As Many Plants and Zombies As Expected.
Since Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (2014) was a shooter with no single-player mode, it was a game I had zero interest in. Now that the follow-up has the feature, and I’ve played it, I’m still not sure it’s for me, but maybe my twelve-year-old self would have dug it. Some of the humor might be lost on very young players, though, so consider Garden Warfare 2 a decent time for any pre-teen. Think of it as a purchase for parents who don’t want their kids playing Black Ops 3. The art style is rich, the gameplay is solid, and there’s plenty of content to justify the full price if this is your thing. (GW1 was only $39.99.) Still, can the epic battle between plants and the undead keep the rest of us interested?
As it was in the original mobile game that become a phenomenon, the war for suburbia continues. Now the zombies have taken up permanent residence are in the ‘burbs while the plants fight back by any means necessary. The zombie leader, Dr. Zomboss, has bred a new horde and remade civilization into a zombie utopia. The plants are out to reclaim the land for a green, less fleshy future.
The game sports a variety of ways to play. There’s an all-new 24-player Herbal Assault mode, a 4-player co-op, and also for the first time, solo play. Solo play is not to be confused as any kind of campaign. Instead there are merely solo quests as well as a daily quest board, which basically comes down to accepting a mission, waiting for the level to load, completing it, rinse and repeat. Though the world of GW2 looks like an open sandbox like Sunset Overdrive (2014), the quests are played out in chunks a la Destiny. One of the early missions involving the retrieval of a missing shoe (so silly!) is pretty much just you surviving wave after wave of zombie attacks. Once you’ve defeated the main zombie boss, the mission ends and you’re zapped back to the game’s central hub, a sort of junkyard with a garage and other trashy assortments.
As you shoot your way through the various stages, you can use up to three powers, with one typically being the most powerful ultimate attack—imagine a gatling gun where you, as a happy Sunflower, dig into the ground blasting away for a limited time. You don’t have to be the smiley plant as there are a ton of other organic characters to choose from. Nor do you even have to be a plant at all. You can answer the call for Team Zombie via a poster with Dr. Zomboss pointing his rotted figure at you on an “I Want You For Z Army!” poster. So, the solo stuff is really just a way to practice and collect money to purchase cards that unlock new abilities and restocks ammo. Remember the card system in Halo: Guardians? Same deal.
All of this plays exactly like you think it would for an all-ages, friendly third-person shooter with the added bonus of the schlocky humor that PvZ is known for. Some of this is admittedly clever, like shooting a zombie who’s reading a newspaper, and then watching his trousers fall down to expose his boxers. Another aspect, though, that doesn’t work is the generic Dave-bot 3000 character who doles out missions in a grating way. I understand not having the budget for actual voice-acting, but the gravely nonsense noise that comes out of him (gaw gaw gaw!) is just dumb, and not at all like the memorable gibberish the sounds Peppy made when he told us to “Do a barrel roll!”
The heart of this game is the multiplayer, and if you’re a fan of GW1, you’ll be happy you’re getting more of the same with crisper visuals and add-ons like the solo mode. What’s not so good was going into the game as a newbie like yours truly did. The press notes said that developer PopCap Games aimed to just drop players in with the freedom to do what they want when they want. That’s all fine and good in theory, except there’s no real attempt to guide players, and more importantly to explain why we should be so engaged by all this. Further, a lot of the menu options and the heads-up display can be quite confusing. I still don’t know why, for example, after I choose a character, other option boxes remain empty. Are these enhancements for a future weapon? Will my Sunflower dude get a new outfit? I have no clue.
Still, the original game was a hit, taking the world of Plants vs. Zombies out of the smartphone and onto big HDTVs, so here we are with the follow up, and it’s a very pretty one. I wish the game gave me more of a reason for playing, but I certainly can’t fault my eyes for being glued to the screen as everything looks great, even with the confusing HUD. If you play as Sunflower, you only see the back of its head, though each pedal wilts and bristles with energy. Being a pirate zombie with a peg-leg offers tiny details, like spoons and other weird debris that spit out of his steampunk gun. Looking over the various maps highlights how rock-solid the frame-rate is at all times. Visually, this might look a tad “kiddie” a la Skylanders, but it’s peppered with a much better oddball vibe.
The main area of the game, when you’re not in a co-op battle, has an assortment of collectibles, secrets, and mini-games. As one would figure, the closer you are to where zombies live, the more ghoulish things appear, while the plant side is more colorful. Once you tire of just fiddling around, you can jump into a multiplayer match or solo quests by using portals. Again, these solo quests can get tedious and reveal how imprecise the controls can be. A simple shooting gallery called Bull’s Eye Blast took me over ten tries because the aiming is terrible.
Once you’ve finished either the plant or the zombie side of assignments you’ll unlock a nifty bonus which I won’t spoil. If you want, you can do all of this in the single mode with AI adversaries instead of going online. The AI isn’t as clever as tackling the Covenant in Halo or anything, but they don’t just rush you like in a Fallout game either.
Character-wise, the plants and zombies have both received three new ones, bringing the total to fourteen in all. Each operates with just enough of a difference from each other with their de facto special abilities, health, and strength differences. I’m still partial to my pirate zombie, but I have to admit, I was pleased to see a scuba zombie named Sunken Duncan. Ahoy, Zombies! And more good news for players of GW1: You can transfer your characters over with their stats intact.
Most players will likely play the standard team deathmatch the most. There are variations, like one that pits two teams attacking and defending certain markers that change throughout the match. My favorite unique goal was disarming a bomb at randomly selected points. Unlike the last game, zombies aren’t always on offense. They can be defending their area full time. Some of the maps offer verticality which surprised me given how un-platformy the characters can be, but this inclusion offers a nice tweak to the levels. There’s a lot here to keep players online, especially with the different characters to try out too.
Bottom line: If you dug the original this is probably right up your alley. As I said earlier, for parents I can see this being a preferable shooter for younger teens over Halo or CoD. There’s a value in that for consumers. I just wish publisher EA and developer PopCap Games put their considerable resources and talent into a game that made me want to play a game with a fuller experience.