'Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare' - You Reap What You Sow

March 3, 2014

PopCap Games have developed an amazing reputation for bridging the gap between casual and hardcore gamers. With titles like Bejeweled, Peggle and Heavy Weapon under their belt, they have proven time and time again that there is a happy middle ground between the pick-up-and-play mobile games, and their more complex console counterparts. The Plants vs. Zombies series is the epitome of this kind of thinking: the franchises' first two releases blended the strategy of a tower defense game with the humor and approachable art style that PopCap is known for. However, its latest entry, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a complete departure from its predecessors, putting players in the middle of the 3D, multiplayer battlefield. Although it is wildly different from the earlier games, Garden Warfare remains true to its source material in all the right places, with the end result being a very approachable, competitive, third person shooter that almost anyone could enjoy.

Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: EA

The first Plants vs. Zombies game came out in 2009 on PC and Mac, and was an instant success, going on to appear on virtually every platform under the sun. A follow up was released last year to the same critical and commercial success, with Plants vs. Zombies: It's About Time moving more than 25 million downloads, making it EA's most successful mobile launch ever. In other words, PopCap knows how to make a great PvZ game, but Garden Warfare is a whole different can of worms. While it might be a daunting tasks for most development teams, with the backing of EA, who has released quite a few games with similar play experiences (Battlefield and Medal of Honor come to mind), the transition was surprisingly smooth.

First off, this is not the Plants vs. Zombies that you know and love. While the core concept of warring plants and zombies is at the root of the game, the top-down, tower defense gameplay that you've wasted hours playing in the bathroom is nowhere to be found. Instead, it's replaced with an entirely different experience, where players get thrust into the middle of a skirmish as either a plant or a zombie, and they have to battle it out, like so many other competitive shooters before it. Each faction has four different (yet somewhat similar) classes, each with their unique skills, challenges, and upgrades. Players are randomly assigned to a team at the beginning of each game, encouraging experimentation with each class. No matter what your play style is, there's likely someone for you on each team. Snipers will cozy up to the plants' Cactus, while heavy lovers will gravitate towards the Zombies' All-Star, and so on and so forth. Online matches will feature up to 24 players, and are spread out over five different modes, and a handful of maps. There is also a four-player co-op horde mode, Garden Ops, where you must fight waves of zombies, in a manner similar to the original games. Characters accessories and variants are upgraded through packs of cards that are collected by spending in-game credits, making the compulsion to keep playing to unlock everything very apparent, and surprisingly satisfying.

For the time being, Garden Warfare is a Microsoft exclusive, appearing on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, with a PC released planned for later this year. Since the game is a competitive shooter, an Xbox Live Gold account is pretty much a requirement, especially if you pick up the Xbox 360 version, which only offers online play. The Xbox One release features two exclusive modes, including a local co-op horde option, as well as a Boss Mode that takes advantage of Kinect or SmartGlass.

You'll never see it coming, but Garden Warfare is a lot of fun. It's bright, colorful, and thumbs its nose at a bunch of shooter game conventions, but that's part of what makes it so great. The humor that the PvZ franchise brings to the table helps to lighten the mood of a traditionally very serious and somber genre, injecting fun back into the game (what a novel idea). While the game is a little light on maps and modes, the discounted price tag ($29.99 on Xbox 360 and $39.99 on Xbox One) helps account for the lack of options. Garden Warfare is a competent and enjoyable shooter that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages. When's the last time that you could say that about Call of Duty or Battlefield? Don't let all those colors (or the Zombies) scare you, Garden Warfare is addictive and enjoyable, no matter which side of the fence you sit on.