Hands up if you’ve never played Plants vs Zombies. Surely I can’t be the only one?
The original Plants vs Zombies was a bit of a success. Out in 2009, originally on PC, the game lead the way during the great tower defense days. It transferred amazingly well to both the mobile platform and over to console, with the Xbox 360 version throwing in some well received co-op and multiplayer experiences. But the tower defense genre has been on the wane for a little while now, the heady days of the early twenty-tens have gone and so Popcap Games have had to try something a little different. And different is what Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare is.
Different, but somehow the same. Ish.
For what we have now is a third person shooter. A third person shooter with no single player campaign but instead some rather outstanding multiplayer aspects. It’s also a third person shooter that takes plenty of leads from the original game by incorporating just a smidgen of tower defense into the equation. So yes, it’s a shooter at heart but throughout your time playing Garden Warfare you’ll constantly be noticing the subtle little defense moments.
From the main menu we are given three distinct game options; Garden Ops, Multiplayer and Split Screen modes. Accompanying all of these are some rather delightful customisation options and in depth looks at the characters we are on board with but we’ll get on to those later. As a single player and new to the game, you’ll want to find yourself taking in a bit of Garden Ops. This is the closest you’ll get to the old tower defense game as you play on the Plants side and need to defend your garden against increasingly difficult waves of enemies, punctuated by some tough as hell bosses like the Disco and Yeti zombies. You’ll find the split screen local co-op mode plays out very much like Garden Ops as well so if you want to run through some endless waves of Zombies with a friend then this could be your port of call.
You get to control one of four characters in the third person view, each with differing movement styles, weapons and special attacks. Pea-Shooters are your bog standard front line troops, the Sunflower takes on the role of medic, the Chomper is your hard core melee attacker whilst Mr Cactus sees to the aerial and long range sniping side of things. Each have a number of challenges available and as you progress through these you find yourself unlocking more weapons and abilities as well as moving your way up through the ranks. Alongside these characters, the Garden Ops mode gives you the ability to ‘plant weapons’ much like you would back in the tower defense days. There are many plants you can call on, each with their own unique styles but whilst these can’t move to help you fight the zombie hordes, without them you would be over run very quickly. Of course, it’s not as simple as throwing down hundreds of potted plants to help you out, you need to have earned, purchased and found them in the many sticker packs that keep the game (and it’s replayability) ticking over nicely, but more on that later.
Garden Ops is a tough old cookie to crack on your own, but thankfully it’s one that becomes slightly easier the more players you can team up with. Three team mates is the ideal number to take down the hordes and with that many, and a good deal of communication, you’ll find yourself on the verge of running through all ten levels of each of the five maps relatively easily, unless of course you attempt the hard and craaaaaaazy level difficulties.
Once you’re done with those, you’ll probably find your next port of call over in the main multiplayer section. This gives you your only chance to see the gardens from the zombie side of the fence as you play online with up to 23 other players in a couple of game modes; Vanquish or Gardens and Graveyards. Gardens and Graveyards is the preferable of the two options and is pretty close to the Garden Ops mode except you find yourself up against other Xbox One owners instead of the AI, with the teams being extended to 12 a side. Teams are allocated randomly for each of the five maps and so if you’ve found yourself leveling your plant dudes up in Garden Ops, you’ll get plenty of chances to use those extended skills or learn the best zombie way of defending against them. Alongside G&G, is Vanquish. This plays exactly the same as any old team deathmatch does with the sole aim of the game to reach 50 team kills. I’m not a big online shooting fan mostly because I get frustrated at my poor skills and constant deaths but I noticed that Vanquish was rather enjoyable and not the usual slug-fest that I have found with ‘proper’ shooters, Ghosts and Battlefield 4. Both modes have the equivalent ‘classic’ options which see all upgrades and customisation options switched off. These feel like they have been added just to bring a little depth to the game but in reality, if you’ve unlocked plenty of upgrades and accessories for your plants and zombies, why would you then want to play game modes that see all that switched off?
As is the way with the Plants, the Zombie team focuses on four character types; Soldier, Engineer, Scientist and All-Star. The first two speak for themselves, but the scientist has a shorter range weapon and is good for healing whilst the All-Star gets to use all his brute force to power his way through the plant defence. Again, the Zombies can be leveled up as and when you hit certain challenges with each different character and it’s these challenges and the fact that you need to switch between ideas that keeps things fresh….for a while.
If you fancy overseeing the action as a god like figure then there is one more option available to you, Boss Mode. Essentially this sees you checking over your troops from your console or smart glass tablet (keep in mind that it is optimised for 8 inch and above devices), whilst raining down missile attacks on the enemy and throwing health packs the way of your own team. It’s a different way of playing and is okay if you want something a bit more relaxing but lacks that killer excitement factor that the rest of the game leans on.
And then we get on to the customisation, something which Popcap have invested into rather heavily. Not only can all characters be amended with props, tattoos, accessories and the such like but weapons and armour can also be upgraded. All this comes about via the introduction of a shop, sticker books and the purchase of sticker packs. These packs can be purchased using the coin system that is found in the game and is something you receive for every kill, level completion or character skill upgrade you partake in. The packs themselves come in a variety of forms with the cheapest giving you the basic plants needed for Garden Ops and G&G whilst the super packs cost a fortune but give you plenty of rare and super rare items and upgrades, with the middle ground filled by other packs that focus on certain aspects of the game or army. In a welcome change from the now norm, there are NO, I repeat NO, micro transactions found in Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare and I applaud both Popcap Games and EA for not including something that was probably very tempting indeed. It keeps things on a fairly even playing field as the temptation for the rich kids has been diminished and instead this means that the more you play a game, the better you’ll get no matter how much money you have in the bank. You know, like games should be?
The way you upgrade is up to you and it is these sticker packs that keep you going back for more. In fact, without them, the replayability value of the game is somewhat poor. Yes, you can upgrade each character to a certain skill level but the lack of maps found in Garden Ops and the low variety of unlockable weapons (three for each character) mean that once you’ve got to a level you are happy with, there isn’t an awful lot left to accomplish. A single player campaign would have perhaps drawn things out a little longer but as it stands, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare is one of those games that could well be put to one side once the big hitting Titanfall and the such like hit home.
Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare isn’t a bad game, in fact, there’s much fun to be had from it especially if a group of you communicate well together. At it’s very best, it’s a unique hilarious shooter with some well thought out maps, but it will no doubt appeal to the youngsters a bit more than the older (possibly more serious) crowd. Those still hanging on to the tower defense genre should also just about be satisfied, but the poor showing in variety of game modes means that after a couple of weeks, it’s pretty much odds on that you’ll be playing other things over this.
I’ve now experienced the Plants vs Zombies world but whilst I’d love to give Garden Warfare a 4* rating, the truth is its lack of depth just makes it fall short.