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Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Review: An Infectiously Fun, Yet Flawed Shooter
Last year at E3, EA surprised many when it showed off Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. The game was a drastic departure from the IP’s usual tower defense gameplay that had become popular on mobile devices. Rather than placing plants to defend against zombies, the demo showed the different plant types in a fully 3D 3rd person shooter, battling against hordes of zombies, and even some hilarious boss characters. Many came away from the experience surprised by new direction, but also intrigued by the fun nature of the game. Finally, 8 months after its reveal, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare has been released, and though it does have some glaring flaws, it does manage to realize the fun and frantic experience that was first displayed during the press conference.
As the name of the game would suggest, the game consists of two different opposing teams, the Plants and the Zombies. Each teams has 4 different classes, which each have 6 different variants to them (like elemental damage) and can be unlocked through the game’s store using in-game currency only. Each variant has three weapons upgrades that need to be unlocked as well. Of these classes, the Peashooter and Chomper for the Plants, and Foot Soldier, Engineer, and All-Star for the Zombies are offensive. The Cactus for the Plants is very defensive, with its barriers and mines. Finally, the Sunflower for the Plants, and the Scientist for the Zombies serve as the healers. While each character has their strengths and weaknesses, I found that the plants overall felt more powerful than the Zombies, and it creates some balancing issues when it comes to the game’s multiplayer. Additionally, the camera can at times be a hassle, particularly when firing over barriers, where rounds will strike the barrier in spite of what he player is shown with the camera. Also, when up against a wall, the camera forces itself to the back of the player’s head, blocking any view of what you are firing at. The game also has some issues with invisible walls, which can be aggravating when piloting a drone.
The game consists of two different modes. Garden Ops is similar to Gears of War 3’s Horde mode in that up to 4 players select one of three bases on a map (called gardens), set up defenses, and then try to survive for a set number of waves. This task is further complicated from the Gears of War mold in that you must defend the garden, as well as stay alive. There are ten waves in all, each more difficult than the last. Waves 5 and 10 are considered to be boss waves, and at the start of these waves the game uses a slot machine to determine what types of enemies you will face. In addition to the Yeti, Disco Zombie, and Gargantuan Zombies, the slots also have money bags and jewels which will award the players with 500 and 1000 PvZ Coins respectively. Should all symbols match on the slots, the players will be forced to fight a super boss (between 2-4 of the boss zombies, plus minions) or be rewarded rewarded with a bonus of PvZ Coins before spinning again if the slots come up with three money bags or three jewels. The bosses in this mode are very tough, and often require a great deal of teamwork to bring them down. If the players survive beyond wave 10, they will then have to extract from the area in Crazy Dave’s Winnebago, similar to the extraction round in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, and just like Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, the extraction round sees the game tossing boss characters at you to make the extraction even more frantic. There are four difficulty levels for this game mode: Easy, Normal, Hard, and “CRRRRRRAAAZY!!.” I found that with random players, who often lacked upgraded characters, Normal was a slight challenge, but was able to be completed, while Hard proved to be very difficult to survive.
The other game mode is Multiplayer, which consists of a handful of different game types with 12 player teams. The first is Welcome Mat, which is meant for newer players, to get their characters through the first few levels to unlock new abilities. It consists of your standard deathmatch, where a KO (the game does not consider them kills) is worth one point, but KO’d players can be revived within 14 seconds to deny the point. The other ways that Welcome Mat distinguishes itself is that it does not allow players to use any of the variants of any of the classes or upgraded weapons, and it has a handicapping system in place, which will provide players with greater damage resistance if they die multiple times. This mode is not meant to be played for long, and thus it only utilizes one map. Then there is Team Vanquish, which is a team deathmatch game type without handicaps and restrictions on characters. There is also Classic Team Vanquish, which does not allow for the use of class variants or upgraded weapons, but does not have the handicapping system found in Welcome Mat.
The other major game type is Gardens & Graveyards, which also has a Classic variant, and this seems to be the game mode with the most appeal. This mode operates similarly to Battlefield’s Rush Mode, and places the Plants in a position to where they must defend a garden from the attacking Zombies. If the Zombies take the garden in the allotted time, the battlefield is pushed back, and the Plants must defend that garden for a new 5 minute timer. Should the Zombies take all the gardens, they will then have to complete a final phase that is different depending upon the map which you are playing upon. On one map, the zombies must use cannons to blast across a bay to attack and blow up a giant sunflower, while another has the Zombies trying to get 5 zombies into Crazy Dave’s mansion. The final map has the zombies trying to plant Z4 on the supports holding up the Plants’ “Tactical Cuke.” Each of these maps has both day and night versions, and between every garden is a teleporter that can be activated by the Zombies’ Engineer. These teleporters serve as key positions, as they decrease the distance to the garden for the Zombies, and make for great ways to reinforce the attack. However, they can also be destroyed if they take enough damage, and must be re-activated.
