Xbox One
Recommended
4 stars
Amazon
22.39
In Stock. Buy Now»
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
5 Stars
Replay Factor
4.5 Stars
Bonus Content
2 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare

Street Date:
February 25th, 2014
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
March 1st, 2014
Game Release Year:
2014
Platform:
Xbox One
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
Developer:
PopCap
ESRB Rating:
E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)

Editor's Notes

Xbox One version reviewed.

Introduction

PopCap and EA surprised everyone when they revealed 'Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare' last year. The goofy characters and bubbly atmosphere from the mobile tower-defense titles are an interesting blueprint for making three-dimensional, third-person shooting commandoes, though you wouldn't think to fear at the welcoming smile of an incoming sunflower. A console exclusive for Microsoft, 'Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare' has been set to straddle the company's shooter demographic while also providing a relief from the incessant seriousness plaguing the shooter genre. Apparent style aside, the question remains: as a class-based, ability-focused shooter, does it have the substance to last more than a couple of hours?

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

My expectations for what 'Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare' should be, from the day they announced it to the first couple days I played it, were at odds with what I now know it is. I wanted it be a somewhat methodical class-based shooter, where small groups of teamwork-concerned people would thrive and the psychotic twitch-mongrels of online-shooter lore might finally fall to my tactics and strategy. I thought that with four distinct and balanced classes per side, each meant to combat the strengths of the enemy while complimenting the weaknesses of fellow fighters, the level of inter-team cooperation on call might rival that of Valve's impeccable 'Team Fortress 2.'

It's not that. 'Garden Warfare' is not a traditional third person shooter, but it's not a far cry from what we've seen in the past. Style and presentation aside, 'Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare' is restrained in its attempts at innovation, but that doesn't make the game any less fun to play. As a matter of fact, it's one of the most polished and entertaining shooters I've played in a while. It reminds me of the good days of 'Gears of War,' before all that judgment nonsense, though the games have very little in common from a mechanical standpoint.

The two competitive modes, Team Vanquish (deathmatch) and Gardens and Graveyards (a combination of Battlefield's Rush and Conquest modes), accommodate 12 players per-team. That's an arena of 24 plants and zombies duking it out.

It's chaos, but it's a good chaos, the kind that makes you itch for it when you've finally set the controller down. That's the difference between what I thought the game should be, rather than what it is. Communication is not key and teamwork won't always prevail, though the common sense stick-with-your-group mentality holds strong. Knowing when to attack, how to attack with whatever class you're using, and diving into the fray at exactly the right moment is key. The remarkable thing is it's actually pretty well balanced.

It's about finding the strengths of a particular class and doing as much damage in that particular way as possible.

'Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare' Class Breakdown

There's no exacting parody between the classes on either side of the battle, but I rarely felt, in any role, outmatched or outgunned. The Chomper might not be able to kill from afar, but his burrow-to-devour ability is immensely satisfying in both its ease-of-use and devastation caused to some zombie trying to wonder off on his own. On the flipside, the zombies' Engineer can stun enemy plants and, more importantly, draw a burrowing Chomper out of the ground and finish it off with his grenade launcher as it shakes off the blow.

More so, the offensively-minded Peashooter and zombie Foot Soldier might fulfill similar roles, but they go about it in different ways. The Peashooter can plant himself into the ground and unleash a holy hell of gattling fire, while the Foot Soldier takes the finishing longshot with his ZPG. Both are capable of reaching massive heights to accrue a premier vantage point.

Each of the eight classes has a distinct feeling. Zipping around as Peashooter, chasing down runners with his AoE cannon fire, is thrilling. Accomplishing a similar feat with a Foot Soldier's longer-ranged Assault Blaster feels like a different kind of success.

Then, of course, you have the healers on both sides, the Sunflower more capable of individual buffs than the zombie Scientist's stationary healing fountain. And they both have wildly different offensive capabilities. These guys are the closest we come to true teamwork, but even they can do devastating damage on their own.

Wrapping up the classes, the Cactus and zombie All-Star classes couldn't be more different, the former a sniper capable of entrenching himself in a net of barriers and landmines, the latter a tank wielding a chaingun, his charge and explosive (punting a zombie imp, of course) an ultimate disruption of close firefights. I found him to be the most challenging class – a dramatic change of pace from the run-and-gun style most prevalent – but more rewarding in those moments where it comes together.

In essence, Every character can kill. The scoreboard at the end of every match emphasizes Vanquishes (kills) over anything else. Healing, capturing points in Gardens and Graveyards and reviving take a backseat to the simple act of virtual murder. That in itself should tell you how PopCap expects people to enjoy 'Garden Warfare.' In that way, enjoy it they shall. Enjoy it I did.

While Team Vanquish promotes your typical shooter tempo, the first team to 50 kills victorious, Gardens and Graveyards dips and rises to greater troughs of frustration and elation. Taking place in one of four sprawling maps, zombies are tasked with overtaking Gardens (capture points) by maintaining a player majority for a certain time period. Take the point and the battle shifts forward on the map. The plants don't want that to happen.

It's great fun as long as you have an objective-oriented team. You'll sometimes find yourself stuck with teammates who would rather set up shop and rake in kills than defend or attack.

The final area of a map asks something different of the zombies, whether it's overtaking Crazy Dave's mansion on Wall-Nut Hills or destroying the Mega Flower on Driftwood Shores. It's clear the classes were designed with this mode first in mind. Plants are generally more defensive, whereas zombies have abilities designed to push forward, a reflection of the original games. That said, these choices thankfully don't affect the fairness in a Team Vanquish match.

