EA Canada hope to take the archetypal showdown between living plant matter and undead brain-starved corpses to the next level in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Then they want to take it to the next level after that, and the next one, and the next one until finally you’ve wasted your entire day inside watching a purple plant gulp down more reanimated human bodies than you’ve seen in every Romero movie put to celluloid. About a month ahead of release, I got a chance to sit down with producer Brian Lindley to play Garden Warfare’s split-screen, wave-based Garden Ops mode.
Split-screen play is only available in the Xbox One version of Garden Warfare, a decision the developer says was driven by the amount of power it takes to render the frantic action on screen. Xbox 360 simply couldn’t support the experience they wanted to deliver while rendering for two different players, and after going hands-on I can see how last-gen technology might struggle to animate PopCap’s zany and hopelessly addicting third-person shooter.
In case you don’t remember our E3 preview, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is a third-person shooter where you pick your character and then bring the full force of their abilities against the opposition. As we saw at an EA event recently, this means you’ll fight either the computer AI or other players, depending on which mode you choose. There’s Gardens and Graveyards, which features gameplay that operates much like Battlefield's Rush mode; Team Vanquish, which is a strict team-deathmatch-style mode; and Garden Ops.
In that mode, up to four players can pick from the four available plant characters in order to work together to protect a garden they place at the beginning of a match. Once you’ve placed your garden, you can no longer switch characters. The team needs to take time, plant tower-defense-like placements at key junctions, and then settle in to fight off the horde. Garden Ops wastes no time throwing wave after wave of undead at the plant team, and even if you survive a few waves to start, Garden Warfare rolls the dice and can throw as much as three massive Gargantuar zombies at your team in a single wave.
The slot machine that appears periodically through your campaign can reward you with coins, unleash hordes of zombies armored with bucket helmets and wooden coffins, or let loose the towering damage sponge Gargantuars. Ultimately, communication will be key as you progress through what Lindley promised would be an unlimited series of waves while playing in split-screen multiplayer. In order to facilitate the actual day-to-day lives of its player base, EA Canada decided that you will only be able to ignore all of reality with endless waves if you’re also sharing the PvZ shooter with another human on the couch or even a tablet-touting player who’d rather passively gather sun and support with clutch power-ups.
I tried this second-screen Zomboss mode on a Microsoft Surface tablet and watched the action unfold both on TV and on the tablet screen’s overhead map. Icons represent each player as they move about the world, complete with a health bar that ticks away as zombies deal damage. I could place a double Sunflower plant to heal or I could call in a bomb strike with cherries. Zomboss mode requires you to carefully store up sunshine as it falls from the top of the screen all while pacing your use. It takes a long time to charge up the Zomboss revive, for example, though other players in the game can revive their teammates in the field. That’s actually how our run at Garden Ops ended. I misused the revive ability on a tower that was low on health.
Plantable defense towers range from favorites like the Repeater to the purple mushrooms you might know from the original game’s night stages. Players unlock these, in addition to costume pieces, new classes of each playable character, and more like taunt animations through booster pack purchases.
Not unlike Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, Plants vs. Zombie: Garden Warfare rewards players with heaps of coins. You’ll then take those coins to the Flower Shop where varied packs of unlockables wait for purchase. You can spend more coins per pack and ensure rare unlocks, but spend less per pack and you'll replenish your stores of plantable defenses or team-revive power-ups.
This latest co-operative look at Garden Warfare helps to fill out the package as a next-generation shooter spin-off of a beloved tower-defense series. While this mode, featuring a team of human-controlled plants versus increasingly difficult waves of zombies, debuted alongside the title in a splashy E3 unveiling, it also seems like the deepest and most rewarding option for fans. DIfferent boss enemies, scores of valuable coins, and plenty of time to specialize your plant-team skills means Garden Ops has plenty of room for players to develop their talents as the opposition mounts.
We're hoping to get our hands on a final build of Garden Warfare soon. While it's been delayed a week to allow for more polish, the wait has only gotten harder, especially after hands-on with Team Vanquish. Stick with GameRevolution for more on Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare leading up to release on Xbox One and Xbox 360 on February 25th, 2014.