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Pinball FX Review


Zen Studios originally brought the magic of pinball to the virtual world back in 2007 with Pinball FX. It had a few tables at launch and there were a batch of additional offerings available via downloadable content. Skip ahead well over a decade, bypassing two rather successful sequels, and now the whole concept is getting a reboot. Pinball FX has risen from the ashes as a free-to-play hub for all your pinball needs, but is it the next logical step for the franchise or a step in the wrong direction?

pinball fx pin hall

So, Pinball FX as a hub is completely free and includes an enhanced version of the Wild West Rampage table from the Pinball FX2 Iron and Steel Pack, which is actually a good entry level table with just enough going on to create excitement. This complementary addition ensures you have something tangible available, as you look to suss out whether the whole Pinball FX setup is worth getting involved in. Otherwise you’d be staring at an empty Pin Hall as parting with cash is necessary to get your hands on the rest of the tables. 

Veterans and newcomers alike will have to open up their wallets to indulge in the entire launch selection consisting of Marvel, Williams, Star Wars, Zen Originals, and more. Unlike the previous title, Pinball FX3, there’s no importation of any tables you might have already owned and that does sting a little. Given the proposed 4K visuals, ray-tracing, and the pro physics being applied across the board, it’s understandable to a degree. But these factors alone would not convince a long-time player to pay again.

If you’re new to the scene then the Pinball Pass could be an excellent route for you to enjoy almost everything Zen Studios has in store. For £12.49 a month, or £83.49 a year, the Pinball Pass allows unlimited access to many of the tables available as DLC. While it’s especially disappointing to see the Marvel ones excluded, there’s still value in the scheme for those looking to invest serious time thanks to a huge array of classic and freshly debuting (on console) tables. 

The Addams Family is a real standout amongst the debutants, providing high scoring opportunities and fairly easy missions in-game for absolute beginners to handle no problem. There’s no shortage of cracking tables throughout, with Back to the Future, Star Wars Rebels, Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars, Adventure Land and DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda just a handful of the ones that will keep you coming back for more.

With eight separate game modes and leaderboards attached to every table, it ensures there are plenty of ways to test your skills as each mode encourages different approaches. Classic is the run of the mill affair, where setting scores using three balls is the aim, while Arcade does the same albeit with added extras like super slow-motion and score multipliers. Practice is an ideal choice for getting to grips with a new table and Hot Seat caters for your local multiplayer requirements.

The other half of the game modes are slightly more creative. Tension is created in the tough 1-Ball Challenge as you work hard to keep the sole lifeline in play. It’s just as tricky to do well in the Flips Challenge, because the total number of flips allowed is limited and, if you’re anything like me, inadvertently flipping amidst the chaos of table features is almost guaranteed. The Time Challenge and Distance Challenge are more forgiving, letting you flip and waste balls for fun. 

Outside of that, limited events hosted by Zen and tournaments set up by anyone, provide yet another outlet to show the world that you’re a pinball wizard. Participating in the events reap rewards via Seasons, which is akin to a free battle pass in Rocket League or Fortnite. Many collectible rewards are also earned through persistent play and achieving specific things on each table. And what do you do with these? Decorate the Pin Hall, of course.

The Pin Hall takes on the role of a trophy room; a place for you to showcase the cool rewards you’ve unlocked. For example, I have a sheriff’s badge and an old western stagecoach on a shelf, with a figurine of Cousin Itt below them. It’s a neat idea to be able to kit out the entire Pin Hall, including the carpet and wall-space for posters. The only slightly irritating aspect is being unable to put collectibles from different table themes in the same compartment. You can’t put Williams stuff next to Zen Originals and it literally makes no sense as to why it’s so awkward in that regard.

What I’ve noticed throughout my many hours of play is that the mechanics are spot on, so whatever these Pro Physics are, they’re a welcome feature. The ray-tracing is just about noticeable when you actually have a moment to gaze at the tables properly. As for the 4K HDR visuals, everything appears a bit too dark and no amount of fine tuning in the settings can change that. It’s not a major problem, but dampens the vibrancy of some themes for sure.

Another drawback is how darn slow Pinball FX is to load initially, with it being right up there amongst the slowest Xbox Series X game loading times. Add that to the kind of menu system associated with most free-to-play titles, and you’re begging to get onto a table where everything comes together for a much smoother experience.

There’s no debating that Pinball FX had to take the franchise to the next level, but it’s going to rub veteran players up the wrong way. The game modes, tournaments and events provided by the Pinball FX hub are decent upgrades on Pinball FX3 and the gameplay is as good as ever. It’s free, yes, but you can’t spend all your life on the single table included, which means you must spend money on tables. The selection on offer and the Pinball Pass combine to give a viable route into pinball addiction for newcomers to get started though. 

Ultimately, Pinball FX is a pretty good place to begin your collection, but not good enough to duplicate it.

You can grab Pinball FX for free on the Xbox Store

James Birks
James Birks
Been gaming casually since the SNES as a youngster but found my true passion for games on the Playstation 1 (the forbidden word ooo). My addiction grew to its pinnacle with the purchase of an Xbox 360 & Xbox Live Service. A recovering GS hunter that will still play literally any game.
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Zen Studios originally brought the magic of pinball to the virtual world back in 2007 with Pinball FX. It had a few tables at launch and there were a batch of additional offerings available via downloadable content. Skip ahead well over a decade, bypassing...Pinball FX Review
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