Pro-Pinball: Big Race USA Review
By Catherine Black |
Anyone who's a fan of PC pinball simulators is already familiar with Empire's Pro Pinball series. One of the company's earlier titles, Time Shock, was hailed by several members of the press as one of the greatest pinball sims ever released. Now the company has returned, along with the crew at Cunning Developments, with a new sim that's worthy of the same praise. In Big Race USA, these teams give you the experience of owning your own pinball machine, complete with system tests, machine deterioration and diagnostics.
The most important thing about Big Race USA is that the game is a load of fun to play. Even those who don't give a damn about making minute adjustments to the way the game plays will have a blast just slamming the ball around the screen looking to score as many points as possible. The loose idea is that you're a taxi driver trying to make it across the US. Some ramps will cause passengers to hail you, others will let you pick them up, and others just give you more distance towards your final goal. There are loads of different sub-quests to master, from the U-turn rewarding Bonus Bonanza to the switch hitting challenge of Mall Mayhem. Better still, for those who manage to activate it, there's a little sub game that's played on the dot matrix readout at the top of the screen in which you are responsible for driving your cab for a certain distance trying to wreck as many cars as possible on your way. Although this last game is a little hard to see, every quest in the game is challenging without being frustrating, and like a real pinball machine, rewards those who have spent a long time learning the nuances of each one.
Even with all of the great gameplay options, what really sets Big Race USA apart is its excellent ball physics, realistic table options and dedication to using only one screen to display the entire table. The ball bounces around the screen exactly as it would on a real table, the flippers respond well (although using the shift keys is a great deal different from the feel you get with actual flipper buttons) and the ball will even bounce into the air hitting the glass with a sharp crack. One thing that didn't seem quite right to me was the ball to ball collision that occurs during multiball. The balls just never seemed to collide with the same spring that they do in a real arcade. Still, this is a small complaint to what is otherwise a brilliant physics engine. Real pinball freaks will also enjoy twiddling around with all of the table setup options which range from the very usefully table angle, number of extra balls allowed and table condition choices to really nit-picky selections like Solenoid Test. Cunning Developments has gone to great lengths to insure that owning this simulation is exactly like owning the real thing.
Big Race USA's graphics also help you believe that you're standing in front of a real table. All of the lights, bumpers and flashers have been painstakingly detailed. If you look close enough, you can even see the reflection of the table in the pinball as in rolls around the screen. The game's soundtrack was well crafted, but the main theme gets really irritating after a short time. Even so, the rest of the game's sounds were plenty good and show that the company once again put in a lot of research to figure out what makes a pinball machine a pinball machine.
I did have a couple of problems with Big Race USA (after four or five plays I would get a weird slowdown that would persist until I reloaded the game) but all in all it stands out as one of the finest pinball sims I've ever played. If you're looking for one really good pinball game, this one is probably as good as it's going to get.
-- Trent C. Ward