When Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was first revealed during E3 last year, most folks rolled their eyes in disgust. To them, it seemed like a lousy way of cashing in on a successful property. "Oh that Plants vs Zombies seems to be quite popular, why don't we just make it a shooter?"
However, I seemed to be one of the few that thought there was some merit in the idea. Plants vs Zombies has a lot of charm on its own and transforming it into a multiplayer shooter seemed like a good fit, considering the game already had lots of different types of plants and zombies available. Perhaps I am not just quite as jaded as everyone else but I was curious to see how Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare would turn out.
I am glad to report that Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare isn't just a neat concept, it is a very well made shooter that has just enough of its own elements to make it stand apart from the competition. At the time of this writing, there isn't enough content available to make Garden Warfare your "go-to" shooter for years to come but given its unique style and gameplay, you are likely to keep coming back to it anyway.
When I say that Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a multiplayer shooter, I mean it! There is even a notice on the box art saying that Xbox Live Gold is required to play. As a result, there is absolutely no single-player content in this game at all, so if you are not interested in a multiplayer-only game, then you should check something else out.
For the rest of us though, there are three main modes of play. On the competitive multiplayer front, there are only two modes, Team Vanquish and another one called Gardens and Graveyards. These both are basically Team Deathmatch and the Rush mode from the recent Battlefield games, respectively. There is also a co-operative mode called Garden Ops, which I will get to later.
This review is being written over a month after the game has been released and I am happy to report that EA and PopCap have already added another map and mode as free downloadable content. The new mode is called Gnome Bomb, which replicates the Obliteration mode from Battlefield 4. In this mode, the two teams are battling over a single bomb, and the teams are trying to destroy each others monuments whilst trying to protect their own.
The fact that the game originally shipped with only two competitive game modes might be an immediate disappointment for some. But I have been reflecting upon previous multiplayer shooters and I realised that I only stick to a handful of modes anyway. For example, Call of Duty: Ghosts has loads of modes but whenever I fire it up, I usually just play Team Deathmatch. So while the lack of modes will be a legitimate criticism for many, if you are like me, you might not be too upset at the lack of game modes. Also, the fact that EA and PopCap are already adding free content means that they are looking to keep players interested for the long haul.
The core gameplay in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare's competitive modes resembles a class-based shooter like Battlefield or Team Fortress. Though an important difference here is that both the Plants and the Zombies have their own unique classes. Each class has their own main weapon and three special abilities, which are on a cool down period after use. Most of the classes are typical for the genre, with medics, engineers and regular soldiers being represented. The only class in the game that you might be surprised by is the Chomper, on the plants side, who likes to burrow underground and eat unsuspecting foes. The two teams are different enough to keep things interesting but similar enough so that it doesn't feel jarring going from one team to the next.
For example, the Zombie team has a soldier that does a lot of what you would expect. His default weapon is an assault rifle and on top of that, you can fire a rocket launcher that's attached to your back and you can toss a zombie grenade that doubles up as a smoke and gas grenade. The Zombie soldiers can also use a jump pack to help them get to high positions.
However, the Peashooter on the Plants team doesn't have any of these special abilities. In fact, even the main weapon for the Peashooter feels very different to the Zombie's assault rifle. The Peashooter shoots out semi-automatic peas that are slower but do much more damage. You also need to lead your target a fair bit as the Peashooter as the pea projectile takes some time to hit its target. The Peashooter's special abilities are wildly different too. One of them allows it to become a stationary turret for a short amount of time, another allows to it move more quickly and the final ability allows the Peashooter to shoot out a Chili Bean Bomb, which is a very powerful grenade.
Just by comparing these two classes, you can see that the designers at PopCap took the time to make every single class in the game feel unique, despite them looking similar at a glance. Garden Warfare is actually an asymmetrical multiplayer experience, it is just a lot more subtle about it compared to something like Left 4 Dead or Natural Selection.
But is the game actually any fun to play? It is, thanks to smooth controls and solid shooting mechanics. Nothing about the gameplay is going to knock you off your chair but it is a lot of fun and on terms of balance, all of the different classes bounce off each other very well. The shooting has a good feel to it and there is satisfying feedback given when you are doing damage to an enemy. But like any good class based shooter, players who aren't very good at the whole shooting thing can focus on aiding their teammates instead and they will be rewarded appropriately as well. All of the maps are very well designed too and with 24 players packed into them, matches feel appropriately chaotic.
There is also the aforementioned Garden Ops mode, which is a bit like the old Plants vs. Zombies games in concept, where four players have to team up to protect their garden from waves of computer-controlled zombies. A lot of folks will feel immediately familar with Garden Ops as it feels a lot like other wave-based survival modes, but it is well executed here.
You have to survive ten waves and then on the eleventh wave, you have to extract from the level via Crazy Dave's caravan, which is very similar to how Mass Effect 3 did it... minus the Crazy Dave part. This means that Garden Ops missions aren't too much of a drag and on normal difficulty, it is very doable, as long as players stick together and play their own class properly. You can also place turrets and other types of plants in this mode, which is a neat nod to the original Plants vs. Zombies games. Garden Ops isn't as interesting or compelling as the competitive multiplayer modes for me, but it is a good palette cleanser that is fun to play and I am tired of being shot in the face. There is also a two player split-screen variant of this mode but it has an infinite number of waves instead of ten.
As you are playing Garden Warfare, you will earn money which you can use to open a series of sticker packs. These sticker packs can unlock a variety of different things like new cosmetic items, class upgrades and deployable plants for the Garden Ops and Gardens and Graveyards modes. However, the main thing you are probably want to go for are all new characters, which are variants of existing classes already in the game. For example, I have a fire version of the Sunflower class which shoots of flame shots, which is neat. The game has a lot of unlockables and I found myself keep playing just to see what else I could unlock.
This unlocking system is very similar to the packs that you can buy in other games like Battlefield 4 or Mass Effect 3. However, Garden Warfare doesn't have any microtransactions in place as of this writing, which is nice but the more expensive sticker packs are worth a lot of coins and it can feel like a drag saving up all of that money. Some people might also be annoyed that you can't unlock what you want, it's a luck of the draw every time but like I said, that did keep me playing.
The graphics in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare are great with vivid colours and a charming artstyle that is just pleasant to look at. The Xbox One version also does a great job of holding a steady 60 frames per second, which makes the gameplay smooth and responsive throughout. The only problems I had with Garden Warfare's visuals was that the game does have some technical issues. Sometimes when you load into a level, there is some really ugly looking texture pop in that looks atrocious. There was also a crazy bug that happened to me twice where the rest of the level just didn't bother to load in and my character couldn't shoot or do anything. Perhaps this will never happen to you, but this really should be fixed.
Sound wise, Garden Warfare does very well also. All of the sounds used for combat are great. While there is plenty of violence going on, the game doesn't use the typical type of sounds you would expect for a game like this. Instead, the game uses a lot of comic sounds and strange sounds for the characters and their weapons, which compliments the game's artstyle very well. The game also has great music too, but I wish there was more of it during the actual gameplay.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare isn't going to be the next big shooter that everyone is going to play for the next five years. But I think EA and PopCap know this, and they just wanted to make a zany and unique take on a very well known formula. Nothing about actually playing the game is that amazing but the fact the game has such a unique flair about it goes a long way to make you think that Garden Warfare is much more interesting than what it really is. There are better games out there but I have had plenty of fun with it and there aren't many other shooters out there where you can take your aggression out on plants!
FOUR OUT OF FIVE
(A great game that largely succeeds, but stumbles in some notable ways.)