Monday, December 5, 2016

Zen Pinball 2 ~ Bethesda (PS4)

When a gamer hears the name "Bethesda" more often than not thoughts of retro, and modern day gaming come flooding into their minds as the company name is synonymous with titles like Wolfenstein, Doom, and the Elder Scrolls series. In fact some of us grew up in the earlier days of gaming playing games like Wolfenstein, or Doom on the PC. Others of us who are newer to the gaming hobby have even adopted the new adaptations of each ongoing series in re-release, or re-imagined form. I think it's safe to say one of the key attractions of Bethesda's growing library of releases has been the more mature themes included. That, and the mods that Bethesda willingly allows.

As both a Zen Studios and Bethesda fan I was excited when I first heard Zen Pinball 2's development staff was going to brave the odds, and take on the daunting task of making a noteworthy pinball table set in the likeness of Fallout, Skyrim, and Doom. Having followed Zen Studios efforts throughout the console versions of their pinball franchise, and having played and owned each of the games by Bethesda I knew they could do such tables justice. When I finally got my hands on them I was not disappointed in the least. After playing, and streaming the tables for my followers I came to realize this set could possibly be the best set the studio has released, to date. In fact I think it is. I found all three tables to be open, and inviting as well as beautifully crafted. The attention to detail is far greater than what I'd hoped, and imagined.

By former Zen Studios pinball standards the table designs in the Bethesda set feature a seemingly more enhanced graphic design. This includes their quality design layouts in accordance to applied structures as well as a more "mature" appearance fitting of a tribute tied to the Bethesda brand name. For example one of the design elements that is applied stays basically true on each of the three new tables, though slightly so. This design element is the open playing field layout in which the center playing field is mostly open space territory. A feature plotting that Zen Studios usually likes to mix up more than they have done in this instance. Regardless of the more uniform layout planning the tables remain their own beasts of burden. On each, and every table you'll find that the action is focused mainly to the right, and left hand side of the tables with the exception of Doom which has a center skull cave capture. For the most part Zen Studios stuck to side ramps that lead into serpentine wired half-pipes, and at times added in some interesting corner playing fields that open up more event based scoring opportunities. There are also plenty of lanes to pass through on each table including multiple flippers, an interesting layout of bumpers, and ball capture mechanisms. On the Skyrim table there's even an oldschool tilt-a-maze feature that opens up in the middle of the table for a certain activated event. Needless to say each table is different in their own ways despite having slight similarities ...

When it comes to the "Fallout" table the designer seems to have adopted mostly a 'Fallout 4' look. Taking on the role of a female, or male vault hunter along with one of several companions you set out to do what you would have done in the Fallout series. That thing being scavenging, and fighting for survival in the wastelands. The interesting thing in regards to the initial character selection is the inclusion of the Pip Boy wrist feature which ties in with said selection. It prompts you immediately upon table activation to either allow the computer to randomly select your character loadout, or for you to manually select what you desire in regards to their gender, their attributes, and their RNG selected companion. As with 'Fallout 4', or possibly even the original Fallout things like Charisma, Endurance, Strength, and Intelligence can be increased with gained points. This in turn adds table specific scoring perks to your playthrough experience. The companions which are random regardless of selection choice include series favorites such as Dogmeat. While they don't appear in 3D model form a photo of them is displayed near the main flippers adjacent to where the animated 3D model of your vault hunter is located.

As it stands the 'Fallout' table design is definitely inspired by the games it takes it's title from. You'll find at the center Bethesda style art of the power suit armor, and Dogmeat staring up at the hulking metal machine. The art seems to be layered, and isn't the flat look most of Zen Studio's tables sport. Other 3D models include the talking, and towering super mutant who is poised to nuke the world into oblivion with his on hand switch. There's that, and the animated vault entrance at the back of the table which acts as the table's event mechanism. By selecting a vault number you'll trigger the start of one of several different table events. Another unique, but somewhat stationary 3D model comes in the form of that creepy cymbal clapping monkey we've all seen in 'Fallout 4'. It is located on the bottom left-hand triangle bumper near the main flipper set. The table as a whole is a medium difficulty experience with somewhat easily accessible side ramps, and half-pipes as well as some of the staple table features we've come to expect. The only thing really different with the fixture inclusive layout is the dual set of middle bumpers that each have a ball capture mechanism/hole in front of them. This strays away from the standard three to four bumpers that we usually see. The fact that they are placed close to, and in front of the left side ramp does make entering that ramp a little more challenging. Another thing to note is that some of the game's earned perks can be bought with caps just like in the game. They give boosts to scoring, and open up opportunities for things like extra balls, and score multipliers.

The next table up is the 'Skyrim' tribute. Like the 'Fallout' table it is a mostly open field experience with the action taking place to either side of the playing field. There are a handful of key differences though. In this case the table is adorned with the dark craggy look of the blackened mountaintops you brave in the 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" world. The world is often times set ablaze by the fiery breath of the black dragon that most gamers associate with Skyrim. The flying dragon model also doubles as the table's launcher. With fiery breath the pinball is launched forward into the midst of an ongoing battle between man, and beast. Another signature feature for this table tribute is the character class selection system. When you begin playing you'll be able to select from a variety of human classes, elf classes, Argonians, and Khjits. Once you've done this you'll be able to select a guild/faction which are all taken from the in-game lore of Skyrim. Whatever you choose your character will appear to the mid-left side, and will eventually sport any equipment or weapons you earn by repeatedly hitting specific targets. Another unique table feature comes in the form of the ability to continue playing, and leveling up your chosen character. This again follows the game's RPG theme. There's also that center tilt-a-maze that opens up as well. And, "Yes" Dovahkin does shout "Fus Ro Dah!!!". Speaking of which Dohvakin is the table art, and is featured as a ball save dragon shout icon between the main flippers. For those of you interested in the music it is epic just like in the game.

Lastly, and certainly not least the 'Doom' table reflects the hellish scenario which the game itself dons. As the highly recognizable Doom Guy you must battle demons of varying sorts and presentations while aiming to ultimately topple the looming cyber demon that stands awaiting your every move at the back of the table. At the start of your playthrough the table prompts you to choose one of two difficulty settings which each change up the way the table is played. Whether that be through pinball speed, or feature access I'm not entirely sure. Nightmare, however is the ultimate challenge of the two available options in a similar fashion to Doom's actual difficulty setting options. In the way of 3D models Doom Guy gets his place to the left side, but the hulking Cyber Demon is the one fixture that stands out above the rest. That, and the fire throwing imp you'll trigger to appear through specific means. The table art is as one might expect, and features Doom Guy in all his glory. When it comes to the hellish fire, and flames the table's surrounding elements really capture that Hell-like atmosphere that one would expect from the Doom series. There's lava, a skull cave structure placed dead center of the playing field, and a mini-playing field where you guide a bottom rock to try and bounce the pinball into some upper panels between two upper moving rocks. The table is definitely busy, but in an organized manner. Out of all the tables this one was hands down my favorite, and will likely be the favorite of many gaming fans.

The verdict, for what it's worth is, "Must Buy!!!". I think this set showcases Zen Studios greatest potential as a leading pinball designer. The tables are all impressively crafted, and are truly gamer friendly outside of the equipment selection display feature in Skyrim which requires you to hold down a flipper button to exit. I think this feature should be simplified as it was initially confusing. Other than that I'd say do not miss out on this set when it releases this coming Tuesday! It might actually inspire more video game related tables which I'd personally love to see! I'm not downplaying these though as they, in their own right are worth owning!

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