I don’t know what frustrates me more… Seeing another sequel to “Generic Shooter: Future Whatever” that still earns billions of dollars or seeing a wacky, ‘original’ game that put 99% of it’s budget into the art design. Sure it’s nothing but a blatant rip of other, better games and it handles about as well as a car with milk crates for wheels but “Oooooh, isn’t pixel art COOL?” So you can imagine my trepidation regarding ‘Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’. In concept, ramming the incredibly popular tower defence series ‘Plants vs Zombies’ with a more conventional, Call of Duty style shooter looks like a train wreck waiting to happen. However, despite many familiar gameplay mechanics, the game comes out smelling more like roses than rotten flesh.
In case the name didn’t give it away, the game revolves around the eternally absurd war between Plants and Zombies and that’s the closest this game gets to story. It is, after all, a multiplayer only title and it ends up being quite refreshing. Between this and Titanfall, it would be nice if the trend of crowbarring rushed singleplayer campaigns could wither and die. That said, when multiplayer is all you have, you better make sure there’s plenty of content and carrot dangling to keep people invested. PvZ: GW doesn’t really have an abundance of multiplayer modes but when it comes to reward dangling, this game’s got it in spades (but we’ll get to that shortly). The game modes vary from the co-op horde mode ‘Garden Warfare’, the Battlefield conquest mode homage ‘Gardens and Graveyards’ and then your standard deathmatch mode ‘Vanquish Mode’.
Despite the title’s cheeky reference to ‘Modern Warfare’, there isn’t much Call of Duty influence. Instead, we’ve got multiplayer only gameplay that sits somewhere between Gears of War 3 and Mass Effect 3 which ends up being quite a good thing. ‘Garden Ops’ has Gears of War’s defence building and boss waves, while the bonus objectives, differing characters and unlockable prize packs feel straight out of Mass Effect. Trussed together in a bright, colourful bouquet of zany humour and smooth, cartoony graphics and the game instantly distinguishes itself as something out of the ordinary. While ‘Garden Ops’ is the best mode for a tight bunch of friends, ‘Gardens & Graveyards’ is probably the best fun you’ll have with a large group. It’s fast and frantic, with plants running defence and the zombies attacking. While this conquest type game mode might seem fairly basic, it’s the unique Plants vs Zombies trimmings that set this mode apart, and at the root of that is the characters.
There are four classes for both Plants and Zombies, none of them lacking in originality. You have your standard ‘Peashooter’ class who fires volleyball sized pea projectiles and zips around at hyper speed. There’s the Chomper which relies on close quarters and, well, chomping (think little shop of horrors), the Cactus which fires long range needles and the Sunflower, the laser beam firing healer. Now most games would have mirrored classes for the other team but not PvZ. There are similarities between classes, like the Scientist healer or the Zombie Soldier but then the Scientist can also teleport around the battlefield and the Soldier can jetpack into the air. Every character has at least one or two unique abilities to just them. It’s the unique qualities to each class that make it really refreshing to bounce back and forth between teams and classes. It also helps the gameplay from ever getting stale. It’s worth mentioning that, once you’ve unlocked all characters abilities, that’s all you’ve got. While you can unlock upgrades to your weapons, you won’t be swapping out weapons and abilities within your classes like you would in Call of Duty. This may turn some people off by I found the characters were different enough that it never became a problem.
Now, just because you can’t customise your characters weapons, doesn’t mean you can’t customise their looks. One of the greatest things about the game is the gameplay/reward system. Everything you do in the game earns you coins which you can then spend at the ‘Sticker Shop’. Sticker Packs are basically like battlepacks from Battlefield or Mass Effect 3, a collection of random customisation items, new weapon upgrades and if you’re lucky, new characters. The sheer number of things you can unlock gave this level an addictive quality that borders on ‘dangerous’. It’s great to put a top hat or coconut glasses on your character for that personal touch. I was definitely impressed at EA’s decision to resist the urge to add micro transactions here, since it no doubt would have made them a bundle of extra money. But that feeling of constantly having new things to unlock or earn helped give you plenty of reasons to keep playing. This goes hand in hand with the character challenge system, in which character’s level up based on class specific challenges. Eat 10 people as a Chomper, get a star. Kick an explosive midget into a crowd of Plants? Level up. These things not only level up your characters but they can further unlock abilities and character specific sticker packs. It’s just the kind of carrot dangling I like in my multiplayer games and it definitely keeps me invested.
What doesn’t keep me invested are the limited multiplayer modes. For a game that only has multiplayer, there simply needs to be more modes than what’s on offer. I should point out, at the time of writing this review, one piece of free DLC has already been released which adds new characters, maps and a multiplayer mode. I haven’t played them yet so they won’t be included. If they can continue to offer up free content then I’ll be impressed, especially since the cost of PvZ: GW isn’t a full retail price, costing about $50 Australian. But regardless, it’s something that all games should try to consider if they ditch the single player component. If you’re taking something big out, what are you replacing it with?
Another problem is the poor implementation of split screen multiplayer. This would have been the perfect casual multiplayer game to play with friends on the same TV but unfortunately it doesn’t let Player 2 save their progress or bring pre-existing characters with them, even if they’ve got it saved on cloud. This kind of stuff just comes across as sloppy to me. If you can’t get the basics right, what else are you doing wrong?
Overall though, ‘Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’ is a fairly strong multiplayer title. It’s wacky characters and simplistic, streamlined approach to competitive shooters is appealing to all ages and the gameplay/reward system will ensure people keep coming back for more.