Plants Vs Zombies is a franchise that’s really exploded in recent years, turning from what was originally a rather cute but simple tower defense game available on your phone into a veritable mega franchise, with its own line of merchandise, sequel, and now triple-A adaptation with Garden Warfare. Garden Warfare is a third person competitive shooter, where the war between the plants and the zombies takes a new perspective – literally, it’s 3D now.
When I first fired up Garden Warfare I was pleasantly greeted with a menu set, soundtrack, and overall aesthetic design that I was both familiar with, and immediately fond of. The intellectual property makes its transition into the third dimention perfectly, retaining and developing on the charm and character that fans will have come to love from their tower defence games. The games various maps are equally charming, all pleasantly, and colourfully textured featuring a variety of locations. For instance one map features an old pirate ship at its centre, another a wooden mine facility with underground caves filled with gemstones. There’s a lot of aesthetic diversity and it makes for a pleasant change.
Garden Warfare is in huge contrast to your typical military shooter. Similar to multiplayer games like Mario Kart; it’s clear the games focus is on simply being fun to play. While at a glance it would be easy to argue that most of what the experience offers is derivative; borrowed from other team-based games such as Team Fortress 2 and even the Battlefield series. Garden Warfare does have a lot to its own too. For instance the game is fundamentally different from most in that each team is quite unique. Sure, each team has 4 classes but these aren’t the same four classes. Take these two for example: the zombie scientist and the plant Sunflower. Both of these are the team ‘healers’, support characters if you will, but the Zombie Scientist is equipped with a teleporter, a healing tank, and a shotgun, while the sunflower is equipped with a fully automatic solar shots, a healing beam and healing plant. The scientist is in turn much more aggressive and viable in close quarters, and the sunflower has a much more support, and mid-range orientated. This diversity across teams makes the game much less monotonous as you’re constantly forced to change roles as you switch between Zombie and Plant teams.
The games definitive highlight is most certainly its gameplay. Indeed each of the eight classes is a joy to play with their own unique playstyles. However, perhaps best of all is the focus placed upon towards working as a team. Garden Warfare features high and only partially regenerative health so there’s inevitably a lot of interplay between support and attacking roles within a match. This is great and makes for really good shootouts and experiences. Whether it be sneaking behind a set of enemies with the scientist and wreaking havoc with your shotgun, or playing a more traditional see-it-shoot-it game with classes like the peashooter, the game is a lot of fun and demands you to be aware of your surroundings and team mates if you want to do well. Furthermore, despite its almost casual presentation the game is far from brain dead, just as in any shooter you have to know your way around the gamepad to come out on top in a tight situation. Headshots are rewarded with higher damage, and it’s easy to overcome a disadvantaged situation by acting with more skill than your opponent.
The experience helped by a good variety of modes too. Team Vanquish is the games go-to team-deathmatch style mode, but there’s also other objective based options. Gardens and Graveyards is particularly notable, offering an experience similar to ‘rush’ on battlefield, as you take turns to play as either the zombies or plants and respectively attack or defend the various gardens dotted around the map. Eventually this culminates in a special objective for the attacking team such as destroying the Megaflower, again, it’s fun and keeps the gameplay varied from one match to another. Co-operative play is also present and takes the form of a ‘surival mode’ where AI zombies attempt to attack your garden. You select the location of the garden and use plants to defend it so there’s a lot of re-playability here and the random nature of the oncoming enemy waves keeps it entertaining. Over time you’ll develop favourite garden spots and strategies, and keep coming back to the co-op to beat your highest wave, not to mention it’s a good way to earn cash for stickers.
The games sticker system contributes to its almost addictive nature as well. As you play the game you’ll find yourself earning coins which you can use to buy various sticker packs. In these sticker packs you get a set of random items which can range from character parts (which eventually unlock a new class-variant) or more instantly gratifying rewards such as a new ability, or passive boost to a particular class. Its a system that makes playing the game feel continually rewarding, although at the same time the ‘random’ nature of the distributed unlockables can be frustrating when you don’t get anything you want for the classes you like playing the most. Despite this it’s still fun to collect all the stickers and complete segments of the virtual sticker book, and I’m sure this will keep many coming back to the experience for a long time to come.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to talk about Garden Warfare for long without mentioning something that quite bothering, and that is that the game is always online. You might think it makes sense, I mean the game is designed – predominantly at least – for online multiplayer, where of course online connectivity is mandated anyway, so the game may as well be always online. Now this is where things get a little messy. For one, whilst online multiplayer is quite definitely the primary mode of play, the game does feature split-screen co-op, yet the game is indeed, always online.