Unquestionably inspired is the map design, which takes in the cartoonish and vibrant mythology of the original games and wonderfully stretches it all into the third dimension. With both verticality and a variety of chokepoints, stretches, shortcuts and side-routes, especially in the Gardens and Graveyards matches, a skilled player will find the perfect space for his/her favorite class. There's a lot of room for experimentation on that front.

In spite of these many successes, there are some aspects that seem to scream mistep. Oddly, you're often more apprised of the enemy's position than your own teammates', their names only appearing in tiny text if you're close, whereas an enemy "spotted" icon similar to 'Battlefield' floats on your screen with welcoming life from anywhere in the arena. I've also come across a few control glitches, but nothing game-stopping.

Furthermore, Garden Ops, the game's third and final mode, should have been more than it is., given its close relation to the mobile titles. It's a horde mode/tower defense variant that set four plant teammates against incoming waves of zombies. Fun a few times over, but you're doing little more than mowing down varying zombie classes and reviving teammates as they fall. Boss waves, which might throw a dancing disco zombie or some kind of gargantuan horror at you, mix it up just enough to introduce desperation. Just as in the competitive modes teamwork is encouraged but by no means essential, other than the occasional revive.

It's also a bit weird that you can't play a version of this mode as the zombies, as it's much easier to progress your character in Garden Ops than in Team Vanquish or Gardens and Graveyards. Class progression calls for the accomplishing of various in-game goals and unlocks a specialized sticker pack (We'll get more into that in the Replay Factor section).

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Nintendo may want to call PopCap if the Miyamoto is ever inclined to make a (non-Metroid) shooter. The translation from top-down strategy game to third-person shooter has only emphasized the series' quirkiness, and at 60 frames per second too. It's the brightest, happiest shooter you'll ever play, which in a world of gruff dudes and carbine assault rifles is a relief at the slightest.

The plants might defend a playground, fleshed out with traversable slides and bridges, or the zombies might attack a medieval castle as Peashooters take up position on the outer towers. Without the limit of realism or even continuity, the locales of 'Garden Warfare' are an imagination playground.

Even more impressive are the character models and coinciding animation work. The sunflower's pedal bounce independently of each other as the adorable little fellow scurries along with his four leaf-feat. Each character comes to life in these small details, even the so-called undead. It's endearing, as opposed to the faceless heroes of your typical virtual violence.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Just as much care is poured into the sounds as the sights. The All-Star's chain gun is a disturbing mix of machineworks and guttural screaming, while the Chomper snaps and crunches at his foes with convincing vigor and wetness. Whatever shortcomings in mechanical innovation, 'Garden Warfare' is indeed masterful in tone and atmosphere, making all that horrible violence seem like a Sunday afternoon. I crumble at the Sunflower's audible eruption of glee.

The music is just as cheerily infective, as many fans of the mobile fans should expect, only now layered and complex as the music of a full console release should be.

Replay Factor

Where the team is pushing into new ground, and where the developer's mobile roots shine so vibrantly, is in class progression and customization. It's all about stickers; random, glorious stickers.

In-game currency, of which there is currently no microtransaction equivalent, is spent on sticker packs. Within those you'll find one of three things: Consumables are zombies you can raise or potted plants you can use as defense turrets in the Gardens and Graveyards or Garden Ops modes. Cosmetic customization stickers can be applied to your characters in different ways. I'm particularly proud of the Gnome Rider on my Chomper class. In a game as expressive as this you'll frequently come across the charming and bizarre. This, more than anything, keeps me going.

There are also the class variant stickers, which importantly tweak a character's ability on the battlefield in one way or another. For instance, the scientist carries a basic shotgun by default, whereas the Marine Biologist variant uses a Dolphin Blaster with a faster firing rate but far less range (and an adorable shooting sound). I find myself continually envious of fellow players with the flame-throwing Fire Chomper. I seethe at the mouth in anticipation.

The thing is, for all five class variants of each class (that's 48 total characters, including the originals), you need to collect five individual stickers. It's going to take quite a long time unlocking everything there is. And it's randomized to a degree. Saving up for more expensive sticker packs nets you better loot, obviously, and the most expensive pack guarantees you a full character. You'll just be missing out on the rest of the goodies if that's all you go after.

It's a weird system, designed with the potential for future microtransactions. Free for now, and hopefully for awhile, some of those stickers can really brighten up your day. I'm not sure if that's a good thing for me, but it's good for the game.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Boss Mode, enabling a top-down view of the battlefield, allows players to drop in healing units, spotting units, airstrikes and auto-revives from the sky. It's fun once and never again, but it does use Smart Glass. So hooray! Also there-but-not-really is a splitscreen mode, but you can only play Garden Ops offline with one friend. The mode as shallow as it is, I wish I could use my second Xbox One controller to play online with a buddy too. That's not the case.

Final Thoughts

'Garden Warfare' is beautiful, sounds great and it plays pretty well too. PopCap doesn't push any boundaries from a gameplay standpoint. That's understandable; this first installment is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The fact that it all works so well is impressive enough. While you won't find a whole lot of depth in the game modes themselves, sifting through the character classes and matching their individual tactics and abilities with the sprawling maps should be enough to grab the prolonged attention of an avid shooter aficionado.

And then there are the stickers, which unabashedly manipulate our every desire for all things adorable and endearing. Oh Gnome Rider, how you pull me in and never let go.

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Video Resolution/Codec

  • 900p

Audio Formats

  • 5.1 LPCM

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus
  • Offline Co-op
  • Split-screen

Motion Controls

  • No

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