The conflict between Plants and Zombies has moved beyond tower defense.
PopCap’s Plants Vs Zombies began life as a rather quirky tower defense title in which the player would plant defensive and offensive plants in their garden, in an attempt to stop waves of Zombies from reaching the house and eating the players’ brains. After making an appearance on pretty much every platform, and a sequel that was perhaps not received quite as favourably, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare arrived. This time around, tower defense has been cast to one side in favour of a team-based multiplayer third-person shooter, in which the player can take on the role of either Plants or Zombies and run around a map vanquishing the other team. Sounds like fun?
There are two modes in the competitive multiplayer part of Garden Warfare. Team Vanquish (and the classic Team Vanquish) simply drops players into a team of Plants or Zombies and allows them to choose one of the various classes before setting them free to be the first team to reach a given number of vanquishes. The other mode is Gardens and Graveyards which basically carries attack or defend objectives that see the map expanding.
There is a third mode in the game, although this is more of a co-operative survival mode in which the player and three buddies, all as Plants, must defend against waves of Zombies. The interesting factor here is that the players can plant defensive plants in pots that are strategically placed around the area, giving the more more than a hint of tower defense gameplay. This mode is pretty enjoyable, but plays second fiddle to the craaaazy competitive modes.
So each team, the Plants and the Zombies, have four basic classes from which the player can choose. Rather than mirroring the classes across each team, all eight are very different and play differently. This makes the fact that the game is at all balanced all the more amazing.
On the Plants team, we have the Peashooter, the Cactus, Chomper and the Sunflower. The Zombies have the Soldier, Engineer, Scientist and the American Football Zombie. They each have different skills and different roles on the battlefield.
Once the player has chosen a class, they will be presented with a number of objectives that need to be completed with that class, such as vanquishing a certain number of enemies or healing team mates. These objectives are locked to the player and carry on from game to game, so they don’t have to be completed in a given round unless specified. Complete all of the objectives and that class will level up. The first few levels for each class will unlock new skills for those classes, making them even more versatile.
So, once you have unlocked all of the skills for a given class, you may find yourself controlling an engineer Zombie that can zip around on a road drill or who can launch a controllable drone that can attack Plants from the skies. Or you may have a Cactus sniper that can drop mines and set up walls to hide behind. The variety of the classes really is one of the highlights, and there is a strong incentive to keep playing that first time until all of the skills have been unlocked for all of the classes.
Playing matches will result in earning coins, which can then be spent on buying packs of stickers that looks like trading cards. There are a huge number of stickers to collect, and the random nature will mean players have to spend a craaazy amount of time if they are looking for something particular. Some of the stickers offer cosmetic upgrades for your classes, such as tatoos or headwear. Other stickers will gift the player with seeds for planting in the pots, or special stickers that allow the player to, for example, skip an objective. Then there are the stickers that give bonuses to a particular class.
Perhaps the most desirable stickers though, are the multipart stickers that unlock the variants of the classes, such as the Hot Rod Chomper. These variants come with special skills and stand out on the battlefield. Given the multipart nature of these stickers, finding them all and unlocking the variant will likely take many, many hours of playing.
The maps in the game are fun to play on, with some great choke points and higher ground to gain control of. But the problem here is that there is only a limited number of maps, so things get repetitive soon after the player has learned the map.The promise of free DLC down the line will hopefully add not only some new game modes, but also some more maps.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the game is the way it looks. The environments all fit in well with the theme of the game, and the Plants and Zombies themselves all look the part. Everything is crisp and colourful, as you would want from a Plants Vs Zombies third-person shooter, and even the animations feel right. Garden Warfare is as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
Besides the limited number of maps and modes, the only other real downside is that the game is pretty much multiplayer only and needs to be online. Garden Ops can be played alone, but that removes much of the fun. Gamers who take exception to multiplayer only games will do best to avoid Garden Warfare.
Despite the lack of a real single player mode, and the relatively few modes and maps, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an absolute joy to play. It is a shooter that is made for all of the family to enjoy, and one that can only get better as more content is added. As Crazy Dave would say, “Wibble yerk blarg”, which could mean “Buy It Now”.