Plants vs. Zombies has been a longtime favorite of mine. After first discovering the game back on the PC when it was released in 2009, I quickly fell in love with its quirky charm, surprisingly deep gameplay and overall addicting nature. So, when Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare was announced, of course I was a bit hesitant. Not only did developer PopCap Games plan to turn the series into a multiplayer only shooter, but they also took what was originally a top-down 2D game and instead switched it into the third person perspective.
It was a bold move, no doubt, and one that could have potentially backfired tremendously. Fortunately, however, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare turned out to be fairly enjoyable, with enough laughs, easy-to-grasp gameplay and creative design that it makes it easy to overlook the game’s shortcomings.
Essentially, you have two modes here and they come in the form of co-operative and competitive multiplayer. In the co-operative mode (which has absolutely zero linear narrative and is called Garden Ops), you play with up to 3 other gamers in order to defend your garden from a horde of zombies. Over 10 increasingly difficult waves you’re tasked with working together as a team to fight off the undead and make it through to the end. If you do so, you’ll then be forced to defend a landing zone for a few minutes until good ol’ Crazy Dave can come and pick you up. Of course, you can play alone as well but it’s completely impractical as with no teammates to aid and revive you, you’re not likely to make it very far. It’s also nowhere near as fun.
Upon starting up a match, you’ll be able to choose between four different classes: the Peashooter, the Cactus, the Chomper and the Sunflower. Each one comes with three different abilities and a unique weapon suited to its play style. For instance, the Chomper is useful for close quarter combat as its powerful bite has a very short range. On the other hand, the Cactus is the best option for those who like to stay out of battle as its long-range gun gets the trick done without having to rush head first into the chaos.
The special abilities unlock as you level up and depending on which class you choose, they can be anything from a speed boost, the ability to heal your teammates, a deployable shield, turning your character into a turret, calling in a garlic drone (yes, you read that right) and more. Like most games that offer up class-based warfare, there’s something here for everyone and no matter what your play style is, one of the plants will surely suit your needs.
As basic as it may look and sound, there’s actually a great deal of depth here. Though not nearly as tactical as something like Battlefield, teamwork certainly means success and proper planning can go a long way in finishing all ten waves. Of course, putting you in control of the plants themselves, rather than just planting them, means that the series’ trademark tower defense elements are almost completely gone. It also means that the game is never terribly challenging and as long as you have four competent players along for the ride, it’s not very difficult to make it through all ten waves.
During each match, the game will set challenges for you to complete. Be it killing X number of enemies with a certain weapon/ability or something similar, doing so will earn you XP. Of course, this ultimately leads to levelling up whichever class you’re playing as and thankfully, the ranking system carries over online. So, if you’ve put hours into ranking up your Peashooter in the co-operative mode, when you take him online he’ll be at the same level.
Additionally, killing enemies will earn you coins, which can be used to purchase items in the shop. How it works is you’ll be able to buy packs of stickers, though the contents remain a secret until they are purchased. Upon buying them, the stickers will be revealed and depending on which pack you get (they range in price), you can earn yourself some pretty nifty rewards.
While a lot of what you’ll receive are simply accessories (sunglasses, facial hair, hats) which you can equip your character with, you’ll also get items to help you on the battlefield. For instance, you can unlock special defensive plants to place around the map which will aid you in fending off the waves of zombies. If you’re really lucky, you can even unlock new character and weapon skins.
The fact that you can’t see exactly what you’re buying until you’ve purchased it may prove to be problematic for some, as it turns the unlock system into something that’s a bit more luck based. Personally, I didn’t mind it and found the completionist in me eager to earn as many coins as I could in order to unlock everything that the game had to offer. Trust me when I say that there is A LOT to unlock.
Unfortunately, there’s only a handful of maps for Garden Ops and you can only play them so many times before you’re left thirsting for more. Sure, you can keep grinding it out to earn more coins and rank up but pretty soon you’re going to need to take the fight online, and that’s where the meat and potatoes of Plants vs. Zombie Garden Warfare lies.
