It may have been overshadowed by Titanfall, but Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a worthy alternative on Xbox One, 360 and PC. So says Doug McCormack in our review…
Since its announcement PopCap’s “Garden Warfare” has been something of an anomaly.
The original PvZ is best known as a lane based 2D tower defense game, in essence you control a variety of potted plants, their role is to thwart endless waves of zombies and their attempt to destroy the garden and its accompanying home. While it’s been on multiple formats from PC’s to tablets; at heart it has always been a single player only experience. The Garden Warfare variant is a significant change for the franchise. Eschewing the hand drawn 2D style and converting to the third person is certainly a dramatic metamorphosis. Indeed the game runs on DICE’s mighty Frostbite 3 engine and looks for want of a better word, lush.
Garden Warfare is a riot of colour – all bright green chlorophyllic hues and primary colours each of the eight available classes drip with character and humour. The sight of the Zombie Engineer pogo-sticking across the map upon his trusty jackhammer, builder’s crack exposed to all; still has the ability to elicit a chuckle even after witnessing it for the 50th time. The whole thing chugs along at what my eyes define as somewhere between 50-60 frames per second with no visible slowdown even at the most riotous moments of game-play.
As a class based shooter Garden Warfare perhaps owes more to Valve’s timeless Team Fortress 2 than it does its parent game. Similar to TF2 each of the two teams have character classes suited to roles such as “Tank” “Medic” or “Support”. However unlike TF2 the classes aren’t mirrored on the other side with just different colours to differentiate them. For example, the medic on the Plant’s team is the Sunflower; who can lock on to a friendly with a healing beam, but can also root itself into the ground and fire a devastating solid beam of sunlight, perfect for covering choke points on the map.
The closest analogue on the Zombie side is the Scientist, who’s armed with a short range teleporter, can drop a canister of healing purple mist to support allies in addition to doling out sticky grenades to catch plants unawares. The upshot of these misaligned character classes is that the game forces the players to utilize different skills depending on which side of the conflict they spawn. There are eight classes in total, four on each side each one has several challenges to achieve and multiple customization options to unlock. Costumes, buffs and minions can be acquired by buying sticker packs using the in game currency (Think FIFA Ultimate Team packs). As such there’s a wealth of items to unlock to keep completionists happy.
For now the currency is earned through in game score which works in lieu of traditional XP. In the main, this system works well, however some of the more expensive packs cost between 20 and 40k. The average game seems to yield about 2000 coins per player, thus you have to engage in a grind to afford a chance of earning some of the more rare stickers and sets. Even at that, the packs are randomized and it’s possible you may end up using your hard earned coins on a bunch of duplicates. Moreover there’s no way to trade stickers with other players or some AI market, heightening a sense of frustration. EA/PopCap’s have been non-committal regarding questions about the potential to monetize the game through micro-transactions it’s unclear what this system will look like in the future.
The most profound change from the original single-player experience is the implementation of an online only multi-player focus, which may leave casual fans of the original somewhat perplexed at the shift to 3D; not to mention the added and unfamiliar peril of being shot at. Garden Warfare ships with three game modes “Team Vanquish “Gardens and Graveyards” and “Garden Ops”. Team Vanquish is straight up team deathmatch with first team to 50 “vanquishes” achieving the win.
Gardens and Graveyards is a fun take on Battlefield’s tried and true Rush mode. Zombies are on offence trying to claim a Garden from the Plants and converting it to a graveyard within a time limit. Should they succeed; the clock resets and the trundle on to try and claim the next garden on the map. The plants on the other hand only have to run the clock down on one of these gardens to score the win outright. The whole thing can descend in to chaos with numerous explosive chilli bombs and potato mines detonating during the last ditch defense of a garden.
Garden Ops is probably the closest approximation of the traditional PvZ experience (by way of Gears of War’s Horde Mode). It’s a four player co-op mode where plants defend a single garden against waves of progressively stronger AI zombies. This is a surprisingly difficult feature, the mode represents a challenge at normal mode; and any attempts I made at higher difficulty levels ended in failure relatively early when paired with dysfunctional players who ran heedlessly into danger. On the flip-side, when paired with a good team the sense of achievement out of a prolonged session is as good as any similar mood in other games.
It’s a curious decision for EA to release a class based, online only shooter so close to their marquee launch of the quarter; Titanfall which just so happens to be…..a class based online only shooter. Maybe EA’s accountants crunched the numbers and believe the demographics won’t clash, I hope that’s true as PvZ Garden Warfare is a unique and satisfying experience in it’s own right, and despite some ambiguity with future plans for monetization deserves to find an audience and have it’s day in the sun.
– Doug McCormack