If you were trying to pitch the Plants vs Zombies game series to someone they may look at you as if you had been spending too much time with your head up your clematis:
Ok you have some zombies and they are trying to get you and only your plants can save you……..
This is probably why I avoided playing the first two games, as it didn’t really fill me with too much enthusiasm. Being a diligent reviewer I have gone back to Plants vs Zombies 1 & 2 to give them a try, and whilst I am still less than bowled over, they are rather fun. Happily, for me anyway, I can report that Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare has moved away from its traditional top down strategy routes and has adopted a gung ho 3rd person shooter attitude.
Now before I get shot down by avid PvZ fans I need to acknowledge that the first two games were, and still are, big hits for PopCap Games, and rightly so. As a tower defence strategy game that was ported onto about every platform known to man it was very good, and you could play it just about everywhere. You can even play for free online at popcap.com. This latest game in the series is again developed by PopGap Games and published by Electronic Arts. The game is not brand new as it was launched on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One early this year, but it has now just been released for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. The game uses the Frostbite 3 engine and immerses the player in a wonderful 3rd person environment, full of colourful detail and turning some of the popular characters from the previous games into fully playable characters. Each has their own unique yet traditional ways of defeating the enemy. If you loved Peashooter or the Chomper they are here and ready to kick some zombie ass.
The game isn’t a solo shootfest and requires you to join up with other players online in Garden Ops; a 4 player co-op mode where you battle zombies who are trying to destroy your garden. This mode allows you to play on different maps with different difficulty levels. It does retain some of the original strategy aspects as you can deploy static plants in pots to help defend the garden. Within Garden Ops you can power up your character by completing certain tasks like vanquishing a certain number of zombies or surviving a wave without damage. You need to survive all the waves and if anyone has played Left for Dead then this co-op mode feels like the final survival part of each level, which for me was the best part. Once all waves are complete you have to head for a rescue zone and get collected by crazy Dave in his flying campervan.
There are also a raft of multiplayer modes to keep you busy, pitching you with up to 24 other players. These games are a slightly surreal take on well known multiplayer modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch and rush. Within these you can play as either plants or zombies, and again earn power ups that unlock new weapons and attacks. There is also a split screen co-op which lets you team up with an actual person sat on the sofa with you to battle the hoards of zombies. This is great for ripping the latest LEGO title away from the small person who lives in your house, and getting to play this with them instead. No single player mode could be seen as a little annoying for some, but as soon as you realise this is no longer a strategy focused game you’ll not miss it.
Your character choice of plants in Garden Ops mode is made up of 4, each loosely based on the type of characters you would find in a typical shooter. You have the Peashooter, for example, that is your assault plant and Cactus that is more of a long range sniper kinda guy. When playing multiplayer levels you have a choice of 4 zombies who again will each have their own individual roles to deploy in the game.
The game is still a unique tower defence game, albeit in a 3rd person shooter world, but with a whole load more thrown in. The outer skin may be garden and zombie based, and is cute and funny, but it takes a lot of its multiplayer games and gameplay from more traditional shooters such as Battlefield 4. I am not saying that the developers have copied any specific games or even based this aspect on a single title, but more the genre as a whole. Players from this background will integrate immediately without having to learn a whole new way of working through the game. Too often quirky games have tried to reinvent themselves adding too much and forgetting about the core gameplay, making them look nice but lacking in other areas. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare offers both; it will keep younger audiences entertained with the characters and the crazy sound effects, but real gamers will appreciate the challenge and game mechanics.
I really enjoyed playing this, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was whilst being relatively easy to play, yet still challenging. The aiming system whilst on the face of it nothing complicated takes a while to master, but hey you’re a plant not a Navy Seal so you sort of forgive these little wobbles. I did have some issues connecting to games close to launch, but this is something I have come to accept and not get too irate about. It is now OK with a good rate of successful connections to game servers.
A review copy of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare for PlayStation 4 was provided by EA.