When you hop online, everything carries over. Your coins, your rank, your stickers, your abilities; they’re all seamlessly shared between both competitive and co-operative play. The biggest difference here, aside from the fact that it’s competitive and not co-operative, is that you can now step into the shoes of those pesky undead.
Like the plants, you get four classes to choose from, each serving a different purpose on the battlefield. There’s a nice bit of symmetry going on between the plants and zombies in their respective classes as well. For instance, the Sunflower is the healer for the plants but on the zombie side, he’s known as the Scientist. Of course, their healing methods and tools are different, but they essentially perform the same function in the game: they’re there for support. My person favorite is the All-Star, who’s kind of like the heavy/demolition class for the zombies and is able to deploy decoys and charge through barriers and enemies.
Of course, with 8 different character types running around in the 12 vs. 12 matches, all wielding their own abilities and weapons, and all with different apparel on, the battlefield can get pretty chaotic. Fortunately, it’s never less than an absolute blast. Only two game modes are included (team deathmatch and an objective based one, with slight variations on each), but several more have been promised in the form of free DLC that’s set to arrive next month.
If you’re on the Xbox One, playing online will also allow you to go into Boss Mode, which gives you a top down view of the battlefield with the ability to aid your team by healing, dropping airstrikes or offering support, among other things. It’s fun for a while, but eventually you’ll want to get back into the action and return to third person view.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s very well polished with excellent controls. There’s also never any lag or slowdown on screen, despite the heavy amount of carnage taking place. From the movement to the shooting, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare feels very tight and refined and welcomes both casual gamers and those who tend to be a bit more hardcore. Running and gunning is permitted, and will net you a good amount of kills, but those who play more tactically are rewarded, too. Again, this isn’t Battlefield, or even Call of Duty, but with all the different classes, abilities and weapons, putting some thought into how you approach the combat can pay off.
Aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. Running on the impressive Frostbite 3 engine, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is just a ton of fun to look at. Wacky and wonky character designs coupled with cartoon-y looking maps that are rendered beautifully gives the whole thing a very Team Fortress 2 vibe. Throw in the fact that while playing online most people have pimped out their characters with various apparel and you get a lot of very odd and amusing sights to look at while you try to take your enemies out. Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is very charming, visually speaking, and the appeal that comes from its look cannot be denied. It’s the type of game that will have your friends wanting to try it out simply because it looks fun.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses with Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare. While I’m sure this will be patched, the game froze on me several times and even crashed while I tried to join and create matches in both the competitive and co-operative modes. It didn’t happen often enough for me to call it a deal breaker, but it did occur enough to make it worth mentioning.
Additionally, with only 3 real modes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that while the game is a ton of fun, even downright addicting and hard to put down at times, it does get slightly monotonous. Yes, it’s a budget title, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it feels like there isn’t much to do here. There’s no campaign to speak of and while chasing after all the unlocks is all well and good, I can’t imagine many people keeping the game in their console for very long. Especially not with something like Titanfall on the horizon.
As I mentioned above, free DLC is arriving shortly and that will most definitely help, but as it stands, after only a short period of time with the game you’ll feel like that you’ve done all there is to do.
So, where does that leave us? Well, whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer, it’s difficult not be sucked in by Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare. Gone (for the most part) are the tower defence elements, but in their place is a refreshing twist on a beloved property. There’s a lot to like here and for a budget title, there’s a healthy amount of content. I just wish that there had been something meatier included in the game. Whether that be some type of campaign or single player portion, or perhaps just something to change up the gameplay a bit, I don’t know, that’s up to the developers. Still, even with that being said, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is a perfectly harmless game that mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go tend to my garden. I believe it’s under attack from a zombie yeti.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Though far from a perfect shooter, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare's addicting gameplay, undeniable charm and visually appealing aesthetic ultimately make up for its shortcomings.