The Zombies are coming! When news broke at E3 last year that developer PopCap were adapting their popular tower defence game into a third person online only shooter many were sceptical and rightfully so. There are many reasons on paper to be sceptical of an online only shooter based on the popular franchise as it could have been very easy for PopCap to create a mindless cash in. They could have easily forced micro-transactions at every turn. Lucky for all of us none of these things have eventuated.
Garden Warfare is the online shooter to play for those who are FPS veterans or younger people who maybe haven’t ventured into that territory. Just don’t expect the classic Plants Vs Zombies experience, it is different and that is a good thing. There is as much story as what you would expect from an online shooter without any campaign. This might bother some gamers, but given that this game is being sold at a budget price of $49.99 AUD, it is hard for anyone to complain.
Plants Vs Zombies – Garden Warfare manages to bring the original 2D plants and zombies to life with high resolution, detailed 3D models. Each characters design is packed with the most impressive detail and it seems like nothing has been spared. Whether it be the dancing happiness of the sunflower or the butt crack on constant display from the zombie engineer, all of the eight plants and zombies have been given personality in spades which helps you connect with the experience. In addition to the standard gear that your chosen character is wearing there are hundreds of unlockables for you to dress your plant or zombie with. The extra layer of customisation really makes you associate yourself with your plant or zombie. They really become your pride and joy which really makes them your own, even if your zombie ends up dressed like Lady Gaga.
Unlike other shooters, Garden Warfare makes use of a full colour pallet to deliver an outstanding visual feast that pops with bright cartoonish assaults even when you are playing in the darkest map. All of this visual splendour takes place without any hit to the frame rate which will please shooting game enthusiasts. I doubt that Garden Warfare really pushes the Xbox One hardware in any significant way, but you will hardly notice as the fantastic art style makes this one of the better looking Xbox One games currently available. There really isn’t anything not to like about the visual presentation.
As bright as the visual design shines, the sound design shines just as bright. For anyone who has invested time into the tower defence Plants vs Zombies, you will know that a lot of the charm came from the various sounds throughout the game. PopCap have obviously realised this and Garden Warfare delivers a familiar and comical remastering of what the original games offered. Whether this be the grunts from the zombies looking for brains or the squeals and squees from the various plants, you will not tire of hearing them again and again. Crazy Dave’s incoherent ramblings are hilarious and the “Master Zombie” will have you trying to mimic his cry to war when you first start your battle. The melodic jazz tracks that plays through the game are just the icing on the cake and help to bring everything together. I found myself humming the tune online and whilst I was in party chat a few times I even caught my fellow garden defenders doing the same thing. The tunes are just that infectious!
Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online only, 3rd person shooting game. It bares little resemblance to the original two tower defence games under the Plants Vs Zombies name. Given the huge audience that the original franchise has, it must have been a huge risk for PopCap to try something new. Luckily they have taken this risk and thankfully they have taken the time to craft such a pleasant, charming and addictive game. You are given the choice of eight different plants and zombies (four from each side) to choose from. Instead of Popcap taking the easy way out and creating four class types and just re skinning them for the other team, each character is different from the last. Yes there is a healer/gunner class in both the plants and zombies team, but if you try and play them the same way you are not going to last very long. If you then add in the different varieties that you can unlock for each plant and zombie type that offers their own advantages and disadvantages it starts to become apparent that there is quite a lot of variety with how you can decide to play.
There are 3 game modes available and also a split screen mode for the Xbox One. The first game mode is Garden Ops. This mode is the Plants Vs Zombies take on a horde mode, where you and up to 3 of your friends take on wave after wave of zombies. Garden Ops is also the only mode that can be played solo. It also offers enough variety each play through to still feel fresh after the 30th or so time, which is an achievement in itself. The next mode is Team Vanquish, which can best be described as classic team death match. It is set up as first team to 50 wins and is pretty straight forward for anyone familiar with any online shooters. Lastly is the Gardens and Graveyards mode. This takes place on an expanding map you are trying to attack and claim a garden if are on team zombie or defend the garden with your virtual life if you are on team plants. The three modes offer a decent amount of variety, however, after 20 hours you might be wishing that PopCap had included one more.
As mentioned before there are a huge amount of unlockable items in Garden Warfare and these are obtained by spending your hard earned coins. You earn coins for most things you do in the game, from killing another player, reviving another player or even just healing people the entire match. The coins open blind sticker pack which depending on the value, unlock a certain amount of items. This in itself can become addictive and provides a massive incentive to keep playing. The only shadow over this system as it is seems that it will be easy for PopCap to open this up for real world money transactions. As long as the micro-transactions are not mandatory to get some of the better gear, this shouldn’t really pose much of an issue.
There are some small gripes that have held this game back just a little. There were some issues trying to connect to or stay in a game at times. This appears to be minor as it doesn’t happen all the time but when it does it is frustrating. At times, an extended play session would result in getting booted from the game just prior to the end which would make all of the coins that had been earned lost forever. Other times the game just refused to let an entire party join the same game. This was by far the most frustrating encounter and forced us to all give up after half an hour or so.