by Ewan Wilson
reviewed on PC
SLOTTING INTO HISTORY
Pinball's place in history is a strange one. Coin-operated machines became popular during the 1930s amidst the Great Depression where cheap entertainment was popular. The game's electrification only seemed natural. The Pinball machine had from the very beginning felt like a modern invention, an idea that had perhaps appeared before its “time”; something from the future. Yet, when the digital era came and pinball machines were awkwardly placed side by side with cabinets playing PacMan and Space Invaders, suddenly Pinball looked a little out of place; felt a little out of date.
Video games meant Pinball manufacturers were forced to adapt. Digital displays were introduced, and the whirring lights became brighter, and sound became clearer and more frequent in its feedback. The digital competition also forced Pinball machines to think big. During the arcade golden age, mechanics like ramps, multiple layers to the playing field, and multiple balls were all introduced. The result was an eclectic sprawl of moving parts and brightly flashing colour that would keep 20th century people fixated on something for just long enough. When the raw spectacle wore thin, Pinball machines began siphoning their energy from popular culture.
Fast-forward a few decades and we have The Walking Dead Table for Pinball FX 2. The “machine” might now be held completely within microprocessors, but many of the same historic principles remain relevant. First of all, the game simulates the physicality of a Pinball machine relatively well. You can pan the camera across the table and admire the art at any point, and it even allows you to “nudge” the counter whilst the ball is in play. You can also manually control the flippers if you're an expert, juggling or trapping the ball before slamming it towards the back of the table. Being digital also means the spectacle can be enhanced; there are 3-dimensional zombies blocking certain paths, and The Walking Dead protagonists Lee and Clementine can both be seen, off field, responding to specific actions.
There's a lot going on in The Walking Dead Table. All those things I mentioned earlier: noise, whizzing lights, flashing colours, multiple-balls, different table layers, elaborate ramps, are all there. There's also bumpers, holes, spinners and rollovers. Thinking about it all makes you realise how chaotic the system is; a vortex of interlocking mechanics built up over years of manufacturers trying to wrestle our coins and attention away from those damn computer games.
The Walking Dead Table is based on Telltale's adventure game series The Walking Dead, which is itself based on the comic book series (there's also an ongoing TV series). Pinball and popular culture licenses go hand in hand, and The Walking Dead Table for FX 2 seems to be a fairly good, if unimaginative, example of this. The ambient sound effects are engaging and because the theme is based on a videogame rather than a blockbuster Hollywood movie, we're treated to snippets of dialogue from genuine voice actors, as opposed to just some random guy attempting his best Harrison Ford impression.
There are several mini-games to activate on the table as you play, all of which will drastically increase your high score. You activate the main “chapters” by hitting a zombie on the field three times, knocking him off the field and revealing a hole for you to target. Most of the mini-games take place on the table itself. My favourite was one that caused zombies to swarm the field, which you could then bowl into for extra points. The only mini-game to take place outside the field itself, was a simplistic zombie shooting gallery.
FITTING THE THEME
The Walking Dead Table is reserved in its use of separate mini-games and play-spaces but it makes up for this through the different targets and triggers available on the central field. You can activate supply runs and swarms: mini-mini-games where you have to hit certain ramps that contribute towards your score multiplier. Although the table is generally good-looking, particularly outside of the playing field, I question whether the close and personal scenarios of The Walking Dead are loud or spectacular enough to fit the fast-paced context of Pinball. Thankfully, even when these moments fall flat, there are still hordes of zombies to knock down.
Whilst the general mechanics are solid and the zombie theme only adds to the addictive quality of the table, there is one major annoyance – although admittedly, it may not apply to everyone. Following the selection of each main “chapter”, the game animates scenarios taken directly from The Walking Dead story. If you've not played through all of Telltale's game's chapters, the rather forced thematic choices here will throw up more than a few spoilers. However, more crucially, these story segments also distract from what's going on in the playing field. There were more than a few occasions where I'd be reading the digital display in the top corner of the screen, whilst the ball was still in play and then slipped between the flippers, costing me a life. Eclectic chaos is perfectly fine when it's fair and fun, but not so much when it becomes a distraction.
The Walking Dead Table reflects the physical evolution of Pinball. The game's journey from mechanical, to electric, and then digital form causes things to look cluttered and jumbled – but there's still a great mechanical predictability to the game. In the past, Pinball may have always seemed out of sync with history, but it has come a long way since your granddad's day – perhaps its time is now?
Solid physics and controls, good feedback, quick and addictive, proper voice acting.
Unimaginative mini-games, too serious a story for Pinball, story spoilers, distracting at points.