Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare – (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS4 (Review system), PS3; PopCap; EA)
I remember when EA announced this game like a year or two ago that I was in this odd small grouping that thought this was a really cool idea. Here’s Popcap, perennial makers of super addictive puzzle games that steal your life, giving a third person shooter a go, and making it look damn good too in the process, as well as giving gamers a fairly family friendly and brand-recognisable alternative to all those gory grey gun games. I’m fairly sure this was also when the Popcap CEO got super excited and announced Peggle 2 and was jumping about and then a meme was started but that’s all besides the point. I remember there being a fair few detractors that day as well, which is fair enough; it’s not hard to see why the games community would not respond well to a team known for casual puzzle games going into a genre they have no experience with and creating a game that looks more like a joke than a serious game. Oh yeah, and also EA were publishing it and mentioning EA three times in a mirror has a gamer come to kill you so they had that against them too.
So now that the game has (finally) come to Sony consoles, so I get to have a chance to play it. It has spent the past year since release as a Microsoft exclusive (360, One and PC), but thankfully, EA made yet another of their preferred-platform swings and were all happy with Sony this year and here we are.
When you first load up the game, I can’t say it necessarily does the best impressions for an introduction. At least for me, having gotten a new copy close to release with a code for what was the pre-order bonuses, I loaded up the game and the first thing I was directed to was the ‘Sticker Store’. The Sticker Store is so reminiscent of a free-to-play card game’s way of getting you to spend money that its beyond funny; no, as far as I’m aware, PvZ: Garden Warfare features no microtransactions, but giving me a menu that almost makes me think you’re waiting to nickel and dime me isn’t a good idea. Thankfully, as I discovered, the currency used to get new booster pack things is plentiful by just playing the game, with a good couple of missions getting you to a working amount of coins, but the whole thing is introduced with little explanation and just left me feeling a bit worried that this was going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and I’d finally come to join the EA-hating masses.
At the same time though, as much as my internal gamer cynicism was like “Urgh, this isn’t that great as the start of the game”, the part of me that loves Popcap and the original Plants Vs Zombies was screaming “Yeah, but look how cool everything looks and the cheeky chirpy music and the colours and the design and it’s all so FUUUUUUUUUUN!”. When in doubt, I normally defer to that voice, it has the most childlike wonder, so I just sat back and began to get ready to enjoy the ride. Even from the main menu, the game very much wants to lull you in and immerse you into this fantastical cartoon world; the whole vibe, as it did with the original strategy games, has that very cartoony, almost family friendly feel to it, and it suits this game quite well as a kind of antithesis to a lot of the most popular guns-go-pew games that have come out in the past few years.
And the gameplay, across the board, is on point. This game nails being a third person arena shooter pretty damn well, despite all the crazy bizarre aesthetics. The character classes all feel really nice to play, and between the Plants and Zombie classes, none of them feel cookie cutter from one another. All of it is really well balanced in that regard. Particularly with the Plants side, as they’re the team you have in both the Garden Ops and Multiplayer modes. On top of the fact that there are the different 4 classes, each class has a variety of sub-classes, if this makes sense, that each vary from one another in one regard or another; currently, I’ve got a Cactus subclass unlocked, called Citrus Cactus, which makes the Cactus look like a peeled orange, and has him shoot oranges in bursts of 3 rather than shooting a single spine, and while I’m still using the basic Cactus skills currently, I’m aware that you can change those if you get the unlocks, the unlocks themselves coming from the Sticker Shop.
In terms of the specifics of the game modes, Garden Ops is your basic horde mode gameplay with some really cool boss stuff thrown in each 5 waves, and the Multiplayer offers your basic Call of Duty package of game modes for your enjoyment, as well as a nice Welcome mode that is basically the normal game but its apparently there so you can just start to get used to things. There aren’t a huge number of maps from what I’m aware, but what maps there are work really well for all the classes, and with non-fixed respawn points in your deathmatch modes and few ‘sniper’ players, you don’t have to worry too much about everyone knowing a particular map too well or anything. The levels themselves also carry quite a lot of the cartoony vibrancy of the game over as well, and none of them feel too similar; even the few suburb levels don’t quite feel the same, meaning there’s a nice variety wherever the game ends up having you play.
Overall, as a game thats not charging full RRP but is mainly only giving you online play, I can’t fault Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare. It does what it says on the tin, and does it really well; its not a game that pushes the boat out, but hey, this isn’t a shooting game from Epic or Bungie or Infinity Ward so thats not what its there for. I can see this being a game that I’ll keep dipping my toes back into for as long as the playerbase is here to support it honestly, because its a tight and gorgeous little game and it is the most fun I’ve had with a shooter since probably way back when I was really into Team Fortress 2. As crazy as it may sound for me to give an EA game such a glowing compliment (even though EA published The Orange Box).
Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.