Pinball FX2 VR review: Pinball Wizard


Pinball FX 2 VR is one of the best virtual reality games I’ve played. There’s a beautiful irony that: VR, with all its futurist appeal, shines brightest when it’s used to recreate one of the precursors to modern video games.

By having you stand over a pinball machine, looking down at it as you would a physical table, Pinball FX 2 VR creates a surprisingly authentic pinball experience. Virtual reality brings other things to the table as well, of course, but the value of that lifelike perspective can’t be understated. Pinball FX 2 VR feels like “real” pinball in a way that no other pinball game as been able to achieve.

Zen Studios’ pinball games have always looked the part; despite being video games, they’re designed to look and act like real tables. As real as they look, though, they’ve always still been confined to a projection on a flat screen, making them at least somewhat abstract from the real thing. Pinball FX 2 VR blurs that line. The subtle movement of your field of view as you watch the ball’s movement across the table, finding safe moments to glance up at the scoreboard, leaning in to get a closer look at what’s happening – these seemingly inconsequential little details are integral to the experience of real-life pinball. Thanks to virtual reality, video game pinball can achieve something similar.

Pinball FX2 VR review: Mars table

Of course, video games can also do much more than a physical pinball table ever could. Without the limitations of animatronics, there’s untold freedom for the decorations that adorn the edges of the play area. The best example of this in Pinball FX 2 VR is on the Walking Dead table. It has Lee and Clementine hanging out below the drain, with their animations changing up with the game state – they might be kicking a soccer ball, seeking comfort in each other’s arms, or trying to fend off a zombie attack. They’re still action figure-sized characters beneath the glass, as you might see on a real-life table, but brought to life with animations that can only be achieved in a digital format.

More impressive is the scene surrounding the tables themselves. Instead of a dingy bar, greasy fish and chip shop, or cluttered home game room, Pinball FX 2 VR transports you to a glamorous suite dedicated to silver balls and flippers. There’s a TV where you can tweak settings and view your table collection, a trophy wall where you can look at high scores and medals earned, and, of course, the tables themselves. Navigating is a simple case of looking at the thing you want to approach and pressing X, which I’d go as far as saying is more intuitive than a standard menu.

The more showy VR side of Pinball FX 2 VR really ramps up when you sidle up to a table and figuratively feed it some coins. The whole suite takes on a new look to match the theme of the game in question. For example, Sea of the Deep places you underwater, with fish and sharks swimming around your head, while the CastleStorm table takes you to the cartoony fantasy world of Zen Studios’ CastleStorm, complete with flying dragons.

Pinball FX2 VR review: The Walking Dead

The real standout, once again, is The Walking Dead. Cast your gaze around while playing this table, and you’ll see zombies banging on the suite’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Clementine hides behind one corner of the table; on the opposite side is another walker within arms reach – who occasionally lunges at you. All these extra visual quirks somehow never interfere with the actual game – they’re present enough to be interesting and to add to the sense of immersion, but they’re not distracting.

Zen Studios have spent the last decade proving they’re the best when it comes to pinball design. Though Pinball FX2 VR is currently far more limited than Pinball FX2 in the number of tables available (especially licensed tables), there’s a good assortment here. The core package includes Epic Quest, Mars, and Secrets of the Deep – the latter of which is one of the best tables in the game – while the Season 1 Pack DLC adds CastleStorm, BioLab, Paranormal, Earth Defense, and the delightful Wild West Rampage. The Walking Dead is its own piece of DLC, but it’s worth every penny – it’s easily the best table available for Pinball FX2 VR, in terms of both the actual pinball game itself and the overall aesthetic.

My only concern is that it would have been nice to see one or two new tables among the initial release. Across the core package and the currently-available DLC, all tables make the jump from Pinball FX2 and have been around for some time. It’s far from the end of the world – especially considering how much work has clearly gone into adapting each table for VR. Still, it’d have been nice to have even just one brand new table made for the new game, even it was released across both FX2 and FX2 VR.

Pinball FX2 VR review: Secrets of the Deep

Even so, there’ll be more tables on the way. I think it’s a given that Zen Studios will continue making new tables for Pinball FX2, and it’s a fair assumption that at least some of those will get VR versions as well. Old or new, I hope to see more licensed tables – Archer and A-Force would be incredible in VR, and if Zen could get the rights, there’d be no better stage for a return of Sonic Spinball and Pokemon Pinball.

As it stands, even before the inevitable DLC, Pinball FX2 VR is a wonderfully authentic digital take on real-life pinball. It’s also one of the best virtual reality games around, precisely because it doesn’t go overboard with “VR-ness”; instead, it’s just a damn good game that makes sensible use of VR, delivering a subtle, sublime virtual reality experience.

Pinball FX2 VR is developed and published by Zen Studios. It’s available now for PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive.

A PSVR press copy was supplied by Zen Studios for this review.


About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.