Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare - Review

Porting mobile phone games onto consoles for the big living room TV screen may rightfully make many people scratch their heads in confusion (here's looking at you Angry Birds Trilogy for consoles). However, the developer studio Pop Cap responsible for the widely popular Plants vs. Zombies mobile games decided to put a twist on the formula. Announced through a parody trailer that spoofed EAs very own Battlefield franchise, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare puts the two opposing fronts once more against each other in a third-person fun-shooter.
Does Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare manage to stand out among the incredibly strong competition in the online shooter genre? Or was Plants vs Zombies a bad idea right from the start?


Core Gameplay & Modes - "Your Typical Biohazard Battlefield"

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a competitive online third-person shooter.
There are basically three main modes available to choose from: Garden Ops, Vanquish, Gardens and Graveyards.

Garden Ops is the only mode in the game that you can play all by yourself, although it is much more fun to play with other human players that can join you. There, as one of four plant types, your goal is to stop ten waves of zombies that will try to eat away your garden's life bar. With that said, your garden is your base to defend. You can build the garden on one of three spots on each map. The eleventh wave however, challenges you to meet Crazy Dave who will evacuate you from the map with his flying RV.
Garden Ops is a fairly fun and straight-forward mode that serves pretty much as the game's Horde Mode. Nothing special but one of the most pleasant co-operative focussed modes in the game.

Vanquish mode is the game's standard 12 on 12 Death Match. There's nothing too special about it to mention.

Garden Ops is also pretty much the only thing offline-players can play.

The mode Gardens and Graveyards is without any doubt the most amusing and standout mode in the game.
There, the zombies try to to take over six consecutive gardens ending in a final arena that changes depending on the map, while the plants will try to stop them. The offense (zombies) only has roughly 5 minutes to take over each positioned graveyard to work their way towards the final arena. Therefore, activating teleporters spread throughout the map becomes crucial to succeed.
Thanks to its emphasized focus on strategy and teamwork, Garden and Graveyards is definitely the most fleshed out and simply most engaging and fun mode in the entire game. Players will get an immensely gratifying feel when they finally manage to break through the plants' defenses and infiltrate their main base. On the other hand, it can also be equally as great of a feel when all plants line up to succesfully prevent the zombies from doing so.

However, Garden Warfare artificially increases the roster of its modes through the decision to offer a "classic version" of each of the three modes, in which individual bonuses or cosmetic items added to your character are taken away. It's a "nice to have" mode for anyone who craves a completely fair experience without any gimmicks.

Another nice "mode", which eventually however will quickly get ignored by players, is the mode Welcome Mat. This mode is dedicated to beginners in Garden Warfare or complete beginners in online shooters in general. Overall, however it is only a lighter and less punishing version of Garden Ops.

Gardens & Graveyards looks like mayhem, but is actually fairly strategic.

Character Classes & Balance - "Copy & Paste Balance"

Looking at the choice of characters, Garden Warfare offers four types of characters to choose from on each side of the conflict with each of them having unique abilities that distinguish them from one another (ala Team Fortress):
On the plants' side, the Pea Shooter is the quickest mobile infantry with his fast speed, the Chomper serves as a great Garden defender through his strength and one-hit-kill ability, the Sunflower serves as a medic being able to heal other players, and the Cactus serves as kind of a sniper with good aim at long range.
On the zombies' side, there is the usual Foot Soldier who is fast like the Pea Shooter, the Engineer who can operate heavy machinery, the Scientist who is the zombies' medic, and the All-Star with a charge ability and big strength.

What becomes most prevalent however is that Garden Warfare tries to work its way around complex balancing issues between the two sides through a fairly bland copy & paste tactic. With that said, despite the zombies having some slight unique abilities here and there to counter the plants' powers, on both sides there always seems to be a character with almost the same kind of powers. Of course it's nice that through such a design choice of having an equivalent counterpart on each side there practically never arises an issue or feel for players that one of the sides feels overpowered, yet this makes the characters also seem kind of lazily designed to a certain extent. This basically means that there is actually only a total of four characters on each side, a soldier, a defender, an engineer and a medic. The fact that they are all named differently on each side only covers it up for a limited amount of time before you tried out every character and found it out for yourself.

No matter which one you choose, they all look ridiculous...and cute.

However, as already mentioned there are occasionally indeed some character-unique abilities that are nicely able to effectively counter the other sides advantages:
For example, the plants' Chomper's ability to dig through the ground an attack you from below almost always results in a one-hit-kill, yet the zombies' Engineer can't be hurt through said attack when he is using his Jackhammer. Furthermore, Engineers can also directly counter Chompers and pull them out of the ground by using sonic grenades that will stun them momentarily.

Such "truely" unique abilities of a character that aren't present on a character on the other side should've been far more intensively and widely implemented in Garden Warfare's character roster and balancing. That way, playing as the plants or the zombies would feel much more different and less copy-&-pastey.


