I've played a lot of pinball. My uncle loaned us a classic pinball machine built in the early 70's and it was probably my first exposure to arcade games. Since then, I've played a lot of the more recent tables such as The Adam's Family, Star Wars and Terminator 2. Emulating pinball machines on the PC has been a bumpy ride with many horrible and some decent attempts.
Sci-Fi pinball is a FOX product, which gives them the latitude to use any of the movies that they own the rights too. For this game they have chosen The Fly, Predator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Aliens. Each table is laid out differently and there is no recycling of parts going on here. A few previous pinball games have offered multiple tables in the same game but have just shuffled the same parts around and slapped on different pictures to make them appear different. Each table of Sci-Fi pinball looks and feels different but I wasn't thrilled with the design of any of them.
There is a certain flow in every pinball table and some work better than others. The best tables allow you to control the ball somewhat and make it possible to hit certain ramps or targets fairly accurately. I found it very difficult to ever hit the spot I was after, whether it was a ball lock or a specific ramp. This was because of two things, shooting inaccuracy and table design. The accuracy with the flippers is very bad. They don't "flip" fast enough so the ball kind of slides off the edge instead of being deflected in the direction you really want. The other big problem is that you have to hit the ramps and ball locks dead on or else they bounce off the edges and don't go in. So instead of a smooth game of moving the pinball around the table, you end up with the ball just banging into worthless barriers for 75% of the game. On real tables, the ramps and ball locks are very forgiving and even a shot that is fairly close will go in. This requirement for ultra-accuracy just happens because of poor programming and a lack of play testing.
Another thing I didn't care for in Sci-Fi pinball was that the first ball was no more exciting than the last. In real tables, the goals develop such that more significant targets and tasks become available as you get nearer to your final ball. Sometimes this will mean that a multi-ball is possible on the 3rd ball or hitting a certain ramp can score a jackpot, but this doesn't happen at all in this game.
Another limitation of pinball on PC is that a table just doesn't fit well on a computer monitor. I have a 19" monitor but the table still only takes up the left half of it and is just too small to see or to allow for any real detail. Other gimmicks like scrolling screens have been tried in games like Android Pinball but that is incredibly annoying. The half screen alternative is the better of the two but it still doesn't look that compelling. Visually, Sci-Fi pinball is fairly average with only a decent amount of detail. The exception to this is the pseudo-LCD screen on the right, which emulates the LCD screens on the newer pinball machines where film clips and special games are shown. The special games are quite lame however, with such things as "fight the predator" where you can only dodge left and right or punch. As thrilling as sounds, I found it quite dull. The film clips were pretty good though with little tidbits yanked from each of the various movies.
The upside to the sound for this game is that most of it is lifted directly from the respective movies. So hitting certain ramps on the Predator table will result in sound bytes like "out there, past them trees" and "I capped off 200 rounds on the mini-gun, nothing on earth could have survived that". For fans of the various movies these sound clips are somewhat amusing but overall they don't carry the game. They can enhance an already good table but they can't help badly designed tables. There is no real music other than what you might here in the various sound clips.
Fun-wise this game is a real loser. Of the 20 or so Pinball games I've seen for PC, this sits somewhere at the bottom. Great movies are wasted on lackluster table designs and sloppy mini-games. The pacing is virtually non-existent so the pressure to hit a certain ramp or collect the 50 million-point jackpot just isn't there. If you are really interested in getting a good pinball game for the PC, pick up Pro Pinball: Big Race, or go find the pinball game made about a year ago called Judge Dredd. It was exciting and did a better job with only one movie than Sci-Fi pinball was able to do with four.
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