If there’s one thing lacking in video games, it’s shooters kids and adults can play together. In fact, the only one that comes to mind where living things get shot that’s not absolutely terrible is Chex Quest and that’s an eighteen year old game from a cereal box. Sure, technically a father and son could team up for a day of fragging/bonding in Call of Duty: Ghosts, but not every nine-year-old is mature enough to violently kill thousands of human soldiers. There had to be a better way and after years of searching, PopCap finally came up with a solution. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is not only the next-gen debut of the franchise, but a complete departure for the tower-defense game. PopCap has made some fantastic games, but can their simplistic mobile expertise transfer over to something as robust as a third-person shooter?
Even though it’s far removed in gameplay from its predecessors, the general vibe of the series is retained. Four zombies and plants are playable, each with a weapon and three special abilities. For the zombies, there’s Foot Soldier, Engineer, Scientist and All-Star. Foot Soldier acts as your all-around general infantry unit armed with a machine gun dubbed the “Assault Blaster.” They doesn’t excel in any one category, but are a solid basic class. Engineers come with a shotgun dubbed the “Concrete Launcher” and can build crucial teleporters and turrets. Scientists come with the “Goo Blaster” that deals high damage in close proximity. The Scientist is basically the medic and can drop zombie healing stations that restore the health of comrades who stand near it. Finally, All-Stars are the tanks of the game and carry with them a gatling gun dubbed the “Football Cannon” that rapidly shoots footballs. Cool special abilities for the zombies include Warp, which allows Scientists to instantly get out of sticky situations, Jackhammer, which give Engineers a massive boost in speed, and Rocket Jump, which allows Soldiers to launch into the air to get a better view of the battlefield or avoid attacks.
For those wishing to join the ranks of the plants, there’s Peashooter, Sunflower, Chomper and Cactus. Peashooters basically have a built-in cannon as their weapon and a perfect choice for the frontline. Sunflowers are the healers of the plants and can heal teammates with a concentrated ray of sunshine. Chompers are slow and can only attack at close range, but are incredibly powerful and can even do away with enemies in one hit. Lastly, the Cactus are like snipers and can shoot needles from long distances. Notable special abilities for the plants include Chili Bean, a grenade-like projectile spat out by Peashooters, Sunbeam, which lets Sunflowers unleash a devastating beam of light, and Burrow, which turns Chompers into something of a Graboid, allowing them to burrow underground and jump out at enemies.
While there’s only a total of eight playable characters, multiple costumes, abilities and unlockable upgrades make the experience feel robust without resorting to adding filler characters. The incredible thing is how balanced everything is. To have a successful match, you’ll need at least one of each class on the battlefield at all times. This is a refreshing change of pace to shooters that seem to consist of “pick up a gun and shoot it.” It also brings teamwork into the equation more often and makes it an experience that is tailor-made for those who like strategizing on headsets.
Ten maps and three modes are included. The maps are very well done and diverse, featuring locales like a ship port, mansion, city and more. It’s also impressive how expansive the maps are, serving each mode quite well. The modes are Team Vanquish, and Gardens and Graveyards and Garden Ops. Team Vanquish is your standard Team Deathmatch mode, pitting two teams (up to a total of 24 players) against each other with the goal to be the first team to reach 50 vanquishes (kills). Gardens and Graveyards is a rush-like mode where the plants team is tasked with protecting multiple gardens and the zombies are tasked with destroying them. If a single garden is successfully defended, the game ends and plants win. If the zombies obliterate all of the graveyards, they win the game. While it sounds fairly basic, it’s an addictive mode that requires a ton of strategy to be successful at. Finally, Garden Ops is like a horde mode where plants face ten waves of increasingly difficult zombies, needing to survive the entire assault to win. While these three modes are great, the game modes are ultimately the downfall of the game. How is that possible, you ask? There’s only three of them.
Nope, you didn’t read that wrong: Garden Warfare includes a measly three modes. They attempt to expand them by making a “Classic” variant for each map, but as these are practically the same with the exclusion of upgrades, it simply brings attention to the shortcoming in the area. When games like Call of Duty: Ghosts boast ten modes, it’s hard to accept such a low number — even from a game of this type. It’s such a shame, too, as the modes that are here are great and even adding just two more would have made all the difference, but instead you’ll have to cycle the same three over and over.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an incredibly frustrating game to review as everything that’s here is great, but there’s simply not enough of it. The maps are well-designed, character classes are surprisingly well-balanced and there’s a large amount of customization. Including only three modes, however, is a massive oversight that severely damages the replay value. Thankfully, there’s enough fun to be had here that it remains a smart purchase at $39.99, especially for gamers with a child in their life. For now we can only enjoy Garden Warfare for what it is and salivate at the thought of what it could be if PopCap goes all in on the next outing.
Version Reviewed: Xbox One