ProPinball gets lost in its own web.
Computer simulations walk a very fine line in computer gaming. On the one hand, they must be realistic enough to make everyone sitting in front of their computers believe that they actually could be out flying a jet fighter or driving the greens of Pebble Beach. On the other hand, since sims must also be cost-efficient and not be forced to run on workstations only, perfect realism can never be achieved.
What does any of this have to do with empire Interactive’s ProPinball for the PC and Macintosh? Very little, but it seemed like a good way to explain all that’s lackluster in this pinball simulation. Released for the PC, Macintosh, Playstation, and the Saturn all at the same time, the designers didn’t realize that the game wasn’t very good on any of the platforms. While a sim cannot be expected to perfectly mimic the feel and play of a true pinball table, ProPinball: the Web falls far short of that goal.
Basically, there is but one table design in the game, and that is simply called “The Web.” It is never really made clear why empire would choose to give the table that name, as nothing else except some funky bumper decor smacks of anything webbish. There are motorcycle racers, rocketships, space stations, and skyscrapers throughout the game, but no spiders and no webs to speak of. At first, I thought the name of the table was a reference to that oh so trendy references of references, the Internet, but the game failed me in that detail, as well.
In lieu of several table designs, the programmers put in lots of “missions,” as they call them, ranging from games of find the spy to shoot the shuttle. Nothing has anything to do with anything else, and the whole game has a feeling of disjointedness. Seeing that the entire game only takes up about 100 megabytes on the CD-ROM it comes on–and most of that is probably music–the designers could have well afforded another couple of table motifs in the package.
It’s hard to not compare a game with its predecessors, so I’m not even going to try to avoid doing it. In the realm of pinball games, nothing comes close to that classic, Epic Pinball for the PC. Available for free in most cases, the game had numerous table designs included in it, each with its own theme, and nothing ever strayed from that, whether it be dinosaur hunting, android construction, or deep-sea diving. Sure, the graphics weren’t great and table-scrolling proved to be a problem sometimes, but the basic concept was a solid one, and the developers stuck with that. Oh yeah, and you didn’t need a CD-ROM in the drive to run it.
The best thing about Epic Pinball, though, was the truism of the physics involved. The physics of a pinball simulation is key, for it separates the big boys from the wannabes. In any pinball game, real or video, when you held up a flipper, the ball slowed down to a stop for accurate shots into the ramps. Not so in ProPinball. It is remarkably hard to stop the ball on this table, making most pinball strategies moot.
Yes, ProPinball looks nice from a graphical point of view, and that counts for a lot. But take the game out of the packaging, and you get a whole other perspective.