Developer PopCap Games has been dominating the casual gaming market for several years now, with hit titles from puzzle genre like Peggle and Bejeweled sucking up countless hours from those who initially only meant to play for a few minutes. However, their current biggest smash is the tower-defense series, Plants Vs Zombies. The games require the player to defend an area with an assortment of plants from the incoming zombies, utilizing all matter of defensive strategies to stay alive. Despite the game’s casual success, PopCap wasn’t happy with just sticking around in the familiar casual market and decided to up the ante. Thus, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was born; a third-person shooter where the Plants ands Zombies battle in a 3D plane for the first time.
It’s a crazy concept on paper, but PopCap has a solid track record and prove that they know what they’re doing here. The charm that was present in the mobile Plants Vs Zombies games is here in spades, with a charming art style and silly voice work that really sucks you into its crazy world. There is no narrative to the game other than the fact that you know that Plants and Zombies hate each other and are battling to the death, as the game focuses entirely on multiplayer. Honestly, this isn’t a problem at all as it retains the casual feel of the mobile games while also offering a surprising amount of depth for the more hardcore players to sink a lot of time into.
Garden Warfare offers a variety of different game modes that more or less line up with the typical modes that you would expect to have in a multiplayer shooter. The mode that nods most noticeably to the mobile games is Garden Ops, where you and up to 3 other players control the plants as they defend a garden through ten waves of zombie strikes. Each wave naturally gets a bit tougher than the last, with the fifth and tenth waves being boss waves that are selected from a roulette spin. This is the most common mode that most flock to regularly, and it makes sense seeing as it’s simple but a heck of a lot of fun. The rest of the playlist mode fills out with silly variations of shooter standards, with modes like deathmatch and domination being called vanquish and suburbination. Even though you’ve more than likely experienced modes like these before, its PopCap’s spin on them that makes them feel fresh.
The depth of Garden Warfare comes in its variety and customization of playable characters. Both the Plants and Zombies have 5 different base characters that you can select from, each with a unique feel that are suited to particular playing styles. Some characters will be better at close range and others at a distance, and its up to you to figure out what works best for your playing style or even for particular maps. As you use each type of character you will level them up by meeting certain requirements; like using a particular move a certain amount of times or getting a certain amount of kills, thus unlocking special abilities to use in combat. Each character also has a variety of different variants that give them special perks like bullets that set things on fire or deal extra splash damage.
The maps themselves also have a bunch of their own quirks that can have an impact on the outcome of battles. On one level a train comes by regularly on a track that is split down the middle of the map, so if you’re in a heated shoot out and think you can catch your enemy off guard you can try and trick them into crossing the track just before the train comes speeding by. There are also pots that are contained all around the maps that you can put a plant in to aid you in combat. These can be utilized as mini-turrets to provide you back-up fire or even healing flowers that shoot out health when you’ve taken too much damage and need to retreat. There’s a lot of personality in each and every map of the game that truly makes them feel like living and breathing places, adding a lot of immersion to the actual matches themselves.
You unlock much of the games customization content through card packs that are purchased with coins accumulated through completing matches. This area is a lot of fun, as you’re never quite certain what it is that you’re going to get, and that mystery adds a lot of excitement to the mix. There are certain types of packs that promise that you’ll get a specific type of card, though the packs that contain rarer cards will cost more coins. You will often have to collect a certain amount of a particular card to unlock its reward, such as gathering five cards of a certain character to unlock for the use in the game. It’s essentially like a mini card-collecting game that has actual purpose and importance, making it a win-win in my book.
Even though this is PopCaps first foray into taking Plants Vs. Zombies into the land of three dimensions, the game looks surprisingly good. All of the maps have a lot detail and charm to them with a lot to explore and take in. Most maps have several different areas in them, making them feel much more expansive and substantial than the typical map contained in a shooter. However, its the Plants Vs Zombies distinct visual style that makes this all pop and results in it being pure eye candy no matter how many times you look at it. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best-looking games of the year so far, from a design and technical stand-point.
It may not be your typical shooter that comes out every other day, but Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare has its own identity that really makes it stand out from the crowd. PopCap Games charming visual design and mechanics are on full display here, successfully transitioning the plants and zombies from 2D to 3D in spectacular fashion. While the game doesn’t feature any kind of campaign to speak of, it makes up for it by offering a lot customization content that gives you plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more. If you’re looking for a shooter that is very different from pretty much everything else on the market today, definitely give Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare a try.