Absolute Pinball by 21st Century Entertainment/Expert Software/UDS (DOS, Win95)
Absolute Pinball Box Art

Reviewed: 06/1997

Rating: 3 1/2 of 6Rating: 3 1/2 of 6Rating: 3 1/2 of 6Rating: 3 1/2 of 6

Product Home (UDS)
Developer Home

search AltaVista

Desert Run, The Dream Factory, Aquatic Adventure, Balls 'N' Bats

Absolute Pinball initially was only released in Europe but has now surfaced in the USA as a discount package from Expert Software. There is some confusion about the distribution. While the software sports the big 21st logo, the packaging clearly indicates Expert. However, Expert's Web site makes no mention of the product while a reference can be found on 21st's site; but neither company lists the product in their official catalogs. Absolute was designed by UDS - Unique Development Sweden - a growing company that got its start in the Atari world. It features four different tables whose themes - Paris-Dakar rally, Hollywood, deep sea, baseball - are not entirely original but sufficiently different from what has been done before. The 2D scrolling planview can be employed in three VGA and two VESA resolutions: 320x240, 360x270, 320x400, 640x480 and 480x640. The last one is called "VESA Flip" and rotates the tables 90 degrees. This is the only non-scrolling display but requires the monitor to be put on its side. A clever idea but how many people really feel comfortable doing this each time? Unfortunately then, the next best and preferred resolution is the scrolling "VESA Norm" which manages to display about 2/3 of a table at a time. Space is taken up by the dot-matrix display situated at the bottom end of the tables. Absolute supports up to 8 players. All games are 5-ball play with the top 5 scores being recorded. Highscores can be reset but default back to annoying preset scores. Tables can be nudged left, right and up, tilt seems to be rather insensitive. Screen resolutions can be switched on-the-fly via keys 1-4. All keys are set and can't be customized. However, Absolute considerately supports the Thrustmaster Pinball Wizzard (even in DOS) and the Philips Virtual Pinball Controllers (which I do not own). The only other available game option aside from sound volume is a seperate resolution for multiball play. Multiball here is rather unexciting and anyway, why bother? Why wouldn't I already play in the most optimal resolution during single ball? Various video modes are featured that involve the usual games of hand-eye coordination skills. A lot of effort has been put into the enjoyable dot-matrix animations.
Quality-wise, Absolute falls somewhere in between the likes of Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Illusions with a hint of Psycho Pinball. It's got crisper graphics, more complex layouts and more advanced features than the dated Fantasies but doesn't top the non-scrolling Pinball Illusions (still the best 21st game, IMHO) in either originality, excitement or ball physics. I'm especially disappointed in the physics again. The ball generally moves softly and slowly, unnatural for a steel ball, making gameplay somewhat unnerving and boring soon. In the flipper area it gets downright annoying. The slingshots are somewhat set back, exposing a piece of the in-lane rails to direct hits where the ball bounces off too hard and usually arches outside the reach of the flippers - it's right there but you can't reach it and have to wait for the trajectory to complete. Also, unless the ball directly hits the pivot, it can't be stopped and cradled, it rolls right off the flippers. An absolute faux-pas for something that wants to be called a simulation and advertises "authentic ball movement to perfection" on the box. Sound-wise, both the effects and the background tunes are marginal. SFX are cheap and few while the fluffy synthesizer music reminds one of Leisure Suit Larry walking through hotels and riding elevators.
I had a particular installation problem with the MS-DOS version and the install instructions are contradictive in a few places. To avoid too much detail, the standard installation refused to find certain data files on the CD-ROM. I could start the menu but not get to any tables. Unless there is a unique problem with my CD-ROM reader or the drivers, it almost looks like they screwed up with relative path references inside an executable. I worked around it by installing the entire CD-ROM PINBALL subdir in the root of the install partition. It still requires the CD-ROM but at least it works though it uses 19MB instead of 8MB disk space. I'd like to hear from others about this oddity. Then, I dislike that regardless of the installation dir, an INI file is written to C: root and each time I start the game, some file is copied from the CD to the HD, duh.
The table rules come on CD-ROM in Adobe Acrobat format. If you already have Acrobat on your system, you can just load the .PDF file without running the documentation setup, which is available for Win3.1 and Win95. I find it a bit odd that as a user of the MS-DOS version, I need to go into Win3.1 to access the doc.
Absolute is mediocre, more-of-the-same, nothing new or to be excited about. However, it is a bargain and doesn't require the most state-of-the-art system. The four tables bear many similarities although they also have their uniquenesses. The point can be argued again if it is necessary to provide "multiple tables for your money". To me, in the end, it still feels like I am playing a single game and this one doesn't have near the intensity of StarPlay's pinball sims or the Pro Pinball series. Quantity doesn't replace quality but it can make you feel a bit better.

Where Found: CompUSA, Arizona, USA, 06/1997

Released/Copyright: 1996, 21st Century Entertainment Ltd. and Expert Software. Developed 1994-1996, Unique Development Sweden