor.

Compared to the other two tables in the package, this one is a little sparse. Until you activate missions so the targets pop up in the middle, there's not much to do for two-thirds of the table. The upper half gets all of the action with various corridors, ramps, and a bumper area tucked away. There's also a mission activation spot squarely in the center, but compared to the other tables in the package, this one is tougher to rack up points.

Where the game gets interesting is in juggling the various elements. You have your usual score, but considering that the game plays up the survival aspect, you also have ammo and health meters to worry about. You can employ stealth tactics against the alien, but you don't kill it unless you get the flamethrower. All of this make the table more engaging since you dart all over the place to complete missions to refill your health and ammo. Pay attention to your surroundings since you'll want to know when you should change tactics. This can be distracting for pinball purists, since losing a life may not mean a "game over," but you lose points. Considering the nature of the table, having a red glow around the field can be just as distracting as seeing the Xenomorph take a flying leap from the table top while your ball is still in play.

Overall, the Aliens vs. Pinball package is another worthy addition to the Pinball FX 2 library. All of the tables are balanced nicely for loads of scoring opportunities, and there are lots of distinct elements in each one to bring you back for one more round. Most will gravitate toward the Aliens table, but there's enough quality in the other two to make them worthwhile. Even if Alien day is never repeated again, at least players have this nice set of pinballs tables to commemorate it.

Score: 8.0/10

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