Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Review (Xbox One)
One of the more surprising announcements from E3 2013, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare took the popular mobile strategy game and dropped it smack dab in the middle of a chaotic third-person shooter. It shouldn't have worked, but here we are nearly a year later, and Garden Warfare is a charming title that envisions PopCap's classic in a whole new way. It's just too bad there isn't more to it.
From the get-go, the trademark cartoonishness of the Plants vs. Zombies franchise is present. Now brought to life in three dimensions, your favorite weapons like the Peashooter, Sunflower and Chomper are there to battle it out against a variety of zombies. Each is given a purpose and class in the competitive modes, Team Vanquish and Gardens and Graveyards. In the co-operative mode, Garden Ops, you'll face off against more familiar faces like variants on the browncoat zombies and newer, bigger threats like the Yeti and Gargantuan. PopCap's eye for creative design shines in Garden Warfare, and seeing such familiar faces in a new light is really great. Going mano-a-mano with hordes of the shambling undead is normally a frightening prospect, but here, PopCap makes the affair a rather humorous one, even when you're drastically outmatched and outnumbered.
Good looks only get you so far however, and it's the core gameplay that's supposed to keep you interested in coming back for more. Like the addictive strategizing of its mobile cousins, Garden Warfare puts the action at your fingertips. This time time it's your trigger fingers getting the work. If you've played any shooter over the course of the past few years, everything about the way Garden Warfare controls should feel very familiar. Right trigger shoots, left trigger aims, and the remainder of the buttons are used for various abilities each specific to the class of character you're using. These special abilities are unlocked by leveling specific zombies or plants up during play, with each class getting up to three extra powers (one each for the LB, RB and Y buttons). There's a cooldown time associated with these abilities, so you won't be able to spam special attacks all day. Still, the cooldown times aren't long, and the abilities instantly refresh when you respawn after dying.
None of these easily attainable extra powers are the same for any class, and thankfully none of them are too overpowered either. Though there are four different types of plants and zombies each, all eight play incredibly differently. The primary weapons for each class are always available and have unlimited ammunition (though you still have to reload), and even though classes like the Peashooter and Foot Soldier zombie both equate to grunts, they couldn't be more different in their attacks. The same holds true across all six of the remaining types, which provides a great deal of variation match-to-match no matter what side you're playing on. There are also no limits to how many of each type of character can be on the map at a given time, though in the 12v12 competitive modes, you never really have to worry about facing off a team of all one type.
Those of you who tend to lean more of a traditional shooter will find a welcome home with the zombie team. The four characters there (Foot Soldier, Engineer, Scientist and All-Star) all work within the more traditional confines expected of such a squad-based game. Most of their weapons rely heavily on very familiar weapon types like machine guns and shotguns. For all its worth, they are supremely boring, too. The real action is on the plant side of the battle. Chompers can dig underground to stealthily surprise would be attackers, and the Peashooter can turn from a slow-firing grunt into a Gatling gun in an instant. There's just more invested in the plants being interesting beyond their cosmetic appeal. The same can't be said for the zombies. More character variants can be unlocked, but they all still offer the same core conceit as their base inspiration in spite of adding flame or poison shots.
No matter which side you happen to fall on, both of the competitive modes are incredibly chaotic. The maps are quite huge, and offer decent chokepoints and elevations to experiment with. Despite how large the various locations are, almost every match devolves into a large skirmish focused around one central area. Getting 24 different people all jammed into once place proves to be less than ideal. It's quite different with smaller scale shooters when everyone is contesting the same bit of square-footage, but here, there are so many bodies clogging up the landscape, it's often hard to gain much headway in a battle. Add in the factor that reviving a teammate scrubs a kill off the scoreboard, and it's easy to understand how so many matches of Vanquish or Gardens and Graveyards end within a few kills of each other. No team really dominates, and that kind of parity is exciting when it's earned, but here it never feels earned.
Cooperatively, Garden Warfare's Garden Ops mode is the least interesting variation on theme in the whole package. Garden Ops' wave-based action has only a few different aspects to make it stand out ever so slightly from every version of this mode you've seen before. Every few rounds will be a boss round, and Dr. Zomboss will spin a slot machine wheel to send some tougher foes at you and your plant buddies. All you've got to do is ensure your garden stays safe, and fend off the would-be attackers wave after wave after wave. Additionally, PopCap introduces collectible cards to the mix. These cards you unlock (by purchasing packs with earned in-game currency) give you a range of additional plants to aid you in battle. Scattered near your garden will be pots to plant various versions of the plants from the mobile game. They are limited in quantity, and you'll be amazed how quickly you burn through almost all of them just by playing one round.
This problem gets compounded further when trying to play split-screen co-op. The second player doesn't acquire any stats, currency or cards of their own, even if he has his own game saved in Garden Warfare. You will use a pool from the primary player's save file. You thought burning through cards was a problem when you were teamed with four others online, it's a whole new bag of issues offline. You can only access new cards inbetween games, not rounds, so when you're out, you are out. Unless you have a healthy stockpile, which is unlikely given how expensive the card packs are and how little payout there is per game, it's nearly impossible to make it beyond a tenth wave in split-screen. Garden Ops is the only mode available for split-screen, too, which is the biggest shame of all. Playing other modes with family and friends within your own home would have made Garden Warfare that much more enjoyable.
All-in-all, Garden Warfare is a fairly unremarkable experience. The gameplay is fun, but it's definitely also derivative of elements we've seen executed better elsewhere. That's not to say there aren't some interesting aspects. There just aren't enough to make it stand strongly on its own. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare isn't a bad game, it's just not a very inventive one despite its catchy premise.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare for the Xbox One.