Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Preview

Plants Fortress Zombie.

When Electronic Arts and PopCap announced that they’d be making a multiplayer shooter out of the epic struggle between plants, the very definition of nature and life, and zombies, an enemy game developers love because they can give you thousands of undead to kill, they only showed four-player co-op. Thankfully, you can take control of zombies too. Maybe it’ll teach us that the undead have feelings and as much desire to dominate others online as humans do.

I got a chance to play over an hour of Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare yesterday at EA’s offices in the Bay Area, and at the end of the event they had to tear my cold undead hands off the controller. PopCap introduced us to one of the two newly announced competitive modes that supports up to 24 players. By giving you distinct classes to play in a team-based setting, the developers at EA Canada and PopCap might have just stumbled on the best new shooter formula since Team Fortress 2.

Peashooter leads off for Plants. Armed with deadly peas (duh), Peashooter can also drop a chili bomb near an enemy encampment or hyper-mode sprint across the map in a pinch. Peashooter can also root in and use his gatling gun to mow down advancing forces. Chomper joins him as one of the main offensive classes for Plants. Chomper can burrow underground for a short period of time and emerge directly underneath an enemy for an instant kill. Sneak up behind a zombie and he can get another instant kill when a red icon appears on a zombie's butt or back. Chomper can also goop zombies to slow them down or lay spike weeds to string enemies up by their feet.

Chomper is every bit as satisfying to play as Team Fortress 2’s Spy. While the developers like to say they were aided by Battlefield's Frostbite engine and that they’ve got the shooter DNA necessary for awesome gameplay, even the classes in Battlefield don’t feel this varied. They don’t feel so wildly unique and distinct. Garden Warfare is colorful in this way and, of course, in the eyeball department too. Character models look slightly grown-up, sometimes grotesque, sometimes irradiant.

Take Sunflower for example. Sunflower heals the other plants by tethering her sun energy to them or by laying down potted marigolds that wither and grow pale after they’ve dispensed all their energy. Sunflower is no combat slouch either, as her Power Pulse can do plenty of damage while her sunbeam attack makes her a rooted turret of… re-death? Cactus can lay down nuts for cover and potato mines for traps, as well as pilot a garlic-copter. Cactus also has longer range and better damage than Peashooter or Sunflower. While Chomper became a clear favorite of mine, the zombies had even wilder takes on clichéd shooter classes.

Fans of Team Fortress 2’s Heavy will love the All-Star zombie. All-Star can plant a big foam blocker to give himself some cover, and he’s got a rush-down attack for anyone who gets too close and a fan Imp who roots for the home team before blowing up a plant or two nearby. I racked up tons of kills thanks to All-Star’s speed and my experience handling exotic mini-guns like Heavy's Natascha.

Wind up All-Star’s football cannon and it’ll deliver a spitting, satisfying grind that mows down plants. Choosing a different variant of All-Star might give you better speed or more power, but I particularly liked the options for the Scientist zombie. One variant turns him into a scuba-diver mad scientist, with a zombified dolphin that rapidly fires fish guts. Scientist zombie heals his team with a fountain of purple goo, tosses zombie-organ grenades, and warps close for maximum damage with whatever disturbing shotgun he has. Foot Soldier zombie mimics Peashooter with an assault rifle, a rocket jump, a bazooka blast, and a smoke grenade.

The Engineer zombie always has a big, dead buttcrack staring back at you, but also has a jackhammer sprint, a powerful explosive weapon, and a remote-controlled drone just like the Cactus, you might wanna give him a try. I dug deep into Chomper and All-Star through several matches of Vanquish mode, a 24-player team deathmatch that doesn’t mention death. Obviously, Plants Vs. Zombies remains kid-friendly even in wartime so its new shooter should prove kid-friendly too.

Zombies never draw plant blood. There aren’t any hyper-graphic melee finishers unless you count the Chomper gulping down a zombie whole. While the art style looks slightly grown up, EA and PopCap have erred on the side of caution, winking at older gamers, and the title represents how the rest of the game looks. Garden Warfare, get it? You can customize Chomper with flames and choose a variant that adds to Chomper’s speed, but the core archetype remains clear. The goal here is to create a light-hearted shooter that clearly communicates mechanics, objectives, and the opposition.

I only got to play on one map, in one mode, but maybe if I had gotten to play Gardens and Gravestones, a Rush-like mode, I would have seen more influence from Battlefield. While I’m sure Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare will arrive on PC and PlayStation platforms sometime in the future, EA and PopCap have readied the title for launch on Xbox One and Xbox 360 on February 18th next year. The Xbox One version will support split-screen, while the Xbox 360 version will not, but the Xbox One version is $10 more at $40. With entertaining classes complimented by joyful carnage, Xbox One owners might have a must-buy before even Titanfall drops.

Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare earned one of GameRevolution's Best of E3 Awards earlier this year.