The pinball wizards over at Zen Studios have been crafting licensed tables for their Pinball FX platform for over three years at this point. Most of the time, these tables are based on greater entertainment properties, stretching everywhere from Star Wars to Marvel. On rarer occasions, they've tackled game adaptions, but their latest release is easily the most ambitious conversion they've attempted. The Bethesda Pinball pack adds three new tables to the game, each based on one of Bethesda's gigantic AAA properties. You can venture to Hell and skillshot a Cyberdemon from DOOM, ramp around a dragon's flame in Skyrim, or suffer a kickback to the head by venturing into the wasteland of Fallout. Certainly, a fine selection to choose from, and it's incredible to see just how faithful Zen was to the games despite the limiting factors intrinsic to designing pinball tables.
Let's start with DOOM's table. There are plenty of the type of things that you'd expect from modern digital pinball. The game's arena battles are recreated with moving pop-up targets on the board, and you can teleport to Hell via a spinner plastered with a fiery pentagram. However, these tables go a step further. Your Doomguy has a health meter that takes damage if you fail to hit the proper ramp and shoot your gun at attacking foes. You can replenish this meter and buff your protection with health and armor pickups, and you can even find new guns and carry around a full arsenal by hitting the correct shots. There have been many attempts at a pinball RPG in the past, but I don't recall any straight up pinball FPS, and it works surprisingly well for what it is.
As for the presentation, almost everything from DOOM is faithfully recreated here, including that game's subtle nods to its 90s predecessor. The dot-matrix display features a classic mugshot that flashes his classic grin whenever you grab a weapon or powerup. The only thing that stands out as off-brand is the voice acting, which is a consistent issue for Pinball FX2 releases. Something about this version of Samuel Hayden sounds slightly off, but he is really as important here as he was in the main game, so it's not a huge issue.
The other two tables in this collection lean more heavily into the RPG inspirations of Zen Studios' most ambitious tables, which makes sense considering the source material. Fallout's table is the middle child in terms of complexity, but the game will still have you creating a character and distributing S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat points from scratch at the beginning of each game. In addition, you have your trusty Pip-Boy at your side displaying stats on its dot matrix display and serving as a window into shops and side quests alike. The goal of the table is to align yourself with faction and complete quests for them, all involving lining up the right shots.
This table plays some clever tricks, such as turning down the playfield's lights when you enter a vault or cave. Sadly, juggling stats while also juggling a pinball has never really been great, and Fallout pinball doesn't reinvent the wheel. There are at least a few easy ways to get multiball on this table, and the theming is appropriate to the game. This stretches even into the voice acting, which has the Sole Survivor from Fallout 4 narrating every action you take on the table. This was a welcome feature in the first five minutes of play and quickly moved into the annoying category immediately afterward. This voice is no Rudy, and his lines deter repeated plays of the table rather than encouraging them.
Delving even further into grafting RPG mechanics onto a pinball game, the Skyrim table presents itself as more of an RPG than a high score challenge. The game starts off with the iconic dragon attack and moves on from there, with story missions that progress the table along and shift certain shots around. Considering that you have a main character with health to worry about, dodging the shots polluted with the dragon's flames in the opening salvo of the table became annoying, and having to do it multiple times as I climbed the leaderboards was a chore that overrode the excellent presentation on display.
Even if you can reliably get through the table's story missions, many other unique features of it serve to dilute rather than enhance the core arcade action. Picking up loot at random and equipping your character with the best gear work in a huge game like Skyrim, but do nothing but overcomplicated a round of pinball that should instead be based on quick and dirty fun. Playing complicated Pinball FX2 tables like this require far too much mental energy to be a worthy distraction. I can appreciate the work that went into adapting such complex source material to the medium. However, at a certain point, the effort produces a product that is so far removed from playing pinball that it serves no one.
That is Bethesda Pinball summed up. Zen Studios deserve a lot of credit for going the extra mile with these pinball adaptations and really taking advantage of the digital nature of their tables. These beasts are complex clockwork machines that would be impossible to construct in real life, and they are also fiercely loyal to the AAA source material. At the same time, only the DOOM table really works if you're coming to this pack to actually play pinball, as the other two tables feature too much progression and long term questing. As a novelty, the entire pack is solid, but I'm not sure how many fans of Fallout are going to get good enough at pinball to conquer this version of The Commonwealth.
Pinball FX2 - Bethesda Pinball was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and mobile devices.
The tables of Bethesda Pinball have great presentation, but the majority of the action is spent doing things that don't feel arcadey. The lack of focus on gameplay makes the tables feel too gimmicky to be playable for more than a few sessions.
- Grand Presentation
- DOOM Table Delivers
- RPG Mechanics
- Voice Acting Troubles