I know what you’ve been thinking since the last E3 press conference hosted by Electronic Arts. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare sounds like a horrible idea bred of pure unadulterated greed. EA is purposely destroying a beloved mobile franchise to line the pockets of greedy business men. While I can’t promise you that these are incorrect assumptions, they haven’t appeared to have had any impact on the final version of Garden Warfare.
You may want to sit down before hearing this, but Garden Warfare is both a quality product and fun.
For the uninitiated, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is EA’s attempt to make their popular tower defense game into a 3rd person shooter for Microsoft’s consoles. In Garden Warfare, gamers can take on the role of a single planet or zombie to play Garden Ops (a wave based tower defense mode similar to Double Fine’s Iron Brigade), Team Vanquish (team deathmatch), or Gardens and Graveyards.
Gardens and Graveyards is basically the Rush mode from Battlefield 3. In both games one team attacks and the other team defends a point of interest, but it should be noted that in Garden Warfare the plants are always on the defensive side. If the attackers win the defenders are pushed back to another control point further down the map, and the defenders have about five different points to hold before losing that round.
Now if you ever wanted to create a drinking game based on the Battlefield franchise this is your chance, since the inclusion of the Rush mode is just the tip of the comparisons between Garden Warfare and the Battlefield franchise. For example, the team vanquish mode counts down kills instead of time. Each character in Garden Warfare controls in a similar way to the Battlefield 4 soldiers. The armed forces of both games are accurate and smooth, but too sluggish to be compared to the twitch gameplay that Call of Duty offers. Games of vanquish even have a commander, but Garden Warfare has renamed the position the “boss.” Bosses can drop UAVs, artillery, and supplies just like the commanders of the Battlefield franchise.
To be honest, the addition of a boss is an odd choice since the player count of Garden Warfare tops out at 12 per side, but the boss also plays a little differently due to the addition of a resource collecting mini-game. As the commander in a Battlefield game, the moments between dropping artillery shells is broken up by sizing up the battle and ordering squads of virtual soldiers around the map. Since your force in Garden Warfare is much smaller there are no squads to order about, and I am guessing that staring at a screen between UAV launches tested poorly. The solution is that each item a boss can use requires a certain number of resources per use, and you collect these resources as they float across the boss screen. This isn’t something I can really fault the game for, but it is a design choice I don’t agree with. Why not just go over the top instead of taking your eyes off of the action to collect resources? I agree that a constant stream of artillery shells would be unrealistic, but this is a game about mutant plants fighting comical zombies… you’ve already signed up for unrealistic. I will ask the question again since the boss also has a button to auto-collect his required resource, so why even bother?
The military shooter comparisons continue when you realize that the plants and zombies are broken up into four different types that are reminiscent of recent Battlefield games. On the zombie side they follow the basic first person shooter archetypes: Soldier, Engineer, medic and the heavy, which is called the All-Star in this game. The planets are a little harder to classify but they follow the same plan to a certain extent. The Sprouts and the zombie Soldiers are pretty much your average grunts who are interchangeable in terms of basic abilities. The same can be said for the Sunflower and the Scientist when it comes to healing. On the other hand, the Engineer and Chomper are not really interchangeable, but PopCap has done a pretty decent job of lining up the armies overall.
I am not sure that PopCap did as great a job at lining up the equipment that each side uses. Plants vs Zombies was originally a tower defense game. You would set up your plants in front of your “tower” and use them to defend it from waves of zombies. Much of Garden Warfare is built on that general idea, so the plants tend to have a lot of defensive weapons. In certain situations, like when you’re trying to take back a point of interest by clearing out zombies with a counter-attack, it can feel a little hopeless due to the fact that some of the plants weaponry is defensive in nature. I won’t go as far as saying that the game is drastically balanced in favour of the zombies, because I’ve seen the zombies get shut down too many times for that to be the case. I will simply say that the plants seem better equipped to defend than attack, or even counter-attack in this case.
Luckily, this fledgling console attempt from mobile developer PopCap Games is still as accurate in the gameplay department as the first person shooter it is trying so desperately to latch onto. In terms of the game’s upgrade system I would even call it an improvement. Most shooters will ask you to take out a finite number of opponents to unlock attachments for the guns that make them better. In Garden Warfare there are two things you can upgrade: special abilities and your avatars. Most abilities are locked until you character completes a series of challenges involving killing or healing. The avatars themselves can also be upgraded through customization. Anything from funny hats to cool lighting effects can be added to your character by buying card packs with currency the game awards at the end of each round (and it can’t be bought).
While most shooters employ an upgrade system that can keep low skill players down if they’re constantly being dominated by the community’s all-stars, the progression system in Garden Warfare feels a lot more inclusive. On top of that, the game doesn’t track deaths, and there is even an overall rank given to your entire Garden Warfare profile. You seem to increase 1 rank every time you complete a set of challenges and upgrade any of your plants or zombies.
Unfortunately, the battles themselves are not as inclusive due to the fact that you will spend a lot of time running around the maps looking for the other side to fight. To be fair, you get lost at some point during any multiplayer shooter, and PopCap tried to help this issue by putting markers on the other team. Unfortunately, many of these markers can be lost in the game’s colour pallet if you are on one of the game’s brightly coloured maps.
All of that said, I do wish to be absolutely clear about two things before I end this review. First, our review of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was done on EA or Microsoft servers that were only available during certain hours of the days leading up to the launch of this game. Given how EA has handled the online elements of their top franchises in past last year, I am a little cautious about signing off on this game pre-launch.
Second, Garden Warfare is more of a watered down version of a firstperson shooter than baby’s first war game. I honestly had a lot of fun with it, but I was burned out by the time I was finished this review. These are really the two big issues you should be worried about, so wait a few days after launch and make sure that the servers are ok. After that, decide if a water downed version of Battlefield 4 is worth your money, and if you answered ok to both questions then there is no reason why this can’t be a positive addition to your library of games.