Review: Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (PS4)

Another exclusive bites the dust. For eight months, Microsoft had the corner on the plant-based third-person shooter market. Those who wanted to experience plants and zombies shooting each other in glorious 60fps had to plunk down the cash for an Xbox One. All good monopolies (especially for Microsoft) must come to an end, however, and Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare has now made its debut on PlayStation 4. Just like that, the console war has ended, for the Xbox One and PS4 are now rendered identical in the only area that ever mattered: garden warfare.

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 due to there not being enough of them.

Garden Warfare includes a measly three non-DLC 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 doubling them would have made all the difference, but instead you’ll have to cycle the same few over and over.

Thankfully, the DLC released since launch has increased the amount of content. The Garden Variety, Zomboss Down, Tactical Taco Party and Suburbination Packs are all included and boast a total of four new maps, four new characters and two new games modes. All of this goes a long way in helping remedy the lack of content at launch and makes the PS4 debut feel like a more complete package. Even with all of the packs (which PopCap should be commended for adding), however, it’s still not robust enough to capture attention for months at a time like the best shooters, but it should at the very least make for a fun month of zany warfare.

Closing Comments:

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare improves upon the Xbox One debut thanks to the addition of a few more maps, characters and modes. They still don’t quite edge it into greatness, but this is a stronger package than what PopCap originally debuted. That being said, all four of the DLC packs the PS4 version includes are (and have been) available on the Xbox One as free downloads. Remote Play is novel, but ultimately throwaway, and the resolution increase from 900p on the Xbox One to 1080p on the PS4 is minimally noticeable. Garden Warfare remains a colorful and entertaining experience no matter the platform and one we hope will continue to grow.
 Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4