Review: The Pinball Arcade – Season One (PS4)
I have been mulling over this review for well over two months and my opinion has been constantly colliding with what should be a positive review of a beautiful game. But what my gut keeps telling me is that the PlayStation 4 version of The Pinball Arcade could have been a lot better. Several key social features went mysteriously missing and that’s after faltering a planned release alongside the PS4’s launch in North America.
FarSight Studios got the virtual pinball formula right when they made The Pinball Arcade…on PS3 and Vita in 2012. But when it comes to the PS4 version, it feels like a 100 piece puzzle with half of all the pieces missing. It’s difficult to overlook the gaps in what they would likely call their definitive edition of the series. Sure, the pieces of the puzzle they did deliver are much shinier than before and their buttery smooth visuals animate at a noticeable 60 frames per second. Not to mention, every table benefits greatly from the DualShock 4’s controller lag-free input.
All the improvements, either delivered or not, in The Pinball Arcade fall into just two categories: expected technical achievements par for the hardware course, or actual advancements in the brand. And while the technical achievements involved in the creation of over 100 realistic lights per table and advanced particle thingy-mawhatsits is a sight to behold, it doesn’t change the fact that I still can’t compare my high scores with friends. Any previously promised social features have basically been forgotten. The PS4 version of the Pinball Arcade fails to elevate the brand anywhere near the level of quality and features that Zen Studios’ own Zen Pinball 2 tables have been since they were first released.
Maybe I waited this long to finally publish my official review of the “free-to-play” version of The Pinball Arcade so I could give FarSight Studios a solid opportunity to patch some “next-generation” features into the game. I absolutely expected it to look beautiful and play great, although I managed to capture video demonstrating when not even that was delivered (ehem, ball rolls off table). Outside of that, the PS3 and Vita versions are further along with two full seasons of tables and truly wonderful Cross-Buy.
Yes, The Pinball Arcade is now free-to-play on PS4. On PS3, you had to pay $9.99 to get the base tables before you could add table packs by way of DLC. On PS4, the free download is simply a shell that comes with Tales of Arabian Nights fully unlocked. For those not interested in purchasing more tables, know that every DLC trophy pack will be installed the moment you first boot up the game, with or without any DLC tables installed. DLC table packs can be added to the shell for $4.99 each or the entire Season 1 Bundle is available in the standard version and pro version which comes with the pro versions of some tables and a few custom ball packs.
Out of 20+ tables available in the Season 1 bundle, only six can be upgraded to unlock pro features either at the time of purchasing all of the Season 1 tables or afterward as a more costly upgrade. I still feel as though the pro features should have been included from the start to all or at least as free updates. Features like flying over the table to view the details and study where to make better shots should be included on every table as it is included with Zen Pinball 2, and in a much easier fashion I might add. I didn’t find the added ability to freely move the ball around the table to be very useful and enabling the Operator Mode disallows trophies, goals, and leaderboards. But there is one redeeming factor to the Pro Upgrade and Operator’s Menu that could very well explain it all, and that is the IFPA Pro Tips that provide the advice of experts that know their way around each of the tables.
At just $4.99, we may never understand if FarSight saw a financial loss with every DLC table pack sold, so is that reason enough to charge an additional $3 for added pro features? While this is nothing new to PS4, it is extremely relevant given the complexity of the purchasing scenario of The Pinball Arcade on PS4. Going free-to-play was a mistake because now every PS4 gamer looking to add Pinball Arcade to their library will be confronted with a screen full of confusing options. Do I stick with the free-to-play download only or buy more tables? Do I buy the tables I want or the Season 1 bundle? Do I buy the Pro Bundle or upgrade to Pro on a per table basis? There is also a Pro Upgrade Bundle. The one thing that should have remained the same was the inclusion of Cross-Buy. Those that already spent over $100 on tables throughout Seasons 1 and 2 might not be willing to pay for more of the same.
