A Different Kind Of Shooter
Titanfall receives plenty of attention, but there's another shooter that delivers over-the-top battles and a unique collection of characters - EA and PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Available for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC, this slow-paced third-person game puts a unique spin on the celebrated strategy franchise. Yes, it pits a group of ferocious plants against the undead, except the developers blended familiar tower defence elements with in-your-face multiplayer battles spread across different modes. It's Peashooter against Foot Soldier Zombie in all-out war.
Garden Warfare succeeds because it is both fun and accessible to players of all skill levels. Squeezing the left and right triggers to zoom and fire, respectively, will feel instantly familiar to gamers with experience playing Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, while newcomers will discover a more forgiving shooter that does not bombard them with sensory overload.
A Game With Character(s)
Each faction features balanced units with signature abilities. Not only are there advantages and disadvantages, but also counter moves. The venus flytrap inspired Chomper burrows underground and reappears directly beneath its prey, swallowing the victim whole. The aforementioned Foot Soldier Zombie, meanwhile, can make a quick escape with a Rocket Jump. To avoid death, the Scientist Zombie teleports out of harm's way. What's a Chomper to do? Easy, spit purple slime that slows enemy movements, making those bothersome zombies a delicious treat.
What's especially cool about these characters is the impressive depth. Although there are four classes per side, the game includes multiple variations. With the Cactus, players will eventually gain access to the Fire variant that shoots flaming needles, along with the Power Cactus that unleashes electric bolts. Similarly, the Engineer Zombie variants contain the colour-spewing Painter and explosive-plunger firing Plumber. This is in addition to the hundreds of hats, masks and other accessories players eventually gain access to, offering plenty of ways to customise one's favourite plant or zombie.
Get Off My Land
Once gamers pick a side, it's time to enjoy Garden Warfare's multiplayer modes. Team Vanquish is by far the most intense, with two squads comprised of 12 players gunning for 50 kills. Maps are large enough that players will never get lost, whether they're in the homely Suburban Flats or exploring the pirate-themed Port Scallywag; Classic Team Vanquish forbids customisation, upgrades and unlocked characters for users who prefer to keep things simpler.
Players interested in tower defence, on the other hand, should immediately step into Gardens & Graveyards. In this delightful mode, the plant team attempts to protect gardens while the zombie squad seeks to destroy these areas. This is where PopCap channelled its previous Plants vs. Zombies games, with players able to spawn computer-controlled plant units at set locations, pelting the opposition with the slow-shooting Pea Cannon and gatling-gun style Repeater; there's also a Heal Flower that'll give nearby units a health boost. Regardless of which side one chooses, this attack and defend mode will keep him or her entertained for hours.
Not Your Ordinary Stickers
Gardens & Graveyards in particular ties into the game's virtual economy. Playing the game and completing objectives results in different amounts of PvZ coins added to a person's bank account. From there, he or she can purchase and subsequently unwrap Sticker Packs containing different units in the game, along with those accessories and class variants. Packs cost different amounts of coins, with the most expensive Supremium Pack coming with one Super Rare item and character piece. Thankfully, EA did not include the option to obtain coins through in-app purchase, and gamers will earn thousands from simply playing Garden Warfare.
Meanwhile, Xbox One owners receive two bonus modes, splitscreen offline co-op, and a special Boss mode that casts them as either Crazy Dave or the maniacal Dr. Zomboss. In it, they view the action from a top-down perspective while delivering artillery strikes through Kinect, a standard Xbox One controller and even a SmartGlass compatible device. If this sounds familiar, that's because PopCap took a cue from Battlefield 4's Commander mode, which functions in a similar way. While not as action-packed as other game types, Boss mode is at best a brief distraction from the mayhem.
The only potential issue with Garden Warfare is the game's online requirement. In addition to being connected to the Internet, console players must also subscribe to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service, even if they want to play offline co-op. This might be a problem for gamers with subpar connections.
Otherwise, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a surprisingly entertaining and polished extension of the award-winning series. The wealth of different characters, customisation options and simplistic controls put it ahead of more complicated shooters, and the light-hearted take on competitive multiplayer makes it an ideal purchase for families. For some, it will tide them over until Titanfall. For others, it'll become their go-to video game for months to come.
GAME's Verdict: 9/10
- Wide assortment of zany characters with signature abilities and weapons.
- Gardens & Graveyards blends multiplayer shooting with tower defence.
- Budget price and no in-app purchases.
- Requires Internet connection and Xbox Live Gold.
- The only offline modes aren't available on Xbox 360 or PC