I am more than a little amazed at the variety of properties Zen Studios has covered with its Zen Pinball series. From single tables developed for smaller licensed products like Plants vs. Zombies to larger packs like the 13 tables they have designed for Star Wars, they've shown a propensity for creativity and range, proving that nearly anything can be turned into a pinball table.
Their latest foray is Aliens vs. Pinball, a three table pack celebrating the Alien film franchise. Released on April 26th, a cheeky way to acknowledge LV-426, the planet where Ripley initially encountered the xenomorphs, the tables showcase the James Cameron directed film Aliens, the cross over film Alien vs. Predator, and Creative Assembly's 2014 video game hit, Alien: Isolation. As with previous table packs I've reviewed, I'll break each table down individually. Normally, I start with the table I think is best put together, but these tables all show very strongly, providing enough entertainment that naming one above the others end up being more personal preference than anything else. For that reason, I'm going to go through these in order their base properties release.
Aliens is an amazing action film. To kind of remind myself about it in preparation for this, I watched it for the first time in years a couple of weeks ago, and my big take away, outside of Ellen Ripley kicking all manner of ass and delivering possibly the most classy “kiss my ass” style line of all time (when presented with the fact that nuking the terraforming facility Wayland-Yutani set up on LV-426 would cost them billions of dollars, she matter of factly responds “They can bill me.”), was that Bill Paxton's character Hudson talked almost non-stop through the entire thing. How James Cameron managed to convince him to whine for 90% of the movie's running time is a feat unto itself, but Zen Studios maybe one upped him by capturing damn near every line you remember him saying.
In fact, sound wise, the Aliens table goes the farther then any table previously in replicating the mood of the licensed property. The music is authentic, the sounds place you directly into the dirty future that Ridley Scott designed with Alien, and the dialog used is straight out of the film, which is more then could be said for all of the Star Wars or Marvel tables they've done. The overall look of the table, covering both Hadley's Hope and the terraforming facility, as well as the egg room with the alien queen spread across the table's back, adds to the feeling of being in the thick of it, as do the table's numerous call backs to various scenes, like the escape from the aliens in the APC, or setting up the remote guns to defend against the xenomorph rush.
The table itself plays fine from a technical perspective, with two oddly shaped ramps directing the action around the table. There's a third ramp that's tucked away around the back side that sends balls past the alien queen, causing her to interact with the table to gobble balls up for the lock animation. The table also allows you to select whether or not the missions follow film order or can be chosen from a list, adding a bit of variety to the multiple times you'll end up playing the table should you pick them up. The missions are fine, with the visual standout being the APC race to Hadley's Hope, but the mechanics of directing the lumbering beast of a people carrier are such that it's a crap shoot whether or not you'll actually “complete” it to the table's satisfaction. There's also a distinct lack of Newt on the table, save for her name, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
Following our property release timetable places the Aliens vs. Predator table in our sights next. This table has the most going on visually, with various pieces of the table physically moving like the ancient temple where the Predators came down to hunt. The ball disappears in some spots only to pop out of one of the walls in others, and while it eventually becomes predictable, it still adds a bit of welcome spectacle to the proceedings. Flanking the table are the titular figures of both the Alien and Predator, but any actions they take are lost trying to keep up with the pinball action. It's sad because both models look amazing, and given the setting, with the pyramid modeled against the back wall and some beautiful art that hearkens back to actual pinball tables covering the center, but there was simply no way to keep track of both them and the ball at the same time.
Sadly, this table doesn't duplicate the sounds or voices of Alien vs. Predator with anything close to the fidelity of the Aliens table. While the fill ins are nothing terrible, and do a better job describing what's going on table wise then Hudson's non-stop yammering, they still feel like something separate, missing the raw emotion of being a human stuck between two of the most terrifying races in the galaxy. None of that carries over in a way that's readable to anyone not familiar with the series, though I imagine the amount of people that are buying this pack just for the love of pinball is fairly small.
The final table breaks away from the movies and tackles what could be considered the first good Alien game in a long while, Alien: Isolation. Just like it's namesake, the table manages to convey a sense of terror, as the Alien stalks across ledges, jumps from the front of the table to the back, and climbs through portions of the wall, only to appear some where else. The music and sounds add to this effect, with the majority of the table narration falling to a male voice that's never identified. I never played the game this was based off of, so the voice may be recognizable to those that have, but its easy going nature and lack of surprise at the goings on lead me to believe that it belongs to someone working for Weyland-Yutani and therefore is responsible for the whole mess. Star of the game, Amanda Ripley, is directed to duck, hide and shoot her way through situations that correspond to items pelted by the ball.
As a table though, there are more then a few things that don't work out as well as the atmosphere. Objectives are small and unclear, and more then one involves hitting markers that represent androids. The markers spin, giving a front and rear view, but the differences are so imperceptible that the required action, hitting them in the back, ends up far more random then it has any right to be. I am a fan of the variety of ramps included throughout the back of the table, and while it could have gone wrong, the grating covering the very back never led to any confusion as to where the ball was going to end up.
Like the majority of tables they release, the Aliens Pinball Pack is an overall positive for pinball fans. It does a great job of capturing the essence of the licensed properties, and Zen Studios goes above and beyond with the actual Aliens table by using the voices from the movie itself. While I may never quite get over just how often Hudson yells each and every one of his meme'd out dialog choices, I think I'll be diving back into a few of these tables every time the pinball beast awakens inside.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!