Evidently parodying modern military shooters such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, this unlikely candidate for multiplayer madness comes in the form of PopCap’s hit franchise – Plants vs.Zombies: Garden Warfare. With no single player offerings, the game is being sold at a reduced price and offers slightly different takes on both cooperative and competitive play.
It was perhaps the most curious looking of the Xbox offerings at E3 last year, initially perceived as a marketing gimmick for Plants vs. Zombies 2, but does Garden Warfare prove that anything can become a shooter?
Credit where credit is due, even on the Xbox 360 this game looks utterly charming. From the tune that plays during the lobby sequences to the vibrant art style, it boasts bags of character. Maps range from decent sized arenas with plenty of vantage points and hiding spots, to sprawling multi-tiered gauntlets in the Gardens & Graveyards point capture mode, all of which have their own particular theme. Pop-in is a frequent problem however, though this may be a mutually exclusive issue to the Xbox 360 version, as you run into walls that appear ten seconds later.
Each faction has their own set of four classes. Plants have the Peashooter as their main attacker armed with explosive Chili Beans and Gatling Turret abilities, the Sunflower as their main healer and sun-beam of maiming, the Chomper for melee based ambush tactics and armed with a gunk shot to slow down foes, and the Cactus who acts as the main sniper complete with Wallnut barricades, Garlic Sentry bots and Potato Mines.
On the zombie side you have the Soldier armed with a machine gun and a rocket jump, the Engineer who can use his abilities to stun foes and build mobile turrets to surprise those pesky plants, the Scientist who can teleport to get the jump on foes or stay back to heal his teammates, and the All-Star who uses tackles, explosive imps and barricades.
Each has their specific role, with zombies favouring close quarters action and plants favouring distance fighting, but no one class feels especially broken. Being the Chomper is particularly tricky to get used to, but ultimately rewarding when you leap from the ground to eat that pesky zombie wrecking your teammates.
Garden Warfare is essentially three main modes with some degree of variation thrown in. Garden Ops is the cooperative mode of choice, which in many respects plays similar to Iron Brigade, but the focus is on your ability to shoot rather than the tower defence element. Facing ten waves of enemies, culminating in a slot machine roll to determine which bosses you fight in the tenth wave, you must defend your garden patch until Crazy Dave comes back to pick you all up in his RV.
Once he arrives, the game shifts to a mad dash towards the highlighted area and staying alive in order to leave. By placing cards obtained from sticker packs as “towers”, the game manages to transfer the classic Plants vs. Zombies style of gameplay, but ultimately it is your skill that gets you through the challenges.
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Vanquish is your deathmatch mode, with normal, classic, and “Welcome Mat” variants. “Welcome Mat” is designed to ease you into the game by taking place in one map and giving you small permanent health increases upon being killed. Given the challenge system in place for level progression with each class, this is the easiest way to progress to rank three quickly to obtain all your powers. It’s serviceable, but nothing especially exciting.
The highlight is of course the Gardens & Graveyards mode. Here, the zombies are tasked with taking over territories before the time runs out, with the plants asked to defend. Each map has its own theme, such as the zombies trying to invade Crazy Dave’s swanky mansion or stop the “Tactical Cuke” from launching.
As the plants, the game is a tense survival match reminiscent of the Garden Ops mode. But being the zombies here is perhaps the most entertaining as should you get to the final phase, the game changes drastically. For example, five of you need to walk through the front doors of Crazy Dave’s mansion to win, evading a gauntlet of explosive Wallnuts fired from cannons; while to stop the Tactical Cuke you need to evade bombardments of corn to get to the building where you place TNT to blow it up. It’s goofy, but huge fun.
Perhaps the most significant issue with Garden Warfare is the sticker system. Each match you are rewarded with coins to spend on sticker packs. Each one has a varying level of unlockables inside, including costumes, weapon upgrades and single-use abilities. Being like booster packs, these upgrades are randomised, meaning that progress could be hampered. Currently the game has no real money transactions, but this is an area that could be a large focus during the game’s lifespan, which is a somewhat worrying prospect.
Also, while the lower price tag is a boon, having only three game types doesn’t quite justify a full-blown retail release. If this was the price of a standard Xbox Live Arcade game, this would be a must-have multiplayer only experience, but at reduced cost for retail release it still feels somewhat light on game types. With a bit more focus during production, they could have developed something with the calibre of the Gardens & Graveyards mode, so it’s disappointing to see there isn’t enough meat to this brainy package.
Plants vs .Zombies: Garden Warfare offers a great multiplayer experience with a great degree of charisma, but some technical and progression decisions don’t enable it to shine as brightly as its sunflowers. Randomised perk upgrades, single use items and costumes make progress feel too unsystematic.
With only one truly innovative game type on offer, it’s difficult to recommend at even its reduced retail price. If you ever see it on sale for somewhere under £15 on Xbox 360 or £20 for Xbox One, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare suddenly becomes a deliciously appetising brain that’s just too tempting not to take a bite of.