Now that I’ve bashed the purchasing details and what’s missing, how does the PS4 version work in terms of ease of use and performance? Great, that’s how. While the UI still looks exactly the same as the PS3 and Vita versions, performance is noticeably improved. The power shines through starting at the table select menu, where scrolling through the tables is a breeze and no longer takes a second at each stop to load the art and audio assets. Load times between screens have been significantly reduced. This is much appreciated for a gamer like me that wants to get in a few quick games.
But really, the strongest argument for repurchasing The Pinball Arcade on PS4 is the table visuals. This PS4 version of FarSight Studios’ prized future-proof pinball collection has the best lighting of them all. This can be seen with the singular new option that changes the amount of ambient light in the virtual room around the table. When set to Dark, the only table illumination will come directly from hundreds of light bulbs scattered across the table. However, doing this not only increases the level of aw and lustre of the beautifully detailed tables, but also jacks up the difficulty quite a bit on certain tables.
Cirqus Voltaire is the most extreme table that comes to mind and should not be played by anyone with even the slightest sensitivity to flashing lights. In previous iterations of this table, the bright neon bulb spanning the right side of the table was not very convincing. On PS4, it is without a doubt a real neon bulb. Some of the older tables like Black Hole, Genie and Gorgar have dark areas throughout the playfield that can cause the ball to become lost in the total darkness. Other tables like Bride of PinBot, Monster Bash and Theatre of Magic are far more enjoyable to play in the Dark. Although, I found the two premium tables Star Trek: The Next Generation and Twilight Zone nearly unplayable in the dark. Fortunately, this is just an option and can be toggled back to Normal or even increased to Bright for that familiar PS3 look.
Don’t get me wrong, on PS4 you won’t find very many low resolution textures. All the art on the table and back glass, toys, rails, ramps and even the dot matrix have been given the high resolution treatment. Flying over the six Pro tables using Table Exploration in the Pro Menu provides a birds eye view of all the glorious attention to detail. The exploration controls are clunky and moving the camera around is a twitchy experience. But there is no better way to try to spot that skill shot location hidden behind Rudy’s head when attempting to complete Standard Goal 1 on Funhouse.
The Pinball Arcade is approaching it’s third year of existence and the PlayStation 4 version is off to a slow start. Two options seen on the Main Menu remain inactive. Season 2 tables is just a placeholder until they are released, and Tournaments is devoid of any tournaments even months after release. With only the Season 1 tables available to play now, none of the social features promised a year ago made it into the PS4 version other than what the hardware brings to the table (pun intended). Frustrating bugs that are easy to reproduce were a disheartening experience, although remained prevalent on only the Funhouse and Black Knight tables. But on tables with a physical launcher, I was connecting the launcher with the ball well before it rolled back down the chute, and I’d occasionally get the opposite experience of releasing the plunger and witnessing the ball not be launched. Furthermore, it’s hard to justify paying again for something you may already own on PS3 and Vita.
Having said all that, if you don’t own any form of The Pinball Arcade on any PlayStation platform and you want the best looking version, then the PS4 version is the way to go. If you want it on both PS3 and Vita for one price, then take advantage of Cross-Buy on those platforms. The PS4 version can only get better in time with the hopes that FarSight Studios will include some exciting new ways to play against friends, be it friendly asynchronous score chasing challenges or accumulating points based on high scores across all tables similar to how Zen Pinball 2 does it. They did manage to deliver a beautifully crafted pinball simulator featuring 22 of the best real-world pinball tables. I have managed to acquire every Standard Goal in every table and I will always have a desire to play The Pinball Arcade on PS4. This also means that my expectations will always be much higher than maybe most.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Impressive lighting tech
- Higher resolution textures and HUD
- Lag-free controls thanks to the DualShock 4 really enhances the feel
- New ambient lighting option really kicks up the beauty and difficulty on some tables
What I Dislike:
- Ball rolls off table in a few Season 1 tables
- "Same shot" physics make it easy to hit the same shot repeatedly
- Tournaments still not available
- Many promised social features completely missing at launch and months afterward
- Essentially the same game as on PS3/Vita, just prettier
- Not Cross-Buy entitled
- Not all tables offer Pro features
- Pro features are limited, should be free