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Plants vs. Zombies, Garden Warfare: A Review
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was released on February 25th in North America and February 27th in Europe for Xbox 360 an Xbox One (reviewed). It was later released for Playstation 3 and 4 for August 19th in North America and August 21st in Europe. A PC version was released for June 24th in North America and June 27th in Europe.
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't regretting buying into the current console generation, he likes to fight ferocious jungle animals with his damn bare hands.
The last time John tended to a garden was in Viva Piñata where he bred numerous exotic creatures for profit. He is even renowned for solving the country's inflation by eating the currency of chocolate coins. To the locals he is known as Johnbonne the Paunch.
Zombies ate my Grains
The name Plants versus Zombies is easily one of the most recognised in the mobile gaming atmosphere, and when it comes to reeling off the names of pioneers on that platform it shouldn't go amiss. Known mostly for its lane-based tower defence gameplay, PvZ never striked me - or most people it seems - as the grounds for a third person shooter. But when you think about what the source material consists of you can see the idea but as little more than a joke, much to how Snakes on a Plane came to be - a concept so silly that you had to take it seriously when the laughter died down. And the name says it all - it's plants versus zombies, and the word "warfare" in today's video game industry immediately makes us think of Call of Duty. Electronic Arts are no strangers to using a name (as well as the zombie's pose in the first 'a' of the word 'warfare') to attract people to a product, as we've seen with Medal of Honour. In fact it's hardly surprising that EA went with this considering they spend a lot of time badmouthing rival publisher Activision's CoD rather than fixing Battlefield 4. Now don't get me wrong, I'm guilty of liking products that are unfortunately published EA like Titanfall and have recently been pooling loads of time into The Saboteur, so I feel as though to even things out I need to take a cheap pop at the mega corporation. I sure hope that they won't fall into chaos because of it.
The fact that a shooter based on Plants versus Zombies exists is enough to turn heads. What's even more surprising is that it's developed by PopCap, the original creators of the 2009 TDF hit. And you'll never guess what: it's actually pretty good.
Garden Warfare is entirely multiplayer focussed, taking inspirations from competitive multiplayer titles as well as Garden Ops, a co-op tower defence mode. Launching with 7 competitive multiplayer modes not counting Welcome Mat for new players and Mixed Mode, PvZ might not keep everybody busy for long but it can't be said it doesn't have something for everyone, especially when its modes are designed so well.
With Garden Ops players must choose a plot of land and defend it from waves of Zombie invaders, increasing with difficulty and numbers as the length of the match goes on. While it's not as easy to appreciate the class synergy in this co-op mode, teamwork is the key and on few occasions will one person be able to do the work of 3 others.... even with the help of plant pot friends. What separates this from your average obligatory Horde mode is the packets of seeds you can buy from the store with coins to help you reinforce your defences and keep your scarecrow ticking, each of which will show noticeable effects on the field. As expected in tower defence, your plants will surround the plot of land and keep out intruders with rapid firing peashooters, healing sunflowers, doom shrooms and more - and you can still contribute yourself. Garden Warfare makes PvZ more attractive not just as a single game but as a franchise because you're always doing something, not just minding your garden from a top-down perspective. If Horde mode isn't your thing however, the competitive side might curb your interests.
"Mixing MOBA elements like creep and zone capture makes PvZ stand out amongst the rotten tomatoes that are the modern military shooters."
Despite the seven modes to choose from, I found that only two were worth revisiting each time I booted up the game: Team Vanquish and Gardens 'n' Graveyards. As a primarily Deathmatch player, I would've thought that PvZ's own Vanquish mode would keep me satisfied for much longer than it did, but whenever I went to Garden Warfare it was entirely for GnG mode. It's here where the Plants have to defend a series of gardens against player Zombies, as well as their own summoned minions to batter at the gardens. Mixing MOBA elements like creep (that depend entirely on the player's inventory, more on this soon) and zone capture makes PvZ stand out amongst the rotten tomatoes that are the modern military shooters. While the Plants and Zombies' minions aren't necessary and, much like their MOBA cousins, are mostly there as distractions, they can still provide vital aid if the opposition is proving to be tougher than expected.
It's no exaggeration to say that you'll be showered in rewards as you play the game, earning coins for killing, suppressing, aiding, healing, reviving, capturing and even trying at different things on the field. PvZ knows how to make you feel better after a bad round, as your coin count will be fairly high after being wiped the floor with, but the bonuses for winning are even greater and the gain was too great to miss out on. Coins can be spent in the game's store for different packs of stickers (to me they resemble trading cards more), where you can find permenent upgrades to your characters as well as new characters, skins, top-ups for your plants and zombie minions and other useful items for Garden Ops mode. What irks me is that the game has the gall to sell you a solution to a problem that doesn't exist with microtransactions. You can buy coins in different multitudes with real cash, but once again I'm surprised EA isn't asking for much - 70,000 coins for only £8.99? Considering most packs cost around 20k-40k in coins, that's not too bad. Plus you get some really flashy stuff from those.
While you can only play as 4 types of plant and zombie, each feel fairly different to each other and their styles complement each other rather well in competitive play. The Plants are more of a defensive bunch, using guerrilla tactics like stealth, landmines and long-distance shots whereas the Zombies are made entirely for marching forward with the biggest guns and minimal support. I find that because of the Zombies' crazy weaponry and clever devices (it's nice to see an Engineer use a Jackhammer as a vehicle for once) makes for a more entertaining experience, and each kill is further rewarded by being able to use your enemies' death spots to spawn minions.I also found the Zombies' emphasis on fully automatic rather than semi-automatic and charged weapons to be more enjoyable thanks to the fluency of the control, whereas with the Plants it was rather sluggish.
One of the best things about the Plants and Zombies is progression and customisation. Not only do you have different accessories for your characters, but other full conversion skins of the different classes to make them stand out amongst the originals. I for one love the fiery Cactus or the camouflaged Foot Soldier, and the different weapons they have are just as interesting to watch as they are to destroy with. Not only this, but each class can level up to unlock new abilities and passive strengths. Challenges can help you unlock these early on and they'll also increase your overall level which provides even more perks. There's never a boring moment if levelling up and customisation are your thing.
Garden Warfare is best experienced on next-gen consoles or PC due not only to the gorgeous visuals but running at a silky smooth 60FPS. It's unfortunate that on the Xbox One I noticed some minor framerate drops in the most hectic of fights, but that brings me onto the best thing about the game's graphics: the particle effects. It's also it's downside due to how much there is going on screen; with clouds of purple gas and flaming bullets flying everywhere, streams of violet and bright yellow healing energy and explosions everywhere, you can't really focus on one thing at a time. It makes it hard to tell apart the plants and the zombies, and oftentimes I shot willy nilly in hopes that I'd do something in those moments of psychedelic madness. The art style and animation, while basic, is still worth noting and stands out amongst the gritty, murky competitive shooters we've come to tolerate. I'd go as far as say it's not one of the best looking games on the market, but it sure is pretty.
Where PvZ stumbles is with its sound design as the theme is the only thing I could remember during the creation of this review. I had to go back and play a match to listen out for the weapon noises, taunts and other sounds but there really wasn't much that appealed to me. In the heat of a firefight it's the last thing you'll notice, but weapon sounds and the soundtrack can do wonders to the mood if the game is becoming stale.
Final Verdict: Great, but short lived
With all that said, I found Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare to be a great game, and having thought originally that it was a cheap cash in made the experience all the better due to exceeded expectations. Even though it's not going to compete with bigger titles like EA's own Battlefield nor will it grab people's attention like Sledgehammer's November instalment to the Call of Duty franchise, but it ought to be a bit of fun that isn't missed out on. It's biggest problem, and a glaringly obvious one at that, is that I was only interested in Gardens and Graveyards mode mostly because the others were variants of that or Deathmatch. There isn't enough meat on this game despite its free updates such as maps and stickers so unless you're comfortable with playing two or three modes you ought to pass on this title.
It's hard to recommend Plants vs. Zombies when the only thing it has going for it is unique and interesting classes, progression and the GnG mode. If you insist on buying it, I'd say get it for £25 or thereabouts, and if you own a next gen console it's worth the three or five extra pounds you'll pay for that boost in performance and visuals.
Now if you'd excuse me, I have to write to PopCap about the sequel. Thanks for reading, have a pleasant day, and don't forget to follow on Twitter for more greasy gamin' banter.