Upgrades & Customization - "Cross Your Fingers and Pull out Those Stickers"

Like any other competitive shooter, Garden Warfare also boasts its very own version of an upgrading- and ranking system.
Through frequent use of the game's upgrading system in the form of the "Sticker Store" Garden Warfare becomes a far more fun and fleshed out experience. Thus, players need to spend some time in the Sticker Store to unlock random assortements of upgrades and customization items to make the game more fun.
Depending on the type of sticker pack you buy from the Sticker Store, you can grab cosmetic beauty items for you characters like hats, tattoos or glasses, one-use support items that both zombies and plants can spawn in battle, and even parts of an entire set of stickers that will unlock one of five special versions of each character. Also, there are three upgrade stickers for each individual character that supposedly amp up his specific abilities. Yet, they somewhat don't seem to make that much of an impact in matches as far as we could witness during our play-sessions.

Customization is where it's at.

Despite the fact that the Sticker Store is generous enough to always give you useful cards that will make the overall game much more fun to play, the main core of the Sticker Store system however is an incredibly flawed affair. Through the fact that there is absolutely never a guarantee that you will exactly get what you want if you buy a sticker pack, a very huge part of the game's sticker system depends on one thing - luck.
In a competitive game (however silly and light-hearted it's meant to be), luck is a notable factor that notably hampers "strategic play" in Garden Warfare. Compared to games like COD or Battlefield in which you can gradually work your way up the rankings to get to a certain gun, you can strategically spend your points on items that you want and are guaranteed to get if you decide to spend your points there. This is absolutely not the case in Garden Warfare, in which it can get very frustrating to see other players in matches run around with a character or upgrades that you would also like to get, yet the only way to increase your chances of getting them is just to cross your fingers harder when opening a sticker pack.
Therefore, the game's Sticker system can be a fun and curious thing, yet for the most part and especially after quite some hours of playing, it becomes rather frustrating and unfair if you are always just waiting and hoping for a very specific item. The only "good" thing is that most of the unlockable items the Sticker Store has to offer seem to be cosmetic items for visual use only, making most of them easily expendable.

Sadly, the Sticker Store just screams that microtransactions for Garden Warfare are destined to happen in the near future to make people actually pay with real money to get the specific items they want for the game. This makes the Sticker system sadly the most negative and frustrating aspect about the entirety of Garden Warfare.

How do I unlock this one again? Oh yeah...luck.


Garden Warfare's presentation is a very pleasant showcase that the developers at Pop Cap put much love into the game's visuals and overall silly and humorous style.
This is truely a game not to be taken too seriously and which is mostly directed towards kids who want to get into competitive online shooters. And in that regard, Garden Warfare does a very good job.
Zombie- and plant characters look equally cute and lovable with their cartoonish designs, while maps are littered with silly references to other games and even the menues are filled with ridiculous descriptions throughout.
Comparing the last-gen and current-gen versions of the game, it can be said that the last-gen version (notably the PS3) occasionally seems to suffer from slight framerate hickups here and there and some notable texture pop-in. Obviously, current-gen versions run on a smoother framerate. Looking at the textures and models, both gen-versions pose the zombies and plants in equally good light. 


Soundwise, most notably the goofy individual sounds uttered by the characters steal the show in the game. Especially through the fact that almost every sound there is in the game sounds like its actually made by a human will make many players laugh out loud during their first play sessions.
Musically, there isn't too much going on in Garden Warfare, except for some fittingly cartoony background tracks during the menues, Garden Warfare features little to no music during online play.
Yeah, well...don't take this game too seriously.

The Verdict

Garden Warfare is pretty much as simple as competitive online shooter gameplay gets, for better and for worse.
While the game poses as a great starting point for younger players who want to get into online shooters, the game can get rather repetitive and monotone seeing that it only offers 3 main modes and only boasts a total of 5 maps that you will know by heart in a very short time.
While the game's modes themselves make for some pretty fun game sessions, they are far away from being anything special and mostly do everything by the book which has been established by the "big boys" of the online shooting genre.
However, Garden Warfare's true strength lies in its faithful and confident presentation in the form of a silly cartoon style, which is consistently present from the graphics, over the sound, to the big variety of goofy customization to pimp your characters with.
What truely drags down the gameplay experience and what will most probably be the main reason many players will eventually stop playing the game, will likely be the game's Sticker Store upgrade system. Though such an idea for an upgrade system mostly based on luck sure has its respectable charm, it ultimately diminishes any true strategy in this competitive online game and will likely make many players eventually leave the game frustrated of not getting what they want despite already playing it for quite a long time.

Garden Warfare is a nicely intended twist on the Plants vs Zombies formula. While hardcore fans of the original Plants vs Zombies mobile games will definitely feel a bit alienated by the game's changed concept, and older gamