Pro Pinball: Big Race USA
Forget Memorex; the new catch phrase is "Is it real? Or is it?" Empire Interactive presents the third in its series of called, just in case you didn’t figure it out yet, Big Race USA. This video pinball game is by far the most realistic ever created and contains a plethora of real pinball features to prove it. It also includes some features not found before in any other video pinball game, such as a simultaneous multiplayer feature so that everyone can join in!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
If you’ve ever played a real pinball machine, you now know how this game plays. You simply cannot get any closer to the real thing without playing the real thing. This is reinforced by some very realistic options that you won’t find in other video pinball games. These options include setting things like how used the machine is and how well it has been cared for, the general difficulty, and the table slope; as well as allowing you access to the machine’s operator menus. The operator menus are so true to life that you can even run the machine’s various diagnostics such as the solenoid, flipper and light tests just to name a few. While the tests themselves do not really affect the gameplay at all, it’s a nice feature that the true pinball enthusiast will appreciate. The slope and table maintenance settings will very much affect gameplay. For instance, if you play with a steeper slope on a new or well-maintained table, the ball is going to move much faster and smoother than on a lesser slope or a neglected table. More importantly, these settings can drastically affect how you actually play the game.
The game itself is based on a cross-country race that goes from New York to San Francisco, and not necessarily the same route each time. There are two general modes -- In the City and On the Road. When in the city, you can gain access to various challenges which then require you to make certain skill shots to beat the challenge. There is also Jay’s Secret Stash, which allows you to buy items to help you on your journey. Some of these items are quite helpful, such as a trip planner that allows you to select your next destination, or my favorite, the air bag, which temporarily pops up a nice big bumper right between your flippers so you won’t lose your ball as easily. When you finish in the city, it’s time to hit the road, which is done with -- you guessed it -- an accurately placed skill shot. On the road, the object is simply to get to the next city as quickly as possible. If the conditions are right while on the road, you can enter the game’s video mode which allows you to use the flipper buttons to run cars off the road and, if you’re good enough, even obtain an extra ball.
Control in this game is about as basic and standard as it gets for pinball. You have two flipper buttons that control the four flippers on the table. You also have controls for nudging the table left, right or up. The only other control used during play is the Launch button. The menus and advanced options are all handled with the arrow keys.
I have only one major gripe about this game and that is Empire Interactive touting simultaneous competition as one of the game’s big features. Supposedly, you can get a simultaneous game going through a network connection. I was unable to get this feature to work in any scenario on three separate networks. Unfortunately, technical support was unable to help me on this problem and said it worked fine on their systems. Maybe I had a bad CD?
Holy Cow! If I didn’t know better, I’d say the developers simply took pictures of a real pinball machine and simply digitized it into the game. The graphics are phenomenal, second only to looking at a real pinball machine itself. In fact, you can actually zoom in and look at any part of the table and see the meticulous details, right down to the paper game instructions you would normally find on a real table. Aside from the table itself, they did a wonderful job on the ball, too. If you look closely at the ball, you can actually see the effects of it rolling and spinning around the table. Another wonderful effect is nudging the table. There are different settings for how this will display, but it is possible to see the actual table move in the direction it was jarred as well and any effect it would have on the ball itself. There is no lack of attention to detail here.
Hey, it’s presented in Dolby Surround Stereo, so it can’t be all that bad. The sounds and music are handled really well and sound great. This is a game to turn up. As you can imagine, it sounds much like a modern pinball machine and has plenty of detailed sound effects and pseudo '70s funk music to set the mood for the different events in the game. I was particularly impressed by the detail when the knocker sounded after winning free credits.
Pentium 90, 16 MB RAM, sound card, Windows 95/98, Windows NT (with Service Pack 3), DOS, CD-ROM drive, 40 MB hard drive space (150 MB for recommended install, 600 for full install), and 1 MB video card (VESA 2 compliant video card if running in DOS)
Reviewed On: Pentium 233MMX, 6.4G HD, 64 MB SDRAM, Orchid Righteous 3D (w/ 3Dfx chipset), Diamond Stealth 3D
This is a fairly thick manual for a pinball game. At first glance, you might think, "How is it possible to give so much information on a pinball game?" The answer is that while the manual gives you all the basic installation, configuration and gameplay info, it also gives you a pinball operator's manual much like you would receive with a real pinball machine, detailing things such as diagnostic tests. While this information isn’t exactly necessary, the true pinball enthusiast will appreciate it all the same and consider it a nice addition (I know I certainly did). The gameplay info is quite detailed in that it shows you what is required to start, play and finish each individual mode or sub-game, complete with screenshots.
This game is a must for the true pinball enthusiast. Some of the features on the table would probably only be appreciated by a true pinball fanatic, but there are enough other table and setup features that allow Big Race USA to appeal to anyone with any interest in pinball. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the multiplayer feature to work at all. Still, with its crystal-clear graphics and otherwise flawless gameplay, if you are a pinball fan of any degree, you will likely enjoy this game. I give it a score of 82.