Plants vs. Zombies is a pretty cool idea. Turning the undead against a garden is an inherently fantastic and crazy premise to begin with, but recognizable character design and bucket loads of silly charm grew this wacky gang of weeds into a wonderful world all it’s own. The first PvZ game practically reinvented tower defense. Not only the did the linear, grid based defense gameplay allow intricate strategy and mastering of techniques, but more importantly, it was really fun. So does Garden Warfare twist the class-based shooter formula like the original game did with tower defense? Well no, it doesn’t, but it continues in it’s predecessors’ footsteps in the most suitable way possible; it’s so much fun to play.
Dr Zomboss is still at war with Crazy Dave and his homegrown soldiers, but rather than laying in waiting, the plants have taken it upon themselves to uproot and take the battle right back to the zombies. What results is a third person shooter with a unique identity, despite being quite formulaic mechanically. It’s just a shooting game really, but to me, Garden Warfare manages to be more fun, more entertaining, and less silly than the common shooter grounded in realism. Typical conventions like reviving and healing teammates are straight-out stupid in games that are presented as ‘realistic’, but when a sunflower shoots a healing beam at its cactus friend, there’s no conflicting levels of realism. Garden Warfare admits that it’s a video game and dismisses coolness and realism in favor of fun – much like Mario Kart to racers or Smash Bros. to fighters.
There are eight playable classes in Garden Warfare – four plants and four zombies. The assault focused Peashooter, the healing Sunflower, the stealth and melee based Chomper, and the ranged shooting Cactus make up the plant side. On team zombies the Foot Soldier covers the general shooting, the Engineer handles building teleporters and turrets, the Scientist keeps the team’s health up, and the All-Star offers brute strength and rapid gunfire. On top of these characters, each class has several variations that can be unlocked through gameplay, and some of these are substantially different to their standard counterparts – whether through elemental additions to attacks or replacing primary weapons entirely. There’s more than enough diversity here, especially for the type of game where gameplay normally only ranges from fast gun to slow gun to accurate gun.
Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is a multiplayer only game. Game modes include typical team death matches, capturing territories, and planting bombs in enemy bases. It’s very standard fare, but it’s definitely a large enough platform for GW’s great mechanics to play out. The focus on eliminating the enemy doesn’t tire because of the sheer diversity of gameplay among all of the available playable classes, and a great reward system incentivizes each and every round.
I’m not a competitive multiplayer guy – I’ll only spend time with these kinds of games if they offer two things; fun, and plenty of carrots hung from sticks for me to run towards. GW is loads of fun, so luckily it’s leveling and unlocking systems are awesome too. Each class levels up individually, but only as certain challenges are completed while playing as them. Defeating X number of enemy type Y or achieving Z goal in a game gives every single match of GW multiple objectives. Not only do you want to win the game and defeat the enemy, but you have your own challenges to deal with.
Every action you perform, from a vanquish (kill), to capturing an objective, to destroying a trap rewards you currency. With enough coin-in-pocket, you can make same purchases from the Sticker Shop. This is where you buy packs of stickers. A pack might include plantable/summonable reinforcements, character customisation parts, or new class variations depending on the type of pack. You never know for sure what will be in the pack you choose, but different price options offer a choice in what rarity of sticker you’re after and how often you can afford them. This system in combination with challenge based leveling means there’s always a reason to keep having fun with Garden Warfare.
There’s also a cooperative Garden Ops mode, in which the plants are tasked with planting potted-allies and defending a garden from waves of zombies. This is a cool throwback to the series’ roots, and it can be a lot of fun – unfortunately, I had a lot of difficulties connecting to games in this mode, even after tinkering around with routers and internet doohickeys extensively. I did encounter a few bugs too; occasionally I’d join a game and find all of my characters reverted to level 1, but luckily quitting and rejoining solved all of these situations.
The aspect of Garden Warfare I was expecting to praise least is the presentation, but that would be far from fair. It’s a very good looking game. The stylized environments and characters look crisp and clean, and textures look as good as anything else on the PS4 – I even stopped to admire the scenery on several occasions. These characters couldn’t have been brought into the third dimension more fittingly; they’re just as you remember despite being presented in a brand new way. The sound design doesn’t take a step wrong either – new and classic PvZ tunes set the tone, and the plants and zombies make noises ranging from cute to hilarious. The charm of the series is strong in this entry, and it wouldn’t be the same without it.
As much detail as I could go into about each character’s differing gameplay, there’s really only one thing you need to know about Garden Warfare – it’s really fun. Awesome leveling systems, a great selection of unlockables, and diverse gameplay through different classes keep this online-only experience enjoyable for a very long time.
Please Note: This review was based on the PS4 version of the game, and purchased at retail by the writer for the purpose of review.