The idea of Plants vs. Zombies from the start was already one that was pretty ridiculous to begin with: let’s get that out of the way. Anthropomorphized plants waging war against goofily charming zombies out for lawn conquest…oh yeah, and brains? From the start it sounded silly, yet Plants vs. Zombies become one of the most endearingly addicting games of the last several years, and especially for crossing the line between “casual” and “hardcore”: a simple, but amusingly fun ride that could keep both sides occupied.
Five years after the original title’s launch, the zombies are coming back for more and this time, they’ve upgraded their artillery. If the concept behind Plants vs. Zombies wasn’t silly enough, how would a class-based third person shooter based on the series sound to you? Surprisingly enough, the answer to that would be ludicrously more fun than you could ever have hoped from a third-person PvZ shooter.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare takes the foundation of the series, where hyper-realistic plants defend their home turf (and front lawns) from invading armies of the undead, and transplants the oddball (but endlessly charming) scenario into a TPS. For a quick elevator pitch, think Plants vs. Zombies mixed with Battlefield, along with a dash of Team Fortress 2 thrown in for good measure.
As a multiplayer-only title, Garden Warfare throws players into the role of the titular plants or zombies for heated 12-on-12 matches, where each side features their own four respective classes, giving the game its largest degrees of strategy and, most of the time, it’s fun. Each side features fairly similar but uniquely built teams which have their own respective archetypes (Soldier, Healer, Support, Heavy). Garden Warfare does takes some sly inspiration and nods from many other shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield, but hilariously (and often ingeniously) turns them on their heads for an experience that’s both fun and refreshing.
As the shooter genre has grown noticeably stale in recent years, Garden Warfare takes surprisingly thoughtful and responsive gameplay (rivaling even the most robust shooters a la Gears of War) and brings a huge breath of fresh air. While the selection of plants and zombies is much smaller compared to the previous titles, Garden Warfare instead takes a play from Team Fortress 2’s book by offering unique characters and classes that all, for the most part, play wildly different from one another.
The zombies’ Foot Soldier acts as the gun-toting grunt with a pellet gun and rocket jump booster, while the plants’ Peashooter acts in a similar role, but with the notable abilities to launch chili bean bombs and turn into a Gatling Pea for massive damage. The plants’ Sunflower is the noted healer of the group and can damage enemy zeds with her Sunbeam, while the zombies’ Scientist also heals with his purple goo-spewing fire hydrant –- not to mention his handy teleport ability. Likewise, the plants also get the long-range Cactus and deadly Chomper, while the Zombies are rounded out by the hilariously schlubby Engineer and the football cannon-toting All-Star Zombie.
While the classes of Garden Warfare will be more than familiar to veterans of other class-based shooters like Team Fortress 2, the simple archetypes of each class are buffed by the fun spirit and humor that Plants vs. Zombies has become so well-known for. I’ve easily lost track of the amounts that I’ve been vanquished in my matches, but I’ll still always laugh at the times my zombie Engineer whizzed through the map on his Jackhammer and taking out plants left and right. Much like the previous titles, Garden Warfare takes solid and simple gameplay, but amplifies them through sheer fun and humor – it’s hard not to crack a smile at the zombies’ shambling groans, or be shocked at how (surprisingly) the plants turned out looking much scarier in the game than the zombies.
It’s unlikely that Garden Warfare will become an eSports sensation or emerge as the marquee title for tournaments, but that doesn’t mean the it should be underestimated. While it does keep things pretty simple and light, its multiplayer core is still frenetic and fun, and always kept me coming back for “just one more round,” especially with the game’s refreshing emphasis on strategy and smart-thinking rather than lightning-fast reflexes and nailing a perfect headshot.
As a “budget-priced” title,Garden Warfarekeep things fairly barebones — the multiplayer offerings come down to its “Team Vanquish” and “Gardens and Graveyards”; essentially, the Plants vs Zombies equivalent of Team Deathmatch and Team Objective modes (especially taking some cues from Battlefield’s “Rush” Mode). Both modes come in regular and “Classic” flavors, with “Classic” being straight-forward versions of each multiplayer mode while the regular modes offer players the chance to show off their customized zombies/plants online.
Alongside the online offerings for the game also comes “Garden Ops,” a co-op “Horde” mode survival challenge that puts players as a team of plants defending against waves of incoming zombies and protecting a delicate garden. Much like the same versions of the mode found in other titles like Gears of War and Call of Duty, Garden Ops provides a simple idea with lots of variety and fun, especially in the context of Plants vs. Zombies: however, be prepared for a pretty significant challenge ahead. Even having a full team of four on Normal can prove to be pretty difficult, and anything less than that can call for some pretty rough matches — even on Easy.
Without a proper single-player campaign (and lacking any multiplayer/co-op options, except on Xbox One), Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is noticeably a little light when it comes to content, especially in comparison to some of the more fleshed-out multiplayer shooters it’s competing against on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. But what it has, even if it isn’t much, is still pretty darn addicting and fun.
The maps are bright, cheery, and full of surprising detail and strategy, and offer tons of replayability, even offering a “Welcome Mat” game type specifically for newcomers as a warm-up to the game’s quirky charms. PvZ-themed “Sticker Packs” that offer various rewards are likewise just as addicting to collect; from “Garden Ops” items and equipment to new characters, hats, unlockables and more, the “Stickers” of Garden Warfare are a nice treat that always make each match feel rewarding, even for those that end unsuccessfully.
Sure, a third-person shooter featuring zombies and dolphin guns probablyshouldn’t work; thankfully, it does in many surprising ways. Just like its previous games, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare brings charm, humor, and spirit (and brains) to a concept that’s incredibly silly, but even more incredibly fun.
Standing next to titles like Titanfall or Call of Duty in a genre that’s even more crowded, it may not be the next “big” shooter to take online multiplayer by storm -– and it probably never will. But, with more than enough fun unique twists than several other shooters by comparison, it’s assured that this game easily stands apart from the crowd — whether it’s the brain-munching kind or not.