LOVED IT: Proficient marriage of shooting and tower defense, nice sense of style, completing the Sticker Book can be addictive fun
HATED IT: Progression can be slow, can’t utilize tower defense pieces without card packs, a bit pricey
GRAB IT IF: You enjoyed Gears of War’s Horde Mode and Call of Duty’s Zombie modes
When that old iPad mainstay franchise Plants vs. Zombies headed for a new platform, a new interface and a new audience, there were bound to be challenges. There was going to be skepticism and concern, and worries that an innovative developer would lose its way.
But series’ debut on major consoles proves that wrong. With Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, developer PopCap skillfully pushes its tablet-based ideas of tower defense into a tower defense shooter. It’s a fun, refreshing, family-friendly take on the multiplayer shooter genre, even if it’s hampered by a few issues.
What it is is totally PvZ with a far brighter color palette than any shooter you’ve seen before and far cuter visuals. When Plants vs. Zombies debuted on tablets a few years ago, it was an instant hit, a strategy game of sorts that had you defending a garden from zombies by placing plants all over a grid-based board. It was easy to get into and easy to control, and the overall game was surprisingly addictive.
The transplant of those characteristics almost had to come in a game like this, a game in which you had to defend something while planting plants to aid that process. So now, you get core shooter mechanics over four different classes that parallel pretty standard shooter stuff and then it’s off to a series of different multiplayer modes.
There’s oodles of pretty standard stuff here, all well-executed and done in PvZ fashion (you’ll see no blood and barely even a mention of the word “kill”), but the centerpiece is Garden Ops. The mode itself isn’t new; we’ve seen plenty of cooperative shooters in which you defend a base from waves of enemies. Garden Warfare just adds its own PvZ-style flourishes to the action.
The iPad mainstay gets an upgrade for next-gen consoles, with new looks and new abilities.
These come in the ability to plant assistive plants into pots, making your job easier. Again, this isn’t something completely new to the genre, but Garden Warfare executes it well, drawing from its own lore. There’s a sun plant to help you regenerate energy, and a series of pea shooters and a Bok-Choy that can pound incoming zombies, and many, many more plants than that.
It all plays well. Getting a team of four yields plenty of fun and the game is well-balanced. The healing abilities of the Sunflower are necessary to survive more furious waves as the assault-style Pea Shooter and the unique Chomper, a blend of melee and stealth skills, battle the zombies head on.
None of this is shocking, of course, because we’ve seen many a multiplayer shooter in recent years, so Garden Warfare gives us something else: a wealth of unlockables. These come via the Sticker Shop, and they are the game’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.
On the one hand, there are tons of them. You’ll acquire these stickers in card packs that you purchase with coins earned in the core game. There are visual upgrades for each character class, and stockpiles of plants and weapon upgrades for you and your plants, and other things. It’s fun and addictive to try to fill in everything and Garden Warfare delivers it all with a nicely presented Sticker Book.
The downside, however, is the absolute reliance on these Stickers. You can’t plant things in battle unless you have their stickers and the issues go even further than that. Stickers give you only a handful of, say, the Bok-Choy, and once you’ve used them all up, you don’t get them back. So if you have five Bok-Choys and you use them in two different battles, they’re gone forever.
You’re left to balance the desire to survive a Garden Op with your scarce supply of plants and this can create a frustrating dynamic within skirmishes. Instead of enjoying the unique planting features that make the game fun, you’ll see some gamers barely planting at all, preferring to stockpile plants for later instead of wasting them on a battle for now. There’s a disappointing, frustrating level of grinding in this game, something that shouldn’t be present in a game built around fun.
The end result is a solid game. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare doesn’t reinvent the shooter genre and it doesn’t change everything for the PvZ series. But it is fun. And in a genre filled with blood and machine guns, it’s definitely something different.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One