Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is the fully 3D successor to the hit tower defense game Plants vs. Zombies available on mobile as well as downloadable for consoles and PC. It’s not a sequel per se, but more of an action-packed spinoff to catered to a more hardcore crowd. Though it’s safe to say, Garden Warfare is just as charming as its predecessors, just with more guns and explosions.
Visuals and Audio: You’ll immediately notice that Garden Warfare has kept the classic Plants vs. Zombies cartoony style, with just a bit of next gen polish to keep everything looking sharp and sleek. Pop Cap has done a great job of bringing those old side-view avatars to life in completely 3D animation, and planting them in appropriately fitting colorful environments. Truly everything in this game looks fantastic, with polished, smooth character models and levels that look like they were designed by Tim Burton on a really happy day. There’s also a great amount of detail on the character design, from the Engineer’s plumbers crack, to the way the Peashooters leaves sway elegantly when it’s in motion.
The audio is also entirely appropriate and fitting, with charming music on every lobby screen, and weapon sound effects sounding exactly the way you’d imagine they should. The Peashooter’s “phwoomp” when it fires a pea is one effect that stands out in my mind, as well the sound of the Sunflower’s sunbeam which sounds like laser effect you’d hear in a James Bond movie, only slightly more calming which is odd considering how much damage it does. Although, some of the character sounds, particularly on the Zombie side, can get really annoying almost instantly, especially if you like to play the same class regularly.
Gameplay: For the most part, Garden Warfare is your typical 3rd person shooter, with different classes in each faction to choose from, some minor aesthetic customization, along with lots of abilities and character outfits to unlock. Instead of gaining experience to level up, you have to complete character based challenges with every level gained, as each class levels independently the more you play with them. It’s a relatively solid way of trying to keep the player from playing the same class or two over and over but is somewhat ineffective as you’ll likely stick to whatever classes and abilities you perform best with. As you gain levels you’ll also gain new abilities. Every character gets their own specific abilities relative to them, for example the Quarterback can set up blocking sleds for cover from enemies that can shoot, like the Peashooter or Cactus. The zombie scientist can release a health fountain of sorts, which teammates can use to recover when they stand beside it, and the Sunflower on the Plants team has a sunbeam that essentially has the same effect, but can only be focused on one teammate at a time. These abilities still reinforce the archetypal roles that are common with all class based multiplayer games, but are made unique with the quirky style and gimmickry of the Plants vs. Zombies franchise.
An alternative way of unlocking character costumes and other customizations is through the game’s sticker pack system. During and after every match, you’re rewarded with coins which you can spend on varying levels of sticker packs, the most expensive of which (40,000 coins) unlocks an entire new character costume. You can win more coins during each match by completing the same challenges that level up your character, as well as simple tasks such as getting headshots, reviving downed teammates, and achieving multikills using your ability attacks.
Garden Warfare comes with 4 very standard game types, including Welcome Mat (in which you can only use basic characters on only one map, prohibited from using character customizations, including costumes unlocked from sticker packs), Team Deathmatch, Gardens and Graveyards (which is a fantastic 3D iteration of the tower defense mode the franchise was built on), Garden Ops (basically horde mode), as well as “classic” versions of all of the aforementioned, where all your customizations and abilities are thrown to the wayside. Team Deathmatch, Garden Ops, and the classic variants get 5 maps that are somewhat diverse in style, the most prominent differences being in the amount of, and accessibility to higher ground, which is very useful to the player’s advantage more often than not. Gardens and Graveyards come with their own expertly crafted, elaborate maps for maximum tower defending debauchery, containing several mid-sized sections that combine to create a massive warzone. Garden Ops comes in 4 different difficulties, easy, normal, hard and CRRRRRAAAZY!! This is essentially “very hard” or “insane” difficulty. It’s also worth noting that Garden Ops is the only mode in Garden Warfare that supports split screen multiplayer, which is really better than not including split screen at all.
The Verdict: Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a pleasantly surprising, delightfully charming, action packed spinoff that forgivably gets in its own way by having so few, generic game types. It’s a prime addition to the multiplayer library of anyone who loves some quirky humor mixed with crisp visuals and whimsical art styles, especially with a $40 price point for the Xbox One edition (and is bound to be on sale all the time on PC). That being said, if you’re playing on console and don’t already subscribe to Xbox’s online services, it’s not worth dropping a hundred dollars on in one fell swoop.