I’ve always enjoyed the Plants Versus Zombies franchise. I became a believer when a I watched my wife sink hundreds of hours into the original. But spinning off the franchise as a competitive shooter seems like a risky prospect, even for the seasoned veterans at EA. Surprisingly, not only does the finished product result in a hilarious approach to a long diluted genre, but a well-designed shooter to boot! So should I start with the plants, zombies, or dolphin shotgun?
Running in the Frostbite 3 engine, PvZ looks great and gets you up close and personal with some of your favorite plants. PopCap infused them with even more personality, as plants now come with audio tracks made up of adorable grunts and hums. The flamboyant flora are personified and appear slightly disturbing. You have Fruitbowl wearing Cacti defending battle hardened Sunflowers in a potato mine field. A phrase you don’t normally hear uttered around the FPS coffee table. Opposing the flowers are the zombies, which come across as charming and fit right in with the colorful combat. Instead of just slapping in a few flowers and undead, PopCap went the extra mile by creating accessories for each character that alter appearance. Where ever you are in Garden Warfare, you can rock a pimped out avatar.
Combat takes place across a number of locations, including the front lawn of your old friend Crazy Dave. But with only a handful to choose from and each match only lasting around 10-15 minutes, you’ll get through any variety quickly. However, the clever map design manages to add some replay value. The maps are designed around verticality and in combat, various classes will have an advantage when utilizing the high ground. Some characters have abilities which can launch them onto rooftops while others patrol the sky using drones, dropping a destructive arsenal every few minutes. It makes for frantic fun wrapped up in some basic shooter tactics. You will even find an option called Boss Mode, which puts you high in the sky, aiding your friends and decimating enemies. Unfortunately the awful user interface in Boss Mode rarely allows you to feel like you’re engaged in any sort of struggle at all. Missing the whole point of PvZ.
The push and pull between combatants previously presented as a strategy game, has instead become a light-hearted third-person shooter. For those who doubt the existence of such a thing, let me assure you, this game is suitable for just about anyone. That doesn’t mean it has abandoned the PvZ formula entirely. On the contrary, it has included many of the PvZ tropes you may be familiar with. For instance, Plant cards return and are used for placing turrets around specific “potted” locations on the map. Most harken to old standbys with a few variations on the theme. Zombies get cards too of course, and those can be activated in graves which spawn creeps to help you in your attempts to overwhelm the maniacal plants. You can earn cards by completing certain objectives like leveling classes or you can purchase them with the familiar coins earned while playing.
Each class has three unique abilities that are unlocked by completing challenges. In an all too familiar fashion these challenges work like the rule set for PvZ, slightly adjusted for FPS mechanics. You’ll find yourself wanting to complete the challenges however, certain challenges expect certain play styles. So if you happen to be stuck on one, you may want to jump over to another class and come back to it later.
The game defines your overall level by the combined leveling of your individual classes. This helps to keep the gameplay fresh along with the varied subclasses for each character. Which add an elemental or specialized aspect to a an existing class. You unlock these subclasses by unlocking five super rare cards. The Marine Biologist Zombie and his dolphin gun was a personal favorite of mine, but with five per class, you’ll have plenty to choose from. Unfortunately once you’ve leveled up and unlocked all the subclasses there isn't much incentive to keep going.
Primarily a multiplayer-based game, PvZ offers little for offline play. Four friends can locally battle horde after horde, but for the most part, you will need a Gold subscription to enjoy this game. It’s unfortunate that PopCap chose to forgo the option of a story and more robust single player campaign. PvZ has never really had a strong narrative and whether or not you felt it was missing, this seemed like an opportunity to try and do more with the franchise. You’ve already weaponized everyday plants and given them personality, why not bring on the comically gritty back story? A wasted opportunity in my opinion.
Now don't think for a second that just because this Shooter is designed with a lighthearted atmosphere that you’ll escape the usually Xbox live FPS community. There are people who seem to take Garden Warfare way too seriously and like any game online, the developers have very little control of the conversations that take place. So prepare for some references regarding plant anatomy and your mothers genitalia. It should be mentioned that the Xbox One features an exclusive Kinect mode. Just avoid it. Seriously, there’s little redeeming value there.
Despite many scepticisms PopCap and EA succeed in coming together in building a competent and enjoyable shooter based on a cutsey tower defense mobile game. It remains true to the brand and even introduces a few fun mechanics around a familiar formula. So I have to tip my hat to them. But with no campaign, limited endgame and a target audience of casual fans or kids who can’t get their hands on a more satisfying shooter.l I just can’t recommend anyone without a mom to tell them no to choose Garden Warfare over its competition.
6.5/10 - Above Average
|ScrewAttack's News Director Sean Hinz worked in logistics for over four years before decided it was time to switch industries. After a couple years spent getting an MBA and freelancing, he finally found a home at ScrewAttack.com. As far as games go, Sean likes to play anything he can get his hands on, but especially enjoys third-person action RPGs. Is that really a genre?|