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There is a whole library filled to the brim with competitive shooters, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare sets itself apart from all of these games we are so familiar with. Fusing the PvZ formula with a third person shooter may sound like a recipe for disaster, but in reality created one of the most whimsical, hilarious third person shooters I have ever played. It is a shooter you can dig deep into, grasping for the next upgrade star while your five year old daughter is sitting on your lap at the same time. Starting with strong fundamental mechanics, a robust, if a bit confusing unlock tree and unique classes, PvZ is a strong competitive shooter that can be played and enjoyed by both children and adults alike.
Focusing on multiplayer alone, Garden Warfare boasts two distinct game modes and Garden Ops, a co-op mode where you and three friends defend against the relentless unstoppable hordes of the undead. Garden Ops bares the most resemblance to traditional Plants vs. Zombies, after setting up a garden on one of the very few maps in the game; you are tasked to defend against ten waves of zombies and escaping to an extraction point on the eleventh one. Every five rounds integrates a boss round which forces a slot machine to pop up, deciding what challenge you are about to be faced with next. The zombies and bosses vary greatly, bringing back old corpses like the disco zombie and newcomers like the enormous bomb zombie who makes a beeline to your garden, aiming for maximum damage. There are a ton of fodder enemies that are simply there to soak up damage like the traditional cone and bucket head zombies, but these are also mixed with A.I zombie classes seen in the competitive modes. Seeing these specific characters begs the question why there wasn’t an option to play as the zombie mob in Garden Ops or have it also be a competitive mode you could select. Garden Ops is no slouch, even on easy; waves become increasingly difficult and require constant chatter, strategy and teamwork to be victorious.
The four players are not alone in the fight of the undead; the ability to place other plants in fixed pots is also an option via the cards you can unlock with the coins you earn. Place sunflowers close to your garden to constantly replenish your health or toss down a Gatling peashooter to maximize damage output. Matchmaking is an option for Garden Ops, but playing with friends is definitely the way to go if you want to have the best chance of success. While the mode is fun to play, it is a bummer that the only side players can be on are the plants. The way the classes are set up make each side unique to play, meaning you may be missing out on your favorite abilities because the zombies are not playable in Garden Ops. Plants are extremely varied which helps dull the disappointment but it’s hard not to see the absence of zombies as a slight oversight.
Competitive play pits you in a 12v12 game against other players. Team Vanquish is the standard variant of team deathmatch, throwing plants against zombies in a race to “vanquish” 50 members on the other side. However, to shake things up kills can be taken back by reviving teammates making the ability to work together vital to winning. The other mode provided is known as Gardens and Graveyards, which is strikingly similar to Battlefield’s rush mode. Plants are on the defense as zombies push forward to capture a single point on the map. Once the point is captured, the map extends further and the flora are pushed back to the second point of five or six. At the end there is always an unique objective to accomplish like attacking a massive sunflower on top of a lighthouse or getting five zombies inside a mansion. This mode I found to be tons of fun and producing some of the most intense action in Garden Warfare.
Of course, what is a class based shooter without the classes. Popcap took full advantage of PvZ’s goofy motif, making each class different and unique on both sides. Plants are built to defend, equipped with things like the sunbeam and Gatling pea which turn your character into a fixed gun encampment, raining an insurmountable amount of peas and sunshine onto the battlefield. The cactus acts like a sniper, shooting needles far off into the distance. By far the most unique and enjoyable class for me was the chomper. The chomper is a mix of a melee stealth class, using the ability to burrow under the ground and swallow zombies in one gulp. The zombies on the other hand are considerably more offensive, possessing a large amount of mobility in their arsenal. While some abilities are similar in nature, both sides play separately and both have their strengths and weaknesses making the way you play different depending on your alignment. The controls are extremely tight and work well, although the lack of any dedicated melee left me puzzled. I could count a bunch of times where I pressed in the right stick hoping my character would slap the enemy into oblivion, it never happened.
Being effective in each round grants you coins which can be spent on card packs that lead to cosmetic items, upgrades and stickers. There is no end to how silly you can make your character look, which makes Garden Warfare absolutely seep with personality. Ever wanted to toss 3D glasses and a crew cut on a zombie? Now you can! It makes the game stand out from the drab, brown nature of shooters we are used to playing. Along with the visual flair, you can get things that help boost your ability in combat, like a faster reload ability or extra damage. On top, of the upgrades there are variants for each class, like the commando peashooter that can rapid fire at foes or the fire cactus that spews fire needles from a distance. These are unlocked via stickers you slowly piece together with the card packs you buy. There are also stars you unlock by performing specific objective given to each character you play, these unlock specific card packs for that character. While it mixes it up from traditional unlock trees, when you spend 40,000 coins on a card pack and get a random character you don’t play as is pretty frustrating. Luckily, the economy of the coins seems mostly balanced to the point where it isn’t annoying to save them. While no microtransactions are currently in the game, EA has stated they are coming and I can only assume this is where they will be placed.
SmartGlass plays a small, ineffective role in the game. Placing a scoreboard on the screen or if you pick boss mode gives you a view of the map and acts like a dumbed down version of Battlefield’s Commander mode. However, it is hard to deny how cool it is to see your actions from the SmartGlass translate onto the game screen almost instantly. The game runs great and looks absolutely wonderful on the Frostbite 3 engine; from the beautiful color palate to the skybox which looks like a painting out of an old Disney movie. The characters look charming and adorable, mumbling chuckle worthy nonsense. The sunflower glows and looks adorable, reloading by simply tilting her head to the sun while the engineer on the zombie side rocks a plumber’s crack everywhere he goes. Popcap really did justice to the personality of the game and made it just as funny and charming as it was on our mobile devices.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is not only a reimagining of the license, it is also a delight to play and look at. The greatest weapon in the game is its base source material and the absorbent of that into a shooter makes it stand out on its own. A lack in single player is a bummer and while still starting at a discounted price of $40 bucks, still feels slightly light on content. This doesn’t change that fact that PvZ is an absolute blast and will constantly leave a smile on your face just from the sheer character and creativity that drips from single polygon, living or dead.