Having spent many hours playing Titanfall in the days preceding my introduction to Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, jumping from Respawn’s high-tech, hyper-real finesse FPS into the clunky, chunky gaiety of EA’s cartoonish tower-defense-game-turned-shooter was quite the transition. One moment I was running around at high speed, bouncing off walls and leaping up buildings with agility and style, while blasting all and sundry with my arsenal of futuristic weapons and gizmos. The next I’m shuffling along as a plant, barely able to jump, shooting at stuff with a peashooter. Yes. An actual peashooter that shoots actual peas – very slowly.
Initially, I sneered. Compared to the likes of CoD and Titanfall, PvZ: GW feels dumbed-down. It has no style. No finesse. It’s an FPS-hybrid for people who don’t like FPS games. It doesn’t feel serious. It even feels stupid. A stupid game with stupid plants and stupid zombies. What was EA thinking?
I have no idea, but it’s a stroke of genius – because it didn’t take long for that sneer to be replaced by a big fat grin. PvZ: GW is ridiculous. It’s the clown king idiot of first-person shooters – and it’s really, really, really fun. I love it. I really do. But before I start counting the ways, let me give you a quick overview of the game itself.
Taking cues from its tower defense origins, PvZ: GW pits teams of zombies and plants against one another in a variety of multiplayer scenarios that mostly revolve around attacking and defending nodes and/or targets. True to the original game, most scenarios have plants defending, while zombies take the offensive role.
There are four different kinds of plants and zombies to choose from, each with their own set of skills and special moves. For example, both sides have a basic shooter character. The zombie version has a jetpack and rocket launcher as special weapons, whereas the plant has a temporary speed boost move and can turn itself into a stationary Gatling gun for as long as it has ammo to shoot. Each team also has a healing class, a close-quarter combat character (with charge-type abilities), and a suppression fire specialist. Each character type offers different tactical advantages, and since you’re able to switch characters during a game, this opens up some interesting possibilities.
All characters can be leveled up, and I really like the way it’s done: by meeting specific objectives. Things start out simple enough - shoot a certain number of enemies, for example – but soon escalate into quite tricky tasks, such as getting a series of multikills with a grenade. Or rather, a chilli bean bomb. When all objectives are met, that character increases a rank and the next set of objectives is unlocked. The process of ranking up sometimes earns additional skills and upgrades for your character, bonus in-game currency, and packs of cards.
These packs of cards are an integral part of the game. Everything you do from shooting enemies to winning games earns you money, and money enables you to buy packs of random cards. These vary in price, with the cheapest packs containing useful consumables, while more expensive ones contain “rare” weapon upgrades, items that enable you to customize the look of your characters, and stickers that represent parts of hidden characters that you can unlock by collecting a complete set.
The consumables I mentioned are items that can be used to summon either defensive AI plants or additional AI zombies, depending on which team you're on. These can be surprisingly useful, especially when multiple players are activating them. While I’m sure many players will be tempted to save their currency for the more expensive packs of cards, it’s actually advantageous to spend money on the (very cheap) packs of consumables cards, since they can help swing the balance of the game in your favor, resulting in victory and therefore more money.
The moment I saw PvZ: GW’s card pack oriented structure, I had concerns about microtransactions. However, as of now, there are none in the game. When I asked whether or not there were plans to add them, EA were a little evasive, claiming that things might be reviewed after the game’s release. As long as the only thing that is added is the chance for players to buy additional packs of cards with real money, I'd be fine with that. I’m very happy at the rate I’ve been earning packs of cards, so as long as that stays consistent, I don’t really care if people want to spend their own money on more cards.
Acquiring packs of cards plays a big part in making PvZ: GW addictive. Being able to customize your character with fun items, and unlocking additional ones is strangely compelling. Especially since all the cards you collect go into a giant “sticker book” that you can look through. It takes me back to being a kid again. I want to collect everything!
But while collecting cards is fun, where PvZ: GW truly shines is in its gameplay. Its multiplayer maps are large, but they funnel players into choke points nicely, thus ensuring every game turns into a pitched battle. Intelligently positioned respawn points keep the fight moving, and that momentum is additionally maintained by players being able to rez vanquished teammates. The end result is gameplay that has everything that makes an FPS type of game great in terms of competitive team play and the intensity of its battles, but what PvZ: GW also does is make its action accessible and fun. You can fire rockets into a crowd, snipe from rooftops, or chase somebody through a maze of buildings just like you would in a classic FPS, but in PvZ: GW it feels just a little more forgiving than most shooters: there seems to be a little more margin for error.
I think this aspect of the game is going to be a point of polarization, because it’s the antithesis of the pinpoint shooting and fast maneuvering typical of "serious" shooters that flatter the skilled and punish the inept. PvZ: GW slows things down, requires a little less precision, and gives you more room to move and time to breathe. Some will call it dumbed-down, but I don’t think it is at all. It feels more like a level playing field where you don’t have to be superhuman to make great shots, and where everyone stands a chance to be a hero. It’s not like skill has been removed from the game – good players will still prevail. It just gives less able players a fighting chance. If you think that’s a bad thing because you love rofflestomping noobs, obviously this game is not for you. But I like it. It makes things more competitive and fair.
This come-one, come-all aspect of PvZ: GW’s gameplay works perfectly with its bright and colorful presentation and style. From a myriad of humorous graphical details to its ridiculous, yet creative weapons and characters, everything about the game feels good-natured and fun. The end result is a thoroughly entertaining, super-competitive, high body count FPS-hybrid that also manages to be accessible, fun, and easy enough to play so that it can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels. Brilliant stuff.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Humorous, bright and colorful. Fans of the original game will love the attention to detail.
- Music: Remixes much of the original music, and adds additional tunes that suit the action perfectly.
- Interface: Very nicely laid out, and the sticker book is a neat touch.
- Lasting Appeal: Plenty to get your teeth into initially, and there’s the promise of additional – FREE – maps to come.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare's bright colors, cartoon graphics and humorous approach are the antithesis of most first-person shooters. But don't be fooled. It's as good as any out there - and very likely an awful lot more fun.