This immediately creates a scenario only possible in hell; your in-game connection to the person sat on your couch is suddenly dependent on a continual networking between your console and EA servers. Of course I do understand, that the game wants to update the progress that you make from split-screen over to your online account, but this is by no means justification of ‘always online split-screen’. Games like Uncharted 3 require you to be online to track co-operative progress, but also provide the same experience for offline play in the form of ‘local profiles’, which save and track your progress independent to the online modes. It’s completely inexcusable that this isn’t an option that available to you in Garden Warfare, and being met with errors when you try to hit the ‘split screen’ option without an internet connection will make you feel like you’re the but of some bad-joke by Popcap and EA.
Always online policy aside, there are other considerable downfalls to Garden Warfare experience. Previously I briefly mentioned co-operative split-screen play, unfortunately this is a feature that is very limited. Splitscreen can only be played in the games survival mode, but with less players and no difficulty options its severely dumbed down relative to its online counterpart. What’s perhaps worse is that the game has few excuses for not supporting a fully-integrated splitscreen experience. It’s not aesthetically impressive enough to argue that it’s not technically capable, instead it’s a feature that just feels lazy or incomplete. Plants Vs Zombies has always been a game that’s attempted to appeal to everyone – in many eyes a casual game – with this in mind it puts on a poor show by neglecting the consumer that wants a game that’s fun to play with real friends.
Furthermore, for a game that’s being sold as online multiplayer only, one would expect far better support for its multiplayer component. It’s certainly true that the maps are all very well presented and varied, however it’s also true that they are few in number. Team deathmatch only has around 8 maps as playable; that’s a poor offering for a game that only does multiplayer. Making things worse there’s not much gameplay diversity from one map to another. It would be nice to see some maps with high-verticality, or with an interior focus, but these aren’t present. It’s nice that Playstation consumers are treated to all of the updates that XBOX users have had since it’s release on that platform, but its lacking content to justify this games price tag at retail.
On a technical level the game performs capably, but at times you can lose synchronisation with the server. It’s likely dependent on your network quality, but lag can be problematic at times. Even getting as bad as to cause your character to become hard to control, or the game to freeze for very brief periods of time. This wouldn’t be so bad but it doesn’t appear possible to check your connection status, neither does the game necessarily do a good job matching you into the lobby with the lowest ping. These sound like pretty basic features, and they are; some of Garden Warfare’s oversights are very difficult to excuse, and this might put off some of the more dedicated consumers.
Bad Despite these issues, if one were to stop lamenting on what the game could have been if Popcap had better appreciation for the local player, as well as simply sucking up its always online policy; what’s present in Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare is an astoundingly good, competitive third person shooter. I truly resent some of Popcap’s decisions, but that doesn’t escape from the fact that I would often find myself hooked on the game an entire evening. Even simple modes like Team vanquish can prove to be incredibly addictive thanks to the amount of gameplay diversity present in individual instances, or between one match to the next. The game is simply fun, and there’s no denying that. Whether it be within online or competitive modes you’re going to have a good time with Garden Warfare, and for many that will be all that matters.
Despite these issues, if one were to stop lamenting on what the game could have been if Popcap had better appreciation for the local player, as well as simply sucking up its always online policy; what’s present in Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare is an astoundingly good, competitive third person shooter. I truly resent some of Popcap’s decisions, but that doesn’t escape from the fact that I would often find myself hooked on the game an entire evening. Even simple modes like Team vanquish can prove to be incredibly addictive thanks to the amount of gameplay diversity present in individual instances, or between one match to the next. The game is simply fun, and there’s no denying that. Whether it be within online or competitive modes you’re going to have a good time with Garden Warfare, and for many that will be all that matters.