Though Zen Studios have dabbled with other genres, it’s their passion for pinball that has made them a household name for many gamers. The Pinball FX series is hugely popular and has seen releases across a multitude of formats, so it should come as no surprise that a virtual reality (VR) version has been created. What does come as somewhat of a shock however, is just how perfect Zen Studios’ design is for this new medium.
Pinball FX 2 VR has never been made available to preview prior to launch, and as such VRFocus went into the experience with fresh eyes. The opening sequence places the player upon a couch in a spacious apartment with a large television directly ahead: immediately, fears that Pinball FX 2 VR would be nothing more than a ‘virtual cinema’ adaptation with the familiar 2D version of the videogame played upon that television set in. Thankfully, this is far from the case.
That television is reserved for the options menus, and the core gameplay takes place as the player stands directly in front of fully functional stereoscopic 3D recreations of pinball cabinets. Three are available to begin with – Mars, Epic Quest and Secrets of the Deep – with plenty of space in this virtual apartment for more to be added as downloadable content (DLC), most likely a combination of both free and premium additions given Zen Studios’ recent history.
Each of the cabinets offers a believable, immersive presentation. Just the right amount of moving parts, ramps, lights and sound effects to draw the player in. The quality of Zen Studios’ table design has never been in question, with even relatively low spec platforms such as the Nintendo 3DS offering commendable experiences, but here in VR everything pops. The player quickly learns the pacing of shots and angles of deflection thanks to their default position and viewpoint in alignment with the face of the cabinet.
As stated above, the on-table action for each of the launch cabinets is noteworthy, but outside of action Pinball FX 2 VR offers some minor detail also. The lights are dimmed when playing to allow for focus on the table, but upon actions such as activating special modes or losing a ball elements outside the cabinet come into play: meteors exploding or giant plants spitting up and equally large metallic ball. The sound quality is also surprisingly high quality, with the metal clank of the ball hitting the table bed adding greatly to the sense of weight and the bells-and-whistles of each cabinet presented in a unique fashion.
Pinball FX 2 VR is a hugely pleasant surprise not in that a VR edition of the franchise has been created, but that it’s of such a high quality. Zen Studios has created some remarkable digital recreations of pinball and yet every other version now seems redundant: Pinball FX 2 VR is the way digital pinball is meant to be played. It’s an aggressive standard for a genre that will undoubtedly eventually see much competition, and Zen Studios deserved to be recognised for setting the bar so high this early on. That painfully delicate approach to a new high score has never been so intense.