By the time 2016 rolls to a close and after the next release of top tier shooter franchises have hit the market, when the nominations for Best Shooter are being formed, you may be surprised at a name on that list standing shoulder to shoulder with the Call of Duty’s and Battlefield’s. That unexpected choice that I fully hope to see on those lists, is the completely bonkers, colourful, fun, yet technically brilliant and deep shooter Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
Bear with me for a second will you? I haven’t lost my marbles, there’s no need to call the men in white coats to cart me off to the loony bin. Not yet anyway! Let me explain.
Plant’s vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 launched for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC to much anticipation after the hugely successful Garden Warfare 1 released back in 2014 on last generation consoles. Taking it’s humble mobile game origins and transforming it in to a competitive shooter with more effects and polish that would make your phone melt, it quickly became hugely popular due to it’s humour, cartoon style graphics and arcade feel to the gameplay. Well, skip forward 2 short years of development and PopCap Games have worked tirelessly to bring us the sequel this franchise deserves, built purposely for the current generation of hardware.
As soon as you boot the game up, you’ll be in no mistake that this a full fat release that justifies it’s new “Triple A” price point of £54.99 RRP. The amount of polish given to everything from the opening cinematic right through to the environments and character designs has clearly been lavished over with the deeper well of power the developers can now tap in to. But it’s not just spangly aesthetics that you get for that new price. You also get a wealth of entertaining modes, characters, unlocks and even short story missions all perfectly knitted together in the Backyard Battleground. You see the main menu system of the game isn’t a menu at all. It’s a massive map with the Plants occupying one end, the Zombies occupying the other and a delicious mix of chaos in the middle where both sides constantly clash. The best part is that this is all just the AI having it’s own fun, that you can join in Solo, Online Co-op or Split-Screen before you go anywhere near any of the “proper” modes. And you can join in this chaos as either 1 of the 6 Plants or Zombies. The latter being playable for the first time.
The highest praise that can go to PvsZ: GW2 is that the design of everything in the game stays true to itself through everything. If you want to jump in to an MP mode, shuffle yourself over to the classic arcade machine in your base to open up a portal and jump straight in. Likewise, Garden Ops, the series much loved wave based mode, is activated by heading to the Plants’ Winnebago or the Zombies’ aircraft, queue cutscenes and your dropped right in to the action.
Personally I loved this approach to keeping the players in the game instead in lobby screens. It feels like your always fully immersed in this bonkers universe.
Speaking of the action, the spectacle of everything kicking off really is something to see. Factor in how well the game scales up enemy count and variety when playing with 3 friends and the only word for it is mayhem. Complete and utter mayhem.
Having dismissed the first Plants vs Zombies title as nothing more than a children’s game, I went in to this one as expecting to have fun but not to have the depth of other high profile shooters. So how happily surprised I was to find a LOT of systems and unlocks to feed even the most grind-happy gamer out there. The highlight for me were the Sticker Packs. Purchased from an in-game vending machine and packaged like the Pirelli sticker packs of my childhood that used to come with a stick of chewing gum, these grant you cards that allow for character modifications, new costumes and reinforcements for the Garden Ops mode. All of these are purchased using the in-game currency of silver coins, not a micro-transaction in sight here. Oh no. A currency that is very easy to earn from pretty much anything you do in the game. Which is exactly how it should be.
Whilst grinding has now become the bedrock of our shooters nowadays, this is the part of the game I would say has been slightly misjudged. Only due to the fact that the grind is extremely long and character levelling is a little confusing with it. One of my plant characters, the excellently named Kernel Corn is currently up to Level 9 with others at different levels respectively. With each level comes XP and coins but nothing else just yet. The character menus reveal there are upgrades and power modifications but none of these have become available yet. At what point they do I have no idea, but it is clear a lot of time will need to be invested to see all the depth PvsZ:GW2 has to offer. I do wish it was a little bit faster with rewarding the player though.
Another misstep PopCap Games have overlooked is the competitive balancing for the plants. Currently they feel like they massively overpower the zombie characters, especially new character Rose, leading to much frustration if your always on the loosing side. Thankfully this can be addressed with ongoing updates but it is disappointing that it wasn’t picked up during the beta and fixed before launch.
Those modes though are plentiful and all satisfying spins on the familiar MP staples. The official blurb for each as follows:
- Welcome Mat: A great place to get started, no customization or character variants can be used here, nor can any weapon upgrades. This is a pure showdown using only core character classes. The more times you get vanquished the more health you will gain on your next spawn.
- Team Vanquish: Vanquish your opponents to win the fight.
- Turf Takeover: The ultimate battle for Suburbia, featuring a mix of both Herbal Assault and Gardens & Graveyards modes where Plants and Zombies battle for control over an expanding map.
- Gnome Bomb: Plants and Zombies fight for control of the Gnome Bomb. It’s devastating power is perfect for destroying the opposing team’s garden or graveyard.
- Vanquish Confirmed!: Collect crazy orbs from vanquished enemies to tally points for your team or from fallen teammates to deny the opposing team a point.
- Suburbination: Players compete to raise tombstones and gardens and try to suburbinate the other team. Fireworks appear when suburbinating.
- Mixed Mode: For those who just can’t decide. Mixed Mode features every competitive game mode in one amazing place!
Bearing in mind all of the modes and features included here and the wealth of character diversity, then bundle in how well presented everything is both technically and creatively and how blisteringly good fun it all is, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 easily raises the bar of expectation.