Review - Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

PopCap Games' latest instalment in the much loved Plants vs. Zombies series is Garden Warfare, a...

PopCap Games' latest instalment in the much loved Plants vs. Zombies series is Garden Warfare, a third person online shooter out now on XBO and X360

Rating

3.5 Stars3.5/5

Peter Nelis, Click Online

, Last Updated: 5:05 PM ET

As a huge Plants vs. Zombies fan, I was more than a little taken aback when Garden Warfare was unveiled at last year's E3. An online third person shooter taking place within the much-loved universe? Surely someone at PopCap was smoking the funny stuff! As nonsensical as the idea seemed at the time, the idea quickly began to grow on me - let's face it, the original's idea of facing plants off against hordes of ravenous zombies was hardly the most sensible of ideas to begin with, so why shouldn't this work? Fast forward to the present day and I've had the best part of the last two weeks to really get to grips with the game, understand what it's all about and, most importantly, see how it all measured up once the public got their hands on it.

Available on Xbox One and Xbox 360 now, and launching on Windows PC on June 30th, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a real hoot. It does justice to the universe so lovingly crafted by those fine guys and girls at PopCap, by taking those iconic characters, rendering them in full 3D and dropping them into a variety of virtual battlefields. The series' trademark humour is still there, but it's not quite as front and centre as it has been in the past, bizarre premise aside, and the end result is a charming, but surprisingly serious multiplayer shooter that acquits itself a lot better than many would have expected.

Initially, it doesn't look like there's a hell of a lot to Garden Warfare. Players are prompted to choose from two main gameplay modes, Garden Ops and Multiplayer, before jumping into battle. Although quite similar in theory, there's quite a difference between the two.

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In Garden Ops, players can attempt to tackle the game in single player - although it's worth noting that it's a hell of a lot more entertaining with others joining in - and the aim is to protect your garden from increasingly difficult waves of zombie attackers, just like in the main series. If tackling Garden Ops on your own, you're going to need to employ some familiar tactics, utilizing the many pots littered near your garden to plant support in the shape of sunflowers, peashooters and more. Between each of the mode's eleven waves, you'll have the opportunity to replace fallen soldiers, or change your tactics to be more defensive-minded or all-out attacking.

Unlike most single player modes in predominantly multiplayer games, there's a stern challenge to be found in Garden Ops, and your use of tactical play, as well as making the right character selection will make or break your chances of success.

Adding more human players to the mix makes the game almost unrecognizable from the single player mode. The maps remain the same, as do your enemies, but it's the reliance on teamwork and balance between the four players' characters that'll determine how successful your team will be. While the first half dozen or so waves will pose little problem for a team of attack-minded characters, once the difficulty starts to ramp up, you'll soon regret not having a sunflower in your ranks to keep the remaining players topped up with health - although the ability to revive fallen comrades is nevertheless a hugely important part of the game. Selfish players or lone wolves will find themselves struggling when it comes to later waves, ultimately costing both themselves and their teammates the potential spoils of victory.

Opting to delve into the dedicated Multiplayer section of the game will bring more variety, although the main gameplay mechanics remain the same for the most part. Online shooter aficionados will want to jump straight into Team Vanquish (read Team Deathmatch), which pits up to twelve players per team against each other, with one group taking charge of plants, and the other zombies.

It's here that Garden Warfare will likely see most of its action. The increased player numbers ensure that the large maps are kept busy at all times, with players utilizing the scenery to make the most of their character's abilities, while the rewards are often far greater from a solid round than they are in other game modes (we'll discuss that in more depth shortly). Like most shooters, Team Vanquish is the meat and drink of Garden Warfare, and the fine balance between each of the character classes on both sides ensures that working together as a team makes a hell of a lot more sense than simply going it alone and hoping for the best.

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The other non-Garden Ops multiplayer mode, Gardens & Graveyards is perhaps more interesting a concept. Similar to Rush Mode in the Battlefield series, here zombies will be tasked with capturing different parts of the map sequentially. Gardens & Graveyards differentiates itself from similar modes in other titles by offering unique missions and objectives depending on the map being played. It's these set-pieces that are both the mode's strongest and weakest points. Fun and all as they are (and they really are buckets of fun), they do tend to get repetitive after a few hours of play, and players will likely find themselves wishing for more variety within a few days.