While this game mode is the most fun, and also provides the most coins of any mode due to the objectives present, it also is where many of the flaws that the game has show up. For starters, the map design for Driftwood Shores, one of the three maps, does not accommodate the gameplay in a very balanced manner. Approaches to the gardens are almost all along straight and narrow paths, which prove to be very easy to defend. In my time with the game, I only experienced a handful of times where the mission reached the final section, and the majority of those times, it was because the Plants team was down 2-3 players. This leads to my next issue: the matchmaking system for the game. When I was playing, it seemed that the game did not fill games very efficiently, and would not move people from one game to another to make games more full. In fact, on several occasions, I found myself as the only player in a room, and by switching to Zombies, could run through every objective and provide myself with very easy coins. In addition to the matchmaking, the servers have a tendency to have issues from time to time with rubber banding, and on multiple occasions, the servers failed with the conclusion of the round, losing all coins that were earned during the match. I also had a few instances where after being KO’d, I was unable to respawn, and was forced to watch where my body had been for upwards of 20 seconds.
Finally, there is the issue of balance within the gameplay. From my experience with the game, I came away with a feeling like the Plants had a definitive advantage over the Zombies in terms of the power of certain characters. The first is the Peashooter, whose Chili Bean Bomb attack is so powerful and has such a large radius, that it can kill any enemy within the garden. Their cooldown on this attack is reset after dying, so they can constantly rush forward on the garden and launch a Chili Bean Bomb to clear enemies quickly. The All-Star has a similar ability in the Imp Punt, but it lacks the killing radius of the Chili Bean Bomb. The other character that I had issue with was the Chomper, whose Goo attack and Spike Weeds can incapacitate players for up to 5 seconds, making it easy for the Chomper to eat them and render them unrevivable. Not only that, but the Chomper is also able to burrow underground and come up underneath an enemy to eat them, and while they are underground they cannot be harmed. The only way to combat this is to use an Engineer’s Sonic Grenade. Meanwhile the other 3 classes have no means of defense. Furthermore, if a team has multiple Chompers, they can combat attack from different points, making the sonic grenade have less of an impact.
While I did enjoy the gameplay as a whole, especially once I started to unlock more characters, it is hard to look beyond the amount of content there is in the game. As stated before, Gardens & Graveyards only features 3 maps, while Garden Ops and Team Vanquish share the same 5 maps. There just isn’t a lot of variety in terms of how you will play the game. Instead, the focus seems to be on unlocking the different variants and all of the customization items available, of which there are 677 items, and 96 gestures. This is all done through the in-game “Sticker Shop” which will sell packs of unknown stickers with varying degrees of success in unlocking new characters, weapon upgrades, and items. The lowest pack for 1,000 coins will only provide you with consumable items such as potted plants for use in Garden Ops and as the Plants during Gardens & Graveyards, or Zombies for the Zombie team during Gardens & Graveyards, while more expensive packs will provide you customization items and pieces of character variants, which require 5 pieces to unlock the variant. Initially, the in-game currency system was frustrating, as it did not provide enough coins to keep people unlocking new items. But with a recent update, it only takes a few round of Garden & Graveyards to unlock some of the more expensive packs, which shows how easily Popcap is able to make adjustments to the game to meet the needs of players.
Finally, it is worth noting that there are a few modes that are exclusive to the Xbox One version of the game. The first is Split Screen Mode, which brings couch co-op to Garden Ops, but with an infinite number of waves, starting very easy. The biggest problem I encountered with this mode is that it takes a lot of consumables to get very far, and if you have a guest signed in, they will share your consumables, making the experience a draining one in exchange for the old fashioned multiplayer experience. The other mode is Boss Mode. This is used during matches, and allows a player to take control of either the Zomboss or Crazy Dave to provide support through spotting enemies, healing, reviving, or dropping airstrikes. In my experience, it is pretty useless to have a player do this instead of playing as a zombie. However, it is actually much more effective through Smartglass, as another player can take control and see the situation on the ground, rather from an overhead view that does not illustrate if an enemy is under cover or not. Plus, it provides more coins to the player for every kill, heal, and revive, making it the best form of couch co-op available.
In the end, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a bright and colorful third person shooting experience that breaks from the mold of its previous endeavors. It has a distinct charm, and if you enjoy the customization aspect of the game, it can provide a lot of entertainment. However, technical issues stemming from servers and matchmaking, combined with a lack of compelling gameplay content mean that this game will hold the attention of many for only a short amount of time. One can’t help but wonder if the game will still have an audience once the highly anticipated Titanfall drops this week.