Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Aliens vs Pinball (PS4)

From the inspiration of H.R.Giger's art to the movie adaptations thereof the ALIEN universe has captivated many science fiction fans' undivided attention since it's first appearance. The franchise itself has spawned the likes of comic books, books, toys, and even video games becoming a well grounded staple of the science fiction genre for many years. Most of us growing up from the 80's onward were privileged enough to see the movie quadrilogy as it was released. We got to witness the rise, and fall of the lead female character Lt.Ripley who was played by Sigourney Weaver, and were introduced to a relentless parasite that posed a formidable threat for even the most seemingly prepared. The movies (in order) included 'ALIEN', 'ALIENS', 'ALIEN 3', and 'ALIEN Resurrection'. Each of which contained a continued story arch involving Ripley, the Weyland Corp., and those unfortunate souls who got caught up in the mix. Later on down the road there was even the fan service film which bore the name "AvP (or Aliens vs Predator)". While it paled in comparison to the original the ALIEN quadrilogy, and the franchise's namesake continued to thrive in the forms of different entertainment offerings as well as other physical collectibles. Recently the franchise was even taken back to it's original horror roots with "ALIEN Isolation". In this widely accepted video game adaptation the fear, and anticipation of encountering such a vile entity as an ALIEN was kept real, and had players once again filling the role of a Ripley as she tried to escape certain death. Thankfully the inspiration for new video game experiences didn't die off there. In fact this Tuesday fans of both Zen Studio's Zen Pinball 2/Pinball FX2, and ALIENS will be able to compete for top score on three ALIENS inspired tables that span across two select movie adaptations, and the previously mentioned game, "ALIEN Isolation".


ALIENS

Oddly enough when it came to choosing which themes to go along with the guys, and gals over at Zen Studios completely bypassed three movies of the original quadrilogy to bring a first table inspired by the events of the "ALIENS" feature film. This first table of three which closely follows the second film's happenings, and features a 3D model of Lt.Ripley in her former 1980's theatrical glory as well as a larger than life queen Alien complete with appendages, egg sack, and eggs accents the provided table in a manner that is both true, and welcome to those fans who like their pinball gaming experiences crafted after the actual source material. In the center of the playing field you'll also find an artistic representation of both the Sigourney Weaver version of Ripley, and a giant queen Alien in pursuit not far behind her. Other features on the table such as the ramps are marked with names that can be spelled out, and lit up with subsequent ball passes. These names tie-in with three of the space marines (Vasquez, Hudson, ...) who accompanied Ripley on her mission as well as the overseer Burke who had a hidden agenda when it came to facing the Alien threat. Of course each named ramp ties-in with a different table event that is specific to the character.

As far as the bumpers go they are colony compound related with electric effects showing when hit. There's also some mini-alleys that spell out "E-G-G" on the dot matrix display when the pinball passes through their lined up spaces. The last prominent feature outside of the 3D tank model which becomes playable in it's own event is an upper right hand corner playing field with one flipper, an access hole, and three ping targets. It is accessible via the looped wire half-pipes, and is actually kind of hard to keep going until objective completion. The ramps, lanes, and various targets including the upper right mini-field are made easily accessible, but challenging enough to hit to warrant this table a medium difficulty rating.

What's really unique about this specific table besides the animated Ripley model, and the animated queen Alien which doubles as a ball capture mechanism is the fact that there is a tank mini-game in which you steer the tank from left to right using the appropriate shoulder buttons as it drives forward down a lane in order to avoid hitting debris. Making it to the end without reaching the damage threshold will score you some big points. That feature along with the new option to either play the table events in 'Movie Order', or in a 'Selectable' fashion will help you to experience the table as you see fit. This option is made available on table start-up via a pop-up selection menu. Other notable things about the "ALIENS" table is the fact that the scripted audio which is spoken seems to be ripped from the actual movie. The contributing voice actors sound like the original actors, and actresses. In fact I think it's safe to say the everything from the soundtrack to the table quotes came directly from the film itself. The spoken quotes definitely have that dated, raspy sound quality about them, and the music seems oddly familiar.

I will say in closing that the "ALENS" table is by far my favorite. I never did play 'ALIEN Isolation', and I was not a huge fan of the 'AvP' movies. As such this table stole my bias from the start. I believe it is definitely going to appeal more to those who enjoyed the original film/s.

