Colorful Carnage Done Right.
When I first heard the announcement of Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, my immediate reaction was “What? No!” Being a big fan of the original tower defense game, I couldn’t fathom why or how this was going to be made into what could have easily been a lazy, messy cash grab. Upon seeing its reveal at E3 2013 though, my cynicism quickly turned into genuine interest. The footage showed a colorful, light-hearted third-person shooter that seemed to retain the goofy nature found in the original, but built on a Battlefield foundation. For a game designed to parody the likes of that series and its competitors, the game itself is no joke. Well, it is, but in all the right ways.
Much like Battlefield or Team Fortress 2, the game has a selection of classes to choose from. The plants consist of the Peashooter, Chomper, Sunflower and Cactus while the zombies have a Foot Soldier, Engineer, Scientist and All-Star. Each class has their place in the fight such as healing, (Sunflower/Scientist) long range, (Cactus/Foot Soldier) building teleporters, (Engineer) etc. Some have a more niche playstyle, like the Chomper with its ability to swallow enemies in a single gulp. They all have three unique abilities to help them stand out as well, like using drones to pepper enemies from above and drop airstrikes or things such as the tackle and explosive imp punt used by the All-Star. Most of these come with a cooldown between uses since they usually do heavy damage or outright vanquish your opponents. There is also the ability to go into what the game calls “Boss Mode” which gives you an overhead view of the map (similar to the tower defense game) and allows you to drop bombs or heal and revive teammates. This can be used with Smartglass allowing those away from the console to join the fray, which rewards the main player with the coins they earn.
The game has three main modes, though more were added down the line through (free) DLC. Garden Ops is a simple horde mode that can be played online with four others or solo and split-screen (current gen only feature) that has you fighting off ten waves of random zombie types with two boss rounds thrown in at wave five and ten. The mode is fun and can get pretty hectic on higher difficulties, but it definitely won’t keep you playing in the long run. Team Vanquish is just Team Deathmatch with a better title, so not much needs to be said about that. The highlight of the game and the one most likely to keep you invested is Gardens & Graveyards, this game’s take on Battlefield’s popular Rush mode.
Here, you will either defend gardens as the plants or try to take them over as the zombies until they’ve been successfully saved or conquered. Each map consists of an expanding battleground with a different amount of gardens but all end with a unique objective for the final showdown. This is the closest to matching the feel of the original series, since both teams have the option to spawn a variety of minions to help them with their goal. With teams of 12 vs 12, things can get crazier than any of Dave’s unintelligible tirades. Jumping into a crowded garden to throw a chili bean bomb or warping in with the Scientist to heal your brain craving comrades is always a good time.
As for the sound and graphical side of things, both do their job nicely to give the game charm and help showcase the silliness expected of the series. Colors pop from all directions, from characters to the backdrops on each map as well as the particle effects flying every which way. Before Splatoon painted the town red (and every other color) this game brought a healthy dose of ROYGBIV to the lifeless landscape known as the modern shooter. There isn’t a ton of variety in the music department but what’s there, is solid. The upbeat theme heard in the opening menu sets the vibe and the wacky tune during the finale of Gardens & Graveyards properly orchestrates the equally ridiculous battles you’ll find yourself in. The sound effects are done well and are distinct enough to clue you in to what’s going down even if you don’t see it. One of my favorite soundbites is the “ewwww” heard when going to quit a match that tells you, in the most cartoonish way possible, that rage quitting is a disgusting thing to do to your team.
For a budget title, the game has a surprisingly robust amount of content to keep players working toward. Outside of the usual, such as outfits and gestures, things like weapon & character upgrades as well as class variations are also available to obtain. These variants aren’t just different looking characters though, sometimes they completely change performance. Some get elemental damage like ice or fire added to their weapons while others get a change in fire rate or a totally different weapon all together. All this can be purchased through what the game calls “Sticker Packs”, ranging from 1000 to 40,000 coins. Coins can be collected by doing virtually anything in the game, from defeating players, to capping gardens or even playing to a classes strength like healing or concealing teammates with a smoke grenade. The game also has a leveling system but unlike most games it isn’t purely XP based, players must complete challenges assigned to each class and once all of them are done, you’ll rank up.
The biggest downside to the game is its weak offerings for those who aren’t able to go online. Like I stated earlier, Garden Ops does offer solo and split-screen but the latter is only available on Xbox One and PS4. Even then, the mode will get stale quickly if that’s all one has the option to play. The most notable issue with this is that only the plants side can be used so there is no way for offline players to experience the other very important half of the games cast. Character balance, for the most part, is very fair but there are certainly some that perform better than others (especially variants) and there are a few maps that favor plants or zombies more but that mainly comes into play during G&G. The connections are high quality. Out of the 30+ hours I put in, I only got dropped from 2 games and rarely experienced any lag or shoddy hit detection.
Overall, the game is way better than I expected. The classes all fill out their role nicely and all of them are fun to play when used properly. The maps are well done, even if sometimes it may feel like one side has the advantage over the other. It’s never to the point of feeling completely unfair. With tons of stuff to unlock and a good amount of maps & modes due to DLC, the game is not hurting on content. Battles are fun and the connections are stable, which are always the most important things in a multiplayer game This is especially true in a game that presents online gameplay as its main course. Offline players will feel a little shortchanged, but those who have access to everything offered will definitely have a game they can root for.