If you've got a compatible tablet or smartphone, there's the ability to engage in Garden Warfare's Boss Mode, which might alleviate some concerns of lack of variety in the game, however. This second screen mode is a lot more interesting than most we've seen over the past few years, allowing a second player to jump into the action from a top-down perspective, collecting sun as per the original games and deploying support from above. It's a lot of fun, particularly for those who might not traditionally be gamers, and it opens up some new tactical options for local multiplayer - particularly if you're playing with someone who doesn't fancy the endless waves of traditional splitscreen multiplayer. Hardcore gamers probably won't want to bother, but if it opens up the game to more players and stops you getting yelled at for hogging the TV, then it's got to be worth a look!

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There are eight maps in total available in Garden Warfare right now, although it's highly likely we'll see more added by way of DLC at a later date, and although definitely in line with the aesthetics of the series, they do feel a little lacking.

Built using the Frostbite 3 engine, it's more than a little disappointing that there's virtually no meaningful interaction with the environments. The ability to destroy structures, particularly one playing host to sniping enemies, would have been a huge addition - but sadly it's not something that's been implemented here, leaving the experience feel a little cheaper than it perhaps should be.

Similarly, the four main playable character types on each side feels a little underwhelming at times. While there's an incredibly deep class structure here, with players able to upgrade their characters and unlock new sub-classes within each class, there was surely a lot more that could have been offered given how many characters feature within the series. Nevertheless, once you do start exploring the character progression side of things, there's a huge amount of content lurking beneath rather Garden Warfare's rather unassuming façade.

The basic characters can be levelled up by completing challenges as you play. Some of these are relatively straightforward, requiring you to do little more than revive a certain number of teammates, or kill enemies in a certain way, but as you progress they do become a touch more devious - and ever more reliant on the battlefield conditions, as well as the characters chosen by your opponents. It's a strange system at times, and you'll often find yourself completing several matches at a time without ranking your character up, but it's clearly been structured to ensure players get the most out of the experience, rather than allowing them to fly through the game in a couple of sittings.

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Other character classes are unlocked through a unique sticker system, which has both pros and cons. As you play, you'll earn in-game currency which can then be used to purchase sticker packs. These start at 1,000 coins for basic support plants (the ones you'll plant throughout the game to back you and your team up), and go all the way up to 40,000 for super shiny packs that'll unlock new character sub-classes.

Depending on how well your team does, a typical game of multiplayer can yield between 2,000 and 15,000 coins - so it rarely feels like an unnecessary grind most of the time. The problem is that spending 5,000 on a pack, which often seems quite tempting, rarely turns out to be worthwhile, usually only yielding some aesthetic mods for your characters (often characters you rarely use, too), so it's worthwhile holding onto your coins and saving them for the bigger purchases.

While microtransactions aren't yet a part of the Garden Warfare ecosystem, EA has confirmed that it's something they're looking at implementing down the line - which may not sit too well with early adopters. Thankfully though, it looks as though those microtransactions will only enable players to buy in-game currency, rather than allowing them to unlock specific sub-classes or items from the offset. So long as it stays like that (assuming microtransactions are indeed added), I don't think too many players will have a problem with it.

With all its customization options, unlockables and the endless need to top up your support stickers, there's an almost endless amount of content available for players in Garden Warfare, but with a relative lack of gameplay modes and maps that can, on occasion, feel a little too samey, are players really going to stick around to discover everything? That's probably the biggest question mark facing the game at the moment, and it's difficult to say. Right now things are looking quite healthy on the multiplayer front - finding a game rarely takes more than a few seconds, and the community seems to be thriving thanks to the game's lower-than-usual price tag, but the real proof of the pudding will be a month or two down the line, and the post-launch support of the game through DLC will be key in the continued growth of the game.

As a third person shooter, it's a lot of fun. There are some occasional glitches here and there, but nothing game-breaking. The controls have been simplified to entice newcomers to the genre, which might put some shooter stalwarts off, and the overall aesthetic is very much in line with the rest of the PvZ franchise, but there remains a lingering worry that, despite all the unlockables, there's not enough main content to keep players coming back in the future - but with our crystal ball on the fritz, it's impossible to say whether or not that'll prove to be the case.

As things stand right now, with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, you'll get yourself a fine online shooter with plenty to unlock, solid gameplay mechanics and a strong online community - and right now, that's good enough for me to recommend it to series fans everywhere.


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