ALIENS vs Predator (AvP)

The "ALIENS vs Predator" spin-off was more of a fan service creation than it was a proper ALIEN mythos. If memory serves me correctly there was actually a Dark Horse Comics presenting of the tale long before the movie adaptation came into being. In fact the "AvP" story arch of the comics greatly differed from that of the movies. When it comes to said story setup the movie played it off as a futuristic expedition of discovery in which a team of explorers, and interested mercs for hire traveled into some cavernous depths to find a lost civilization's remains. They end up happening upon a pyramid which houses a breeding environment for the ALIENS, and in encountering the threat they also encounter returning hunters in the form of Predators who are participating in their annual hunting event. The humans get caught in the middle of the fight, and watch helplessly as the hunters try desperately to win against the hordes of ALIENS. All of which ends up in yet another nuclear explosion at the hands of the remaining Predator.

The table itself directly follows in pursuit of this movie plot, and mirrors the events of said feature film through artistic representation. The table is setup much like the ruins found in the movie, and is adorned with multiple ALIEN props/models as well as a single standing hunter type Predator. The launcher for the table is actually an ALIEN Xenomorph's head with a protruding mouth extension. Other ALIEN figures include a miniature soldier ALIEN at the center of the playing field (behind to breakable face hugger panels) which acts as a ball capture device for an egg multi-ball event. There's also an animated soldier ALIEN model on the right side of the playing field, across from where the masked Predator is standing. The table art is multi-layered with a masked, and unmasked version of the Predator depicted as well as a queen ALIEN, and a soldier ALIEN. Other outstanding features includes some Predator weaponry sticking on, and out of bumpers. There's also a pile of skulls indicative of the trophy remains that the Predators collect. The alternate playing field this time comes in the form of the pyramid. The pyramid itself doubles as a timed puzzle with which you must match the four surrounding symbol totems by rotation in accordance to the markings on the center totem.

The events that I've seen so far include an infrared mode (indicative of the Predator) in which the pinball, the Predator, and pop-up targets are illuminated in an infrared manner. That, and an egg burst multi-ball are among the events, or table missions that you'll encounter. Sporting a hunter's theme there's also a table tally counter for Predator ally targets that are hit, and trophy (ALIENS) targets that are hit during a playthrough. Scoring options are plentiful, and the table is very busy in detail. As far as accessibility goes this is a table that's on par with the first "ALIENS" table. By that I mean it sports a mid-range difficulty, because of the ramp, lane, and half-pipe placements. The rotating platforms that include the bumpers, and a single curved lane also distract the ball for it's directive if it heads into said platforms.

When it comes to voice-overs the repetitive quotes stating the obvious in regards to the Predator's actions does get kind of annoying. Seeing that the movie was easily forgettable in the way of quotes that is to be expected though. Regardless of the mundane vocals one cool vocal nod does play out in the form of the Predator's clicking, and rattling. It is true to the Predator's character, and brings the Predator's model to life. The soundtrack on the other hand is sort of adventurous, and ominous sounding at the same time. I'm not sure if it was inspired by the movie, or if it was from the movie itself.

As far as my verdict goes I found this table to be alright in design. It definitely matched up with the originating theme, and stayed true to the source material. It was easily playable, and I managed to score in the 20 million point range without much effort. Getting beyond that could be a challenge though. I highly suggest taking advantage of the table's combo setup if you can. The multi-ball event also offers a good scoring opportunity that can be long lived if played intelligently.

ALIEN Isolation

Instead of the protagonist that is Ellen Ripley embarking on yet another ALIEN encounter, Amanda Ripley (her daughter) picks up the ongoing tale of the lingering ALIEN Xenomorph infestation by embarking on a mission to pursue her missing mother's whereabouts aboard a space station that found the former Nostromo vessel. The latter being mining spacecraft which debuted in the original first film. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation once again offers their support for the investigation, and once again harbor hidden ulterior motives in doing so. During her intergalactic rendezvous Amanda ultimately finds herself being chased throughout the space station, Sevastopol by a single ALIEN after being separated by the accompanying crew. That ALIEN, some opposing humans, and some hostile androids also try to keep her from making her escape. As a result of her dire predicament stealth tactics, and survival end up being her only options. Using the Sevastopol's interior for hiding places, and weapon crafting materials Amanda Ripley faces a threat akin to, if not more opposing than that of her mother's previous encounters with the ALIEN species.

