Walking on Sunshine?
I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that makes me grin quite so much as Garden Warfare. Based around the popular tower defense game, PopCap HD have chucked the traditional PvZ elements in a blender, and with a big glug of ‘Pixar-esque’ graphics, and a pinch of Team Fortress gameplay, they have quite honestly produced something that’s far more refreshing than anything, TitanFall included, that I’ve played in sometime.
When Two Tribes Go To War
The game is played from your standard over the shoulder, or stem I guess in this case, perspective. Movement feels good although some of the warriors jumping seems a bit stingy especially considering the many options for getting high up in the various levels. Having generally steered clear of 3rd person multiplayer shooters, it took me a good few hours to get proficient with aiming but it was well worth persevering, taking down a Zombie All-Star with a Gatling Peashooter or decimating a Chomper with the Baseball Cannon really is satisfying, as is the ding of a bell with each enemy vanquished.
Whilst most of the major franchises in the online shooter genre still include single player campaigns, even though quite a few people never touch them- PvZ is a straight up multiplayer game. A four-player co-op mode – Garden Ops, is a standard horde survival affair, waves of increasingly tough Zombies will try to overrun your garden. Teamwork is essential and with nods to the original tower defence game, you can place your favorite plants from the original game in pots to help defend your patch. In other game types the Zombie team can also summon undead minions from shallow graves scattered around the levels.
Twenty four player battles are offered for two of the other modes, and if you’ve played a recent Battlefield game they will immediately feel familiar. The Vanquish mode is first to fifty kills with teams of up to twelve on each side. Gardens and Graveyards finds the Zombie team attacking a series of gardens against the clock, get more Zombies than Plants in the control zone for forty seconds and you take the garden and you are off to the next, very reminiscent of Rush.
A Welcome Mat and a Classics mode only offer the 2 modes previously mentioned, with everyone playing with base level Plants and Zombies. Until this week, that was as far as different game modes went. The Garden Variety Pack- a free DLC pack has added Gnome Bomb. Its an eight vs eight race to collect the randomly spawning aforementioned Gnome and take it to the opposing teams respective Garden or Graveyard and then detonate it, do this three times and your team wins. Content and game modes do appear a bit on the light side, but with the Garden Variety pack just the first free download with more to come, I think the future is looking rosy.
This is the sort of game that consoles and big TV’s are meant for, the game looks absolutely beautiful. I haven’t got a clue what resolution it’s rendered it, and I couldn’t care less, as the bold colour palette and strong visual design are quite simply spot on. The eight playable characters, 4 zombies and 4 plants, have been brought to life in such a vibrant and animated way that even a cold hearted Call of Duty veteran couldn’t deny how adorable and well crafted they are. The Sunflowers petals sway as you rush to revive a fallen teammate, the Zombie Engineers builders bum wiggles as he rides his jackhammer to attack the next garden. Get yourself into a serious firefight and its like November the 5th on acid, streams of peas, sunbeams, and zombie munitions fly all over the place with barely a framerate drop in sight if that sort of thing bothers you.
Wired for Sound
Sound design is also excellent, when you spawn in, whichever character you chose will give a different version of a cry for battle, plants generally sounding sweet and full of joy, zombies quite often an intelligible mumbling with the odd “brains” thrown in, but all the funnier for it. Weapons zap and corn bombs boom with satisfying depth especially if you use headphones or a surround sound system. Music though is not quite as polished, it’s pretty much limited to the menu’s and serves its purpose, I’ve yet to discover is there is a recreation on There’s a Zombie On Your Lawn but I’m hoping so!
Smells like Nirvana?
So far it all sounds like its smelling of roses, well, maybe the roses are plastic and I’m really smelling a plug-in air freshener. Garden Warfare is not without its faults. The Levels, whilst gorgeous to look at and generally fun can feel a bit empty, especially if you end up in a less than full server. I played a game last night- Team Vanquish, but instead of the full 12 vs 12 we had a total of six players, three on each team. Apart from taking minutes to find someone to shoot at let alone kill, the game really dragged on. 50 kills when its 3 vs 3 on a huge map really takes a while, I wasn’t smiling at the end of that match. It’s worth noting that this game is running on EA’s servers rather than Microsofts, understandable considering that this is only a timed exclusive for both xbox consoles and I’m sure its a problem that Popcap HD will be eager to solve.
On The Grind
As much as Call of Duty isn’t for me anymore, one thing I’ve always liked, not including the latest instalment is the straight forward grind of progress and unlocks. PvZ on the other hand takes some working out. Kills and in game actions including reviving and healing teammates earn you coins, and your coins can be exchanged for sticker packs of varying cost. Stickers can include, customisation bits, which there are literally thousands, you want your Zombie to wear a tin of corned beef as a helmet? You got it. Peashooter with Splinter Cell Optics? Its all yours. Consumables are also included in these packs, Plants for plant pots and also Zombies to raise from the dead. The more expensive the pack the higher the chance, or rare or super rare stickers- which can include complete new skins and weapons for both Plants and Zombies. At the minute this in game currency seems pretty balanced and it promotes good team play. However EA being EA and given their track record, the cloud of microtransactions are on the horizon and it remains to be seen how this will affect the balance of nature and decay in PvZ.
The other form of leveling comes with character specific challenges. Complete a challenge and you earn a star for that character, collect so many stars and your character levels up, unlocking new abilities. I’m a bit on the fence about this, it does encourage you to play in ways that you might not ordinarily do, but combined with the coin currency it really does seems a bit too complicated, I’m still unsure how both of these things affect your overall rank, it works but its all just a bit muddled.
Sound of Silence
My one last gripe, I wish I had the ability to completely mute whole game lobbies. Whilst I’m a fan of kinect and I’m looking forward to seeing what uses developers can come up with, the fact that this game is aimed generally at kids also means that every kinect thats plugged in unless their parents are savvy enough to turn the function off, can be used as a microphone for game chat. Jesus christ, I played a whole game the other day whilst some child somewhere was detailing everything he did at school that day to his parents, I played a full 20 mins with Britney Spears blaring out through my TV. Whilst you can mute individuals in the lobby, these seem to reset after each match and I would love an option just to mute the whole lot.
If you’re looking for a twitch shooter, don’t plant your seeds here, but if you’re after some refreshing fun, with surprising depth of character classes, laugh out loud moments, and simply beautiful visuals, feel free to sow your oats.
Whilst not a new IP, Popcap HD has taken the biggest step in innovating an established franchise I can remember for a long time. Whilst I’m not sure what they could do with Bookworm or Bejeweled, I’m definitely eager to see what their next full title release will be, Peggle Master Kart anyone?
If you’ve got kids, Garden Warfare is a no brainer, they will love it, what’s more surprising is that you might well love it more. It’s not for everyone, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. If this game came out next year it could easily be overlooked, but with the current lack of games whilst the “next” gen still in it’s infancy, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare is a breath of fresh air and is more than deserving of its spot in my game collection.
Developed by PopCap Games
Published by Electronic Arts
Xbox One Version Reviewed (Also available on Xbox 360)
Reviewed by Prided Llama