2009’s Plants vs. Zombies by PopCap Games and its 2013 followup are some of the most popular casual games of all-time, taking the simple tower defense formula and infusing it with personality and charm like none other. Using that brand power, PopCap and publisher Electronic Arts made the surprising unveiling last summer at E3 when they opened their press conference with Battlefield theme music, but using it to tease a third-person PvZ action game. It was time for Garden Warfare.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare represents a major expansion of the stylish franchise that maintains a few tower defense elements from its roots and blends it with third-person shooter gameplay. Does Garden Warfare earn its franchise name and does it deserve a spot in your game collection? Read on for our review.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a simple game, designed like its mobile/social predecessors with easy controls, easy goals and an addictive progression system for all audiences. There are no microtransactions in the game yet, but it’s clearly designed with that in mind. Everything players accomplish earns them in-game credits dubbed PvZ coins that can be spent on Stickers and it’s these collectible items – that you can track in your Stickerbook – that provide the consumables used in the game’s multiplayer modes, vanity items to dress up characters, alternate versions of characters and buffs for their abilities. The stickers are a smart idea to keep players feeling rewarded, and continuously offering secondary goals to strive for, and there are a lot of character customization options to unlock.
We should state up front that Garden Warfare features no single player mode, nor does it use the traditional system of collecting experience points for progression. All of the modes are competitive or co-op based, reliant on EA’s own servers, and players evolve their playable characters by completing challenges. There are four playable classes for each the Zombies and Plants factions, each with its own set of unique abilities and variants.
For the Plants, there are the heavy hitting Peashooters and sniping Cacti, the Sunflower medic and the melee brute known as the Chomper. Some are outright better than others, making balance an issue depending on the mode. In playing the main four-player co-op Garden Ops mode, it’s beneficial to have each player using a different class, but in the competitive, team-based multiplayer modes, that’s not necessarily the case and high-damage ranged characters, or ones with area of effect weapons tend to be crucial to winning, especially as the player counts increase.
There’s the ‘Welcome Mat’ mode to introduce players to the system, a team deathmatch style of mode called Team Vanquish (remember, this is a family friendly game) and the most interesting mode, Gardens and Graveyards, where the Zombies team must move from garden to garden in an attempt to capture all seven, while the Plants defend. This mode is complete mayhem with a full roster of players but it’s the game’s most fun and dynamic.
All of the multiplayer modes, including the Garden Ops co-op mode, can be played with a “Classic” setting where players do not have access to their upgrades and customization options, forcing players to play as a team. It’s another layer of challenge, especially for players who can master the four levels of difficulty in Garden Ops mode.
Garden Ops can be solo’d as well, but taking on all 10 waves, bosses included, is near impossible and at the very least, will be costly on the consumables since players will need to plant and re-plant plenty of defenses. There’s a multitude of plant defenses that players can grow and they are acquired via sticker packs. For the zombies, they can similarly raise units from the ground for the Gardens and Graveyards mode. These units can only be summoned however, in predefined areas on the maps, so building a strong defense is limited to how many pots there are around the garden that needs to be defended and where they are positioned.
It’s an odd limitation (the positioning, not necessarily the number of defenses) but one that’s representative of the whole game itself. In terms of content and gameplay, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is relatively limited. Garden Ops mode boils down to being a 10-wave horde/survival mode with a only a handful of maps. Gears of War 3 does it better, Dungeon Defenders does it several times better. There are some interesting design choices however, like a slot machine that dictates what bosses will attack, but with only four characters, three abilities each, replayability is hindered by repetition and simplicity.
It takes a significant grind to earn enough PvZ coins for the Sticker packs that come with rare items but earning these requires replaying the same modes over and over again. While starting out and earning your first packs is a blast, there’s not enough there to warrant extended periods of play repeatedly, especially since none of the modes or gameplay features offer something truly innovative in the genre.
What is there however is a competent, fun and polished gameplay experience, even if all too familiar. The maps are clean, vibrant and welcoming, but the lack of detail spreads to the third-person gameplay. From objects or invisible walls occasionally hindering movement to the game prompting players to heal a downed teammate even if they are currently being healed – with no speed bonus for helping out – advanced players may find the lack of depth limiting.
Garden Warfare is priced lower than standard retail releases, at $30 on Xbox 360, but on Xbox One, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare will set buyers back $40 due to the version featuring two exclusive modes. While we recommend the Xbox One version over its previous generation counterpart, it’s hard to argue that it offers much more value. Unfortunately for Xbox 360 owners who enjoy classic couch co-op, the two-player splitscreen option is only available on Xbox One. PopCap kept it out of the Xbox 360 version and made it a premium exclusive for Xbox One owners. In playing splitscreen in Garden Ops, the mode changes to allow for unlimited waves of increasing difficulty instead of the standard 10-plus-escape.
The other exclusive, Boss Mode, comes off more as a gimmick. Designed with Kinect in mind – it also works with a controller and SmartGlass – Boss mode lets players act out a super-simplified version of Battefield 4’s Commander Mode, except in this version, there’s little to do and most of the time is spent waiting. Playing as either Crazy Dave for the plants or Dr. Zomboss for the undead, players get a top-down view of the map and slowly collect resources (falling icons on the screen) in order to buy one of four support options. There’s no way to interact with teammates and outside of the costly airstrike, the support features are not very effective, making the wait to collect resources while not in the actual battle that much more painful. Again, it’s simple and harmless, but limited.
Players looking for a co-op experience will find something worth playing with friends casually in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, and it offers polished, harmless and simple gameplay that works for all ages but at a stiff price. The game as its currently designed however, seems to lend itself well to the free-to-play model, supported by microtransactions and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it go that path in the future. Right now, there’s only one barrier to entry and it’s the price.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is available for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Its PC release date is currently unannounced.
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