The table of the same name harbors many similarities to the previously mentioned stealth survival game. The setup is more open than the previous two tables though with nothing really taking up the middle space except for the video game art homage. The art which depicts Amanda Ripley in her astronaut's suit, and an ALIEN Xenomorph staring her right in the face are the main focal point outside of the two prominent 3D character models. One model being that of Amanda, and the other being that of a constantly moving, and pursuing ALIEN Xenomorph. At the back of the table resides several ramps, and lanes conjoined to two side wired half-pipes which lead back to the main flippers. The ramps are adorned with light up letters that spell out the words "Hacking", "Sick Bay", "Android", "Stealth", and "Torrens". Spelling out each ramp's words will in turn trigger a specific table event tied to them. To the left side of the playing field is also a computer terminal which acts as a mission select mechanism. Other features include several different pop-up panel targets which symbolize both the human, and android threats that Amanda encounters along the way. 

As far as table accents go there are points when the ALIEN Xenomorph will try, and attack Amanda on the outer rim of the table. The lower left hand portion of it. In some cases Amanda will dodge the ALIEN, and find refuge in an adjacent ventilation shaft, but other times she will be injured if you fail to complete the current mission objective. During, and after these near fatal encounters the screen will become outlined in a flashing red signifying that Amanda was wounded. Thus giving it a video game feel. As far as the table design goes it is crafted to look like the interior of the Sevastopol. It has hints of the ALIEN infestation in the form of ALIEN eggs, and organic linings. There's even a cabinet which doubles as a sort of random lottery. By striking it a few times with the pinball the cabinet doors will open. If you pass the pinball into it while it's open you will receive a "Cabinet Award". This ranges from boost items like ammo to score multipliers among other things. For the multi-ball event landing the pinball several times into a ball capture hole that is dead center of the upper ramps will start the multi-ball event. There's also a upper left side vacuum slot with which you can activate the two main pinball kickbacks. This will help prolong your playthrough if the pinball happens to go out of bounds.

When it comes down to the soundtrack of the 'ALIEN Isolation' table it does contain music fitting of such a stealth survival scenario. I'm honestly not sure if it's actually from the game, or not, but I'm fairly certain it would be. The accompanying voice-overs come from Amanda, and a guiding android who is trying to keep her informed about the ALIEN, human, and hostile androids locations. The guiding android's voice sounds similar to that of the android from the original films, and seems to be speaking in Amanda's favor. Amanda herself does not say much, but does say things regarding the enemies she encounters as well as the instructions that are given to her by her guide. Without having played the video game this table was modeled after I cannot say for certain as to whether or not it stays true to the source material though.

Considering the table's setup, and how difficult it is to score while playing on it in comparison to the other tables I feel this one is definitely on the "hardcore" side of things. It's more for veteran, and dedicated Zen Pinball enthusiasts. I personally had a hard time getting a decent score in comparison to my listed friend's, and in comparison to my scores on the other two tables scores. If I were to rate it on design I'd say the only thing it really has going for it is the animated 3D character models, especially that of the constantly moving ALIEN Xenomorph. Sure it stays true to the game from what I can tell, but it's not as detailed as the other more busy tables. 

The Verdict ...

Collectively the 'Aliens vs Pinball' DLC set is not a bad offering. While I can't say I'm in favor of the table themes outside of the original quadrilogy being used I will say that the tables are kept true to their origin sources, or at least seemingly so. I really liked the "ALIENS" table as it brings back a lot of old memories, and I kind of liked the "AvP" table for it's graphic presentation. The 'ALIEN Isolation' table on the other hand I could not relate to. I've never played that game, and actually had to reference the wiki to get acquainted with the story. I suppose those of you who have played, and enjoyed 'ALIEN Isolation' might like the table more than myself. If you do like the ALIENS mythos, and don't mind a mixture of related table themes then you might want to add this to your Zen Pinball 2 table collection. Just remember that purchasing the set on one Playstation console (PS3, PS4 or PS Vita) will open up the cross-buy feature allowing you to download it for free on your other Playstation consoles. You definitely get more bang for your buck that way.

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