My son is the world’s biggest fan of the Plants Vs Zombies franchise. Like, the biggest fan ever. He started playing the 2D tower defense games on my phone, and as he grew and his coordination got better, moved onto the Garden Warfare series. What this preamble is leading up to, and I promise there is a point, is that when he heard that there was going to be a new entry in the Plants Vs Zombies series, he spent his own pocket money on buying the Founders Edition of Battle For Neighborville, basically allowing his old man to get in on the action too. So, come with this old man as he attempts to clamber over the garden wall and into Popcap’s latest shooter!
First off, and we have to address the look of Plants Vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. If you’ve ever played any of the previous Garden Warfare titles, then this new title will be instantly familiar. The game worlds are bright, colourful and imaginative, and the various protagonists that you can take control of have all had their roster extended. There are a number of new areas to explore, with the majority of the game centred around the bases of opposing forces. In between the two strongholds lies Giddy Park, an area that allows both sides to meet up and have a good old fashioned ruck, no matter whether you wish for these to come in the AI fashion, or populated by real live gamers; it is obviously the latter which are a much stiffer challenge!
You see, it is always fun to jump into Giddy Park to find your opponents spawncamping the area where you land, and even when you can see the enemies from the base, before entering the area, weirdly you can’t shoot them, as your bullets pile up against an invisible wall. Even when bad guys are on a giant big wheel, in plain view, they can’t be shot, which fast becomes frustrating. In addition to Giddy Park though and there are three other single player areas; one for the Plants, one for the Zombies, and a third that is shared. This shared map is the Town Centre, home to a Zombie Nightclub and many other locations; Team Plant have access to Mount Steep, and the Zombies get opportunity to wander though The Weirding Woods.
Each area has a plethora of missions to accomplish, usually in multiple stages and requiring a few steps to complete. For instance, on Mount Steep, the Zombies have cut off the cheese supply from the fort of the Plants, and guess who has been sent to sort out the situation? Yep, that’s right – whichever plant we have chosen to be. After scouting the Cheese Mines, we are tasked with finding three items that will allow us to control the Mouseflies, who will then be able to take down the moldy cheese walls that the Zombies have built. This is a good template that the rest of the game follows, as each area delivers an overall objective, which must then be pursued through a series of smaller missions; most of which are quite often absolutely mental. An example being that in order to gain access to a boss in the Town Centre, we have to bling up a lawnmower and take out the Zombie Robot Bouncers that block access to places that we need to get through. And yes, it does get weirder from there on out.
Playing out very similarly to the previous games, Battle For Neighborville may well induce in you the same feeling that I had, that of a strong deja vu. The plants and zombies control as they always have, which is a comfort in some ways, and whether you usually play as a Cactus or a Footsoldier, the way you are used to rolling around the arenas is still there. However, with three new characters on both sides to get used to, there will still be some learning to be done. Those who embrace the Plant side of things will find that there is now Night Cap, a ninja style mushroom, who is a master of the mushroom martial art, Fung Fu. Another new plant is the Acorn, which has a fast firing machine gun on his head and can transform into a mighty Oak at the push of a button. Last but not least is the mobile flamethrower, Snapdragon, who torches their foes with either fireballs or gouts of flame.
For the Zombies we now have Electric Slide – a classic disco zombie, who uses electric attacks to light up the battlefield, in addition to coming equipped with a funky pair of roller skates. Space Cadet is a tiny new zombie, with a similar look to the Imp from the last game, and speaking from experience her speed and small size make her a real problem to hit. Last and definitely not least though is the ‘80s Action Hero, armed with a Rambo-esque bow and hairstyle, complete with a complicated set of special abilities that make him a threat both at range and close up. As usual, the new characters aren’t really that balanced, and the Action Hero and Night Cap are both very overpowered, either when you come across them in AI form or over in the multiplayer arenas. In fact, I’d fully expect some balancing to follow. In addition to the new guys though and it seems as if there has been a leaf taken from the Overwatch book of characters, as the returning Plants and Zombies have been split into different classes. Things are now setup with Attack options – like the Peashooter and Super Brainz – in Support form as the Scientist and the Sunflower, and Defense, with the All-Star and the Citron going into battle with their respective shields.
Speaking of the multiplayer, the scene here is also pretty similar to before, with just the one really new mode to worry about – Battle Arena, a 4v4 battle mode that features a lot of intense, close quarters combat. The rest of the multiplayer options will be pretty familiar, with an updated Garden and Graveyards featuring multiple stages per match. With various objectives like pushing a payload and capturing and holding various points on the map, this mode is quite interesting and plays well. The servers are pretty well populated too, so finding yourself a server with fellow players is never a chore.
In all, there are six multiplayer modes to have a crack at in total, including PVZ versions of Team Deathmatch and Control, cleverly titled Team Vanquish and Suburbination, and in addition to being playable across online servers, couch co-op is also included in all modes, even the story modes. Having a second player coming along for the ride on some of the trickier missions can be a real help.
But for all the good, there are sadly a few issues with Plants Vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, and these first crop up in the single player story mode. See, the missions that you have to accomplish really do suit some of the Plants or Zombies more than others, and choosing the wrong avatar can render some of the missions pretty much impossible. For instance, in the climax of the Town Center quest, if you take a Chomper, then the final boss cannot be beaten. I don’t mean it’s tricky, I mean it literally cannot be done. Even as a Snapdragon it’s very tough, but if you use a Night Cap or Peashooter it’s a piece of cake. Now, you might think this isn’t an issue, but if you start with the wrong character, you have to abandon the stage of the quest you are on, before starting again from the beginning of this stage, with a new character. This is a bit annoying and maybe a bit of a warning that your character won’t cut it could be included before you waste time playing things out.
Other than that, the only other complaint is a feeling of having seen it all before. The characters add a bit of spice, but other than that it’s pretty much business as usual. Battle for Neighborville could have been called Garden Warfare 3 and it would have worked just as well, and it is very much a case of a slight bit of evolution, and hardly any revolution. Besides that, I miss that the characters have lost their variations; i.e. a Flame Peashooter, Plasma Peashooter, full auto Peashooter, the Law Peashooter and so on. Now there is just the one Peashooter that you can play dress up with. Similarly, unlocking new characters from the Sticker Shop was a great deal of fun, and that has gone as well.
All in all, Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville on Xbox One is pretty much Garden Warfare 2.5, in both the good and the bad ways. New characters and maps keep things a little bit fresh, but the way the game plays, the control of the characters and the overall feel is straight out of what has come before it. While it seems that Popcap and EA have played it somewhat safe, Neighborville is still an interesting game to play, and with more of an emphasis on the story mode, including the return of the gnomes to find and vanquish, there is plenty of fun to be had here. Just don’t expect to have your socks blown off with the originality on display.