Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
PopCap's acquisition by EA has lead to a less than stellar few years for the casual games developer. Plants Vs Zombies 2 came under fire from some quarters for opting to go the free-to-play route that risked turning a beloved tower-defence game into a pay-to-win mess. Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare however, sees the developer take their signature game series in another direction; team-based multiplayer.
The general formula of Garden Warfare has been seen numerous times before. Both the Plants and Zombies teams come with four different units. Each has its own set of unique skills and abilities that give it a different role on the battlefield. The Plant's Chomper for example, operates much like he does in the original game, acting as a one-hit kill unit capable of sneaking up on players by burrowing underground. The zombie's Scientist meanwhile, provides general support and packs a shotgun and a handy teleporting ability perfect for close-range encounters.
The Plants and Zombies are somewhat asymmetric, meaning that some strategies work better for one team than they do the other. The plant's, in general, have a much more defence oriented strategy, with their Sunflower unit able to continuously heal other allies and the Cactus capable of deploying spud mines. In contrast, the zombies benefit from possessing offensive units that are more capable in one on one encounters. Having said that, the game's slower, team-oriented pacing means that going it alone will typically get you killed. If a group of players are working together, it's pretty difficult to take them down without some backup.
A novel addition to the standard four character team structure is the inclusion of boss mode. Available upon respawning, the mode gives you a bird's eye view of the game map and includes a selection of abilities that can be called down. This will usually mean dropping a mini air-strike on a defended location or healing a nearby ally. It's not especially complex, but does reinforce the cooperative nature of the game.
Even the standard team deathmatch requires that players work together in order to achieve victory. There's greater encouragement for cooperation here as well, as reviving a downed unit knocks a point of the enemies score, meaning that looking after one another is just as important as scoring kills. The other major game types are what we've seen before in the likes of Battlefield. Gardens and Graveyards pits the plants defence against a zombie assault, as the defending team attempts to stop zombies from over-running Crazy Dave's mansion, whilst Gnome Bomb sees each team attempting to take down the opponents bases using the titular gnome.
It's your typical multi-player collection of game types, but with a standard horde mode as the only other alternative, the entire came can feel somewhat light for a full-priced title. Even after playing for just a few hours you can feel the repetition kicking in. This wouldn't be so bad if the game modes were unique but when they're just the usual fare dressed up in PopCaps humorous style you can't help but feel a little disappointed.
What's more, the game also includes the option of purchasing additional "packs" which can include character upgrades or cosmetic items to customise your units. Typically, you have to acquire multiple pieces of an item before it's unlocked, and, considering the packs are random, you'll sometimes have to wait quite a while until you've assembled even one reward from a pack, simply because you weren't lucky.
The major catch however, is that the only other option for purchasing additional packs is with real money. Combined with the slow method of unlocking new stuff, you get the sense that PopCap's deliberately made the rewards rather paltry in order to encourage more impatient players to drop down real money. As a result it stalls a lot of the upgrades, y'know, the things that typically keep you playing a multiplayer title, behind a pay-wall. It's a shallow way to nab some more cash from players and can sometimes come across as if this is Garden Warfare's primary goal, rather than making a legitimately fun game.
There's also the problem that many levels are simply too big for the number of combatants. Even in a full deathmatch fights tend to get isolated to one part of the level, meaning much of your time is spent running or shuffling along to try to get into the fray...usually to end up dead a short time after. Smaller maps offer a little more excitement, precisely because they ensure you're almost always involved in the action.
Which leads to the question, who's this game aimed at? Multiplayer junkies are unlikely to swap their preferred game for Garden Warfare, it simply doesn't stack up next to the more popular titles. Which the leaves the more casually-oriented player, who, quite, frankly, isn't going to want to shell out extra money just for the chance to see all of the content.
As a concept Garden Warfare is actually rather interesting, but, in terms of its execution, it's sadly rather lacking.
Planets Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was released in February for Xbox One and Xbox 360. A PC version is due late June.
This review is based on the Xbox One version.
© 2014 LudoLogic