Although you wouldn’t normally think of them as enemies, plants and zombies seem to have one hell of a grudge against one another. At least, that’s what PopCap and Electronic Arts have been trying to tell us, through their strategy-turned-third-person-shooter games bearing the Plants vs. Zombies moniker. Their propaganda has worked, too, because the war between normally docile flora and the decaying undead has become a sensation, and has continued to branch out into the console and PC space with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
The sequel to a well-received spin-off, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is an anticipated ray of sunshine that brightens up these dreary winter days. It serves this purpose thanks to incredibly fun gameplay, a plethora of different modes and an abundance of colourful charm, not to mention a lot of spit polish.
If you’re new to the fray, all you really need to know is that, in this zany world, Plants and Zombies co-exist and happen to be spiteful neighbours. Yes, the Plants’ zen-like town and its gardens are bordered by Zomburbia, a dark and decrepit place where brain-eaters shamble without restraint. It’s a striking visual juxtaposition, which also sets the stage for a lot of zany gameplay.
Unlike its strategic grandparents, though, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a third-person shooter, which emphasizes cooperative and competitive gameplay. Sure, there are similarities to Call of Duty and Battlefield, but this isn’t that type of macho war game. It may share genres with those gritty behemoths, but it’s got much more personality. It does place an emphasis on strategy, but there’s no need to worry about that, as it’s accessible to boot, meaning that you won’t need to be a rocket scientist or a five hour-a-day gamer to get the hang of things.
To be honest, this was my first venture into this spin-off series, as I sadly missed the first Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare game. I now realize that that was a big mistake, because even though I was overwhelmed when I first started playing this one, it wasn’t long before it’d hooked me.
What’s particularly great about Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 — outside of how accessible and generally funny it is — is how much it has to offer to both solo players and groups of combatants. As someone who’s always considered himself to be more of a loner gamer than an online coop enthusiast, I was happy to discover just how much content there was for me to explore on my own, or with a local, split-screen pal.
Sure, the main draw of this game and those like it will always be online play, but PopCap Games was smart enough not to limit itself to a merely multiplayer-oriented approach. As such, there are bots to play with, as well as two surprisingly robust ‘campaigns’ (one for each side, of course) that can be tackled alone. They’re not the incredibly involved, story-rich modes that you’ll find in some other games, but there are a lot of short missions to tackle; some of which allow for lone wolves to cycle through and utilize four different character classes at the press of a button.
The gist of these narratives is that you’re a new recruit, for either the Plants’ army or the Zombies’ collective. You begin at the bottom, then work your way up (and earn badges in the process), by helping higher ranking soldiers; a list that is mostly comprised of Garden Warfare 2‘s new character classes. We’ll get into those later, though.
For the most part, these campaign missions offer a mix of different game modes, including Garden Ops and its new Graveyard Ops companion. In those quests, you’re tasked with picking a team of four heroes, building a base and then defending it at all costs. This means planting potted plant defences, or summoning zombies allies, and is best described as a wave-based base defence mode. Also, being that this is a creative game that isn’t shackled by any restraints, the developers often spice things up by introducing huge bosses or enemies with special attributes.
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On the other hand, there are also many objectives that will have you exploring Zomburbia and its neighbouring Plant town, while fetching items or saving allies in distress. There really is a nice mix of variety to be found here, and it’s added to whenever occasional mini-games (ie. find ten dubloons by locating and searching marked crates throughout the hub world) are thrown into the mix.
While you’re out and about you’ll also come across side quests, as well as locked chests and rubble piles, both of which require stars (earned by completing various challenges) to unlock or destroy. There’s also a park smack dab in the middle of this richly detailed and well-crafted hub world, which houses a flag pole. If you raise that flag as either sect, waves of increasingly difficult opponents will spawn and try to tear it down. That, itself, is a nice extra that can be fun to play alone or with friends.
The multiplayer stresses both teamwork and strategy over several different modes, including Team Vanquish, Vanquish Confirmed (like Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty), and Turf Takeover, wherein one team tries to take several different points from another. You’ll also find a couple of other options, with those being Suburbination (where teams battle for control of a few different locations) and Gnome Bomb, which randomly spawns gnome-shaped bombs that must be used to blow up the opposition’s gardens or tombstones.
Although I was hoping for a bit more variety from that list, there’s still quite a bit on offer here, and it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of how things work. Plus, when you couple these offerings with the rest of the package — which also includes standalone, wave-based Garden and Graveyard Ops engagements for up to four players — it’s tough to really complain. Plus, EA has been open about the fact that future downloadable content for Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will be free, which makes it even harder to grumble.
Now, as for who — or what — you’ll play as, which happens to be a whole new ballpark.
As you’ve likely heard, veterans of the original Garden Warfare game can import their characters into Garden Warfare 2, which makes choosing to upgrade to the newest version easier. What you may not know, though, is that all players get gifts upon starting their quests, and that those can be found in the mailbox. Characters can also be upgraded and completely customized, and there are even variants that can be unlocked. Hell, there are even special versions of different characters, and those can be purchased for limited use.
The roster, itself, is made up of 14 different character classes, including returning favourites like Peashooter, Sunflower and the zombie Engineer. New abilities have been granted to those classes, but it’s hard not to fall in love with some of PopCap’s new additions.
Joining the party this time around are Citron (an orange who shoots a laser beam and can roll around the game’s huge and detailed maps); Rose (a weaker class that prefers homed ranged and magic attacks); Kernel Corn (a tank with large automatic guns, whose caveat is that he moves slowly); Super Brainz (a superhero-inspired zombie that packs a wicked punch, but also carries a laser pistol of sorts); Captain Deadbeard (a peg-legged old pirate who has a gun that causes great damage at both close and long range, and can also turn into a parrot), and IMP, who’s a tiny little bastard who can hop into a hulking mech.
The cool thing is that you’re not limited to just the base versions of these classes. By completing Solo Ops quests, opening chests and getting lucky in the Sticker Shop (which is also where one must buy consumable potted plant and zombie defences for certain modes), you’ll be able to unlock awesome variants. The list is massive, but some of the more interesting ones are Electro Brainz, Cozmic Brainz, Captain Flameface, Frozen Citron and Mob Corn.
No matter which character you choose, you’ll have a role to play and won’t be at a disadvantage. That is, so long as you’re able to play the role that is required. Some classes are stronger but slower, whereas others are weaker and faster, or happen to have their own unique assets. I highly recommend testing them all out, because it’s likely that you’ll find more than one favourite, as I did. I actually ended up relying on a mix of Super Brainz, Captain Deadbeard, the Engineer and Peashooter. More-so the zombies, though, because they’re better and more fun to play as.
As for the long list of maps: Well, they cover a gamut of attractions and elements. There’s a theme park with portals to different eras, a frozen mountain village, and a moon base. Those are just a few members of a long and awesome list that also features the aforementioned Backyard Battleground and Zomburbia locations. They all look great, too, as Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 packs quite a visual punch, with polished and colourful graphics that truly pop. It also helps that it runs very well, as that’s always the most important thing. However, I should note that I took part in an online review session, and was playing on the servers the day before they went live for EA’s Early Access period.
Needless to say, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a very easy title to recommend, and I can see myself returning to it regularly. It truly is a beautiful and immersive game, and it’s one that offers a heck of a lot of content for its asking price. As such, you really can’t go wrong here.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a great breath of fresh air in an otherwise starch genre. Not only is it a humorous treat for the eyes and ears, but it's also a very rich, balanced, and enjoyable game, which packs a hell of a lot of content into its less than 20gb install file.