Platform(s): Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Review
The online shooter market is packed full of gritty, realistic, mature shooters. Every month seemingly sees a new release trying to be the next big thing in online shooters. Understandably it comes with a raised eyebrow and a slight look of bemusement when I say that EA’s latest release is one of the most refreshing shooters in years–and it’s not even trying to be. Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is simply one of the biggest surprises in modern videogames to emerge in quite some time.
There’s a natural sense of cautious curiosity when it comes to approaching this spin-off of the immensely popular tower defence game. A third-person class-based shooter based on Plants vs. Zombies? The concept sounds like a recipe for a cheap cash-in, but what’s actually on show within the game is far from a lazy attempt to gain a quick buck. In short, it’s pure class.
Garden Warfare is firmly focused on multiplayer, hence its lack of any kind of singleplayer campaign. The bulk of the game is split into a horde-like co-op mode called Garden Ops and competitive multiplayer. Irrespective of which mode you opt for, Garden Warfare is a tightly crafted experience that bares some similarities to the roots of the series (no pun intended) whilst feeling completely fresh at the same time.
Garden Ops, as one of the game’s main modes, starts with the players selecting one of a number of gardens to protect in the current map. Players choose classes and build a defence via plants positioned around the garden in empty pots. Each match is broken up by boss waves and random mini-boss spawns, giving it a steady flow of variation. Each bout of Garden Ops also has a satisfying conclusion, with players holding off an extraction zone as franchise-favorite Crazy Dave flies down in his RV to pick up the surviving players.
The mode is nothing new, admittedly, and is arguably outdated when compared to other titles offering the same experience, but what carries it further is the sheer sense of fun, even in defeat.
Garden Ops holds its own as a game type, with replay value being offered by achievements and difficulty settings. The higher difficulty settings are brutal, requiring players to be on top of their game to even have a sniff at victory. However, there is always the feeling that Garden Ops plays second fiddle to the other multiplayer offerings. It’s enjoyable but often feels more like a preparatory tool to familiarize the player with which classes serve which purpose and how they play.
There is an upside to this, however, as the lessons and appreciation for team work earned in Garden Ops allows players to seamlessly move into the competitive multiplayer environment. This area of the multiplayer is split between two modes: Team Vanquish (Team Deathmatch) and the brilliant Gardens and Graveyards. This well-crafted mode tasks zombies with taking a point on the map defended by the Plants in 15 v 15 combat. With every point the Zombies take, new areas of the map are unlocked, giving each match a real sense of life. Each map comes with its own climax, also, all of which have a Takeshi’s Castle groove to them. The closing acts of each map are some of the most enjoyable and utterly insane moments on offer in videogames at the moment.
The qualities of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare particularly shine through when playing Gardens and Graveyards. Classes intertwine together to create a sense of balance as well as a requirement for team play. The abilities of each class lend themselves perfectly to the gameplay, as well as the maps on offer. Foot soldiers and grunts make up the frontline force of both teams, while scientists & sunflowers act as support. The Plant’s Chomper is the only melee class available with its burrowing and eating abilities. The Zombie engineer builds turrets and teleporters, as well as having the ability to uproot burrowed Chompers. Cacti act as the Plant’s long-range specialist, while the Zombies are flanked by their tank-like All-Star.
Each class also has a special ability that counters one of the other classes, giving the game a very old-school approach to class-based combat. The abilities give each class a unique feel and purpose to the team effort.
The system, at its core, strips away most of the convoluted padding that modern games have sneaked into class-based games. The ranking and leveling systems are also far from obtrusive, allowing players to experience the game how they wish while leveling in a natural manner.
In keeping with this theme, Garden Warfare replaces perks and a catalog of useless unlocks with a sticker system. Players can buy packs of stickers, bought with money earned in-game, which in turn unlock various cosmetic items, weapon upgrades, and character parts which unlock classes with a twist. This system may feel a little thin to some but it’s nevertheless a well-rounded and simple feature that works extremely well with the rest of the game. The lack of microtransactions is also huge plus, proving that EA still has a heart regardless of their money-grabbing in other franchises.
The sticker packs play a part in both game modes, Zombies can unlock AI-controlled allies to spawn in the competitive multiplayer, while plants can unlock a familiar plant from the original Plants vs. Zombies to use in both Garden Ops as well as Team Vanquish/Gardens & Graveyards. While it does seem a little odd that Plants’ unlocks have more effect on Garden Warfare as a whole, it never affects the overall balance, nor does it give the player any buyer’s remorse.
The joys of Garden Warfare extend far beyond its gameplay. The presentation is utterly stunning, with special attetion being paid to the animation of each character model. The bright colour pallet gives the game an undeniable sense of wonder and joy, not to mention it’s a fantastic change of scenery from most multiplayer shooters. There isn’t a single nook or cranny of Garden Warfare that looks iffy or lacking in detail. The animation, especially on the Plants, is brilliant, with leaves moving with a distinct sense of grace. The visuals lend themselves well to the tone and theme of Garden Warfare, allowing the whole experience to feel truly vibrant.
Garden Warfare also has an overwhelming sense of charm instilled into its heart. There’s never a time in which the player is caught in a negative mind state. Each match is laced with so many laugh-out-loud moments that it’s hard not to find yourself with a huge grin whilst battling away. It’s equally difficult to remember an online shooter on the consoles that provides such a feeling of sheer delight, and most importantly, such an encapsulating aura of fun.
The only complaint that could be leveled at Garden Warfare is the lack of maps on offer. While each map is well designed, the lack of them results in the same map being played too often, allowing repetition to crawl in. The complaint is minor, yes, but relevant nevertheless. Fortunately this issue is easily fixed via support from Popcap, who have already announced that downloadable content is in the works.
Garden Warfare is one of the most well-crafted multiplayer experiences to release in a long time, both in terms of gameplay and in technical achievement. The gameplay is tight and flows perfectly with each and every element of the game. Controls are tight and accessible, allowing anyone to dive straight in regardless of experience. The whole game is a well-rounded product that stakes a claim as the best multiplayer experience on the new generation of systems, even more so given the complete lack of server issues or game-breaking bugs that other, bigger games suffered from at their respective releases.
To summarize, Garden Warfare is brilliant. It’s fun beyond comprehension, there are no gimmicks, no balance-breaking microtransactions or perk systems, no killstreaks or cheap play styles, just sheer videogame fun. Given the game’s tone, it’s suitable for all ages, and with split-screen supported, this is a huge positive. Some videogames are supposed to challenge the player, tell brooding stories, and make an impact; others just want to entertain you. That’s where Garden Warfare jumps in. It oozes quality in almost every aspect.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is the best multiplayer experience on offer on both consoles, and absolutely should not be missed.