Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Preview
What on earth is this; what have they done to Plants Vs Zombies? Those may have been your first thoughts when PopCap revealed Garden Warfare, and you wouldn't have been alone. Though there's already a traditional Plants Vs Zombies sequel in the works - the expected tower defence of It's About Time - what exactly was PopCap thinking when it decided Plants Vs Zombies should become a third-person shooter? We have no idea, but in all honesty, we're really rather glad it did.
Garden Warfare came out of nowhere and to say it was a surprise would be an understatement. PopCap has taken its most beloved game, the one that cemented its position as a creative, talented and ingenious gameplay design studio, and turned it into something a third-person team-based shooter, erm... thing. Once the initial shock has subsided, and you've let the full impact of this change in direction dawn on you, you'll be left wondering how exactly PopCap, a studio more used to dealing in Flash games than flash bangs, was going to make this work.
Well, that's the exciting thing. It doesn't sound great on paper, but when you see Garden Warfare in action it's obvious why certain decisions have been made. So far we've only been given the chance to see a four player co-op horde mode in action, but it does give you an idea how Plants Vs Zombies' traditional tower defence strategic gameplay has been merged with the shooting action of Gears Of War, and like the original game, it all boils down to those wonderful plants.
Each plant has a specific role on the battlefield, or, garden, and it's a familiar set-up, like many of the class systems found in modern shooters. Peashooters, like the original game, are your bog-standard infantry troops. Easy to use and dispensable, you can jump into a Peashooter and start hammering away at the in-coming zombies and provide a good base of constant fire. What's also useful is that you can begin reinforcing your garden by planting Pea-turrets in plant pots positioned at specific choke points. It's not clear how hands-on players will be able to get with this sort of strategy in the long run, but it's a nod to the deeper strategy of the series.
Sunflowers act as the healer class and are able to shoot powerful sunrays when they're caught in a pinch. Chompers are your frontline troops, able to swallow zombies whole and to round off the current crop of troops, we have the Cactus snipers. Yes, it's all extraordinarily silly but it's also an awful lot of fun. Plants Vs Zombies' art style translates far better than you'd think into 3D, too - perhaps that has something to do with all the merchandise - but it also looks right. And that's also true of the gameplay. Obviously, Garden Warfare isn't quite as cerebral as the original game, but you'll still have to think on your feet and co-operate with your fellow plants if you and Crazy Dave are to beat back the zombie horde and survive. There's a certain element of Valve's Team Fortress 2 that seems to have influenced design, but it's clear PopCap has been desperate to experiment with the PVZformula and push it in new directions. It's evident throughout Garden Warfare that this is a studio trying something different.
Whether it works or not is too early to call. It certainly looks like it's going to be a lot of fun. The zombies are still funny, the plants are still happy and Dave's garden and subsequent suburban town look like a brilliant pastiche on America, as well as offering a layered battlefield, but what if it's all a bit too silly? In bite-sized chunks on your iPad, Plants Vs Zombies is a dream to play, as a competitive online co-op shooter? There's a very real danger it could be fall into the category of 'fun for five minutes' and then everyone will go back to Battlefield 4