A brilliantly accessible and fun online shooter; but there's only one must-play mode plus consumable items and upgrades look unbalanced
EA will undoubtedly do well by publishing this, the biggest shooter of the year to date. It’s one related to a franchise that has over 125m players, and one which could help steady the rocky start of the Xbox One. No, it’s not Titanfall but instead EA’s other new shooter, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare (PvZ: GW), a game spun off Popcap’s hugely successful take on the tower defence genre.
Here’s some video footage we captured of PvZ:GW while playing
EA bought Popcap back in 2011 and this third-person, online multiplayer shooter is based around the same Frostbite engine as the publisher’s Battlefield 4. That game has had its issues since launch, but this one ran smoothly and seemed perfectly stable and practically bug free. PvZ: GW runs at a smooth 60fps on Xbox One, and though the resolution hasn’t been announced it looks and feels great to play.
The game is primarily an online shooter with battles involving a whopping 24 players plus numerous AI-controlled extras – that’s twice that of stablemate Titanfall if anyone’s counting. Players can play as either the Plants or the Zombies, with the former defending and the latter attacking in the main Gardens & Graveyards mode.
Gardens and Graveyards is the main game mode here, in fact it’s the only one that looks like it will stand up to extended play
It’s highly reminiscent of Battlefield’s Rush mode, with a series of objectives that must be taken one at a time as the action moves step-by-step across the map. Objectives are captured by simply spending time in a glowing circular area around it. You start by capturing backyard vegetable patches but it quickly builds in scale, with mansions and castles to assault by the finale of each level. There’s also a team deathmatch mode, Vanquish, though all the classes (see below) don’t work equally well there.
PvZ: GARDEN WARFARE GRAPHICS
Visually the original games’ look is faithfully reproduced. The vivid colours used would compete with those used by the likes of Sega and Nintendo; for a shooter though the only reference we can think of is Team Fortress 2, a game that also inspires much of the gameplay here.
The presentation is as slick as you’d hope then, with all the usual offbeat, trademark humour of a Popcap game present. The game environments conjure the backyard world of Plants vs Zombies perfectly, they aren’t very complex in terms of design but then it would defeat the approachable nature of the game if they were.
The levels are largely simple, but the presentation is always great
The 3D versions of such iconic characters as the Pea Shooter and Sunflower are well executed, though they don’t (and maybe couldn’t) quite live up to the super-sharp, nuanced and character-filled designs of the original games. The key problem is that each of the protagonists has been complicated by its need to move, jump and use special abilities; all of which takes away from the simplicity of a plant that just smiles, bobs up-and-down and makes sunshine.
PvZ: GARDEN WARFARE CLASSES
Each side is comprised of four highly-varied classes. Each of the eight has its own unique main weapon plus three unique special abilities. On the plant side you have the Peashooter, a footsoldier with an area effect weapon and pipebomb-like Chili Bean explosive. The Sunflower provides healing plus consistent damage output. The Chomper is a melee class that can tunnel underground and swallow zombies whole when it surfaces. While the Cactus is a tough defender that can deploy mines and barricades plus launch an armed drone, in the form of a garlic clove.
Our Peashooter takes down an AI-controlled traffic cone zombie
On the zombie side, the Footsoldier is just that but adds a rocket jump for getting up on roofs and rocket launcher for area clearing. The Engineer can build teleporters in set locations to reduce journey times for the attackers and has a pneumatic drill he can ride to zoom across the level. The scientist can drop healing stations plus he can warp jump to close with enemies to use his shotgun-like weapon. Finally the All-Star is an American football player, he’s the heavy weapon guy doing sustained damage and is able to drop cover instantly (in the form of man-shaped training dummies) to set up a firebase where he chooses.
An All-Star drops a training dummy to cover his flank as he lays down fire with his football-firing cannon
It’s a great range of characters, both in terms of their abilities and their graphical design. Furthermore you can customise with a huge range of extra clobber to get a unique look. Each class also has five variants, which bring tweaks to stats and new abilities to the mix, we unlocked a Hotrod Chomper that could move much quicker but was more fragile.
Our Hotrod Chomper, with added bling is ready to swallow some walking dead