Monday 26 November 2012

Pinball FX 2: Civil War

Time to put your PhD to good use.

Politics, pinball and Marvel Comics, all rolled up into one bundle in the form of Civil War, recently released to Pinball FX 2. Chose your coloured gimp and manipulate the powers at be. Sounds lovely.

Civil War is a crossover comic book series released in 2006/2007 by Marvel, written so Stan Lee's creations can experience something deep and meaningful in their lives. The result is a story questioning civil liberties, social security and FREEDOM... but also one which centres around a man in coloured dress called "Captain America" (because as we all know, nothing portrays US domestic politics like light-hearted 1940s propaganda!).

Yes, Civil War is the comic book equivalent of getting a tray of biscuits to reenact the signing of the Maastricht Treaty - serious business until you realise you're compromising with a chocolate digestive. The comic sees the United States government force all superhumans to register on a database, and a fight breaks out between the two sides of the debate. In reality, the solution is ever so obvious - if America hates superheroes... the superheroes should leave America. Half the cast can fly and many have made trips across the multiverse - to pretend that the US congress has (or should have) jurisdiction over their lives is hilarious, so in my mind the story falls apart at the seams straight away.

So as much as I should like Civil War, its short-sighted plot and small target audience means from a non-US perspective, it's a difficult one to get behind. The implication that only America matters doesn't resonate well with me, and the worry is that this waste of ink could translate to a waste of code. Thankfully, as with most of Zen Studio's pinball tables, life goes on unhinged. Yes, Iron Man and Captain America's conversations are tedious and repetitive, but we're still blessed with a clever game.

Much like the recent real-life release of the Transformers pinball table, players are given a choice between two sides, be it Iron Man and his pro-registration party, or Captain America and his secret avengers, each of whom have their own ideas and goals. The scoring opportunities are roughly equal for both factions, but the long-term effect is almost double the expected replay value (or so it would seem).

One could even argue the game is split into thirds, as the optional introductory chapter, scored separately, is almost a game in itself, albeit a fairly uneventful one. It's an interesting addition - your high score from this chapter will be added to all future attempts at the table, with the potential to give you several millions of points before you even plunge.

Civil War shares the same high level of quality you've come to expect from Zen Studios, where you complete a variety of tasks (accessed in different ways depending on which side you chose) to convert floating voters to your cause. The trick is that an AI opponent (the side you didn't chose) is also trying to claim the hearts and minds of the populace, and occasionally you'll end up fighting them.

So, interesting stuff, but sadly, Civil War lacks the edge seen in previous Marvel Pinball sets, particularly those seen in the The Avengers Chronicles package released earlier in the year. To me, it's missing that extra level of polish - very little happens to change the flow of the game, and the focus seems less about the pinball and more about the brightly coloured men arguing about events I don't understand. Oh look, Goliath's dead... who's Goliath?

Despite claiming to have multiple ways to play, never are there any radical shifts in tactics. Aiming for combos always seems to deliver the best results, and as the table lacks traditional "modes", games pan out roughly the same way each time. It's still a tricky one to master though - balls aren't fed into the in-lanes, but rather, onto the flippers themselves, meaning fast reactions are a must to avoid centre drains. Games are short and scores are low - it's not soul-crushingly awful, but it doesn't take prisoners.

The aesthetics are rather dull, which I can only imagine is a side effect of last summer's World War Hulk table, also taking place within an American city. Regardless, there is clearly missed potential here - very little separates the feel of Iron Man's side from Captain America's, and with equally mediocre music, the table clearly lacks the atmosphere seen in other Marvel Pinball releases. The are also several audio concerns that should have been addressed, and aside from Steve and Tony's brawls, the table is largely static.

If you're willing to bypass the lack of brilliance (and possible ties to the recent US presidential election??), you'll find a solid experience here, but for me the net result is DLC which feels slightly out of date. Civil War is still worth the money, but it isn't setting new standards like we've come to expect from recent outings. A fine addition to the library, but not something you desperately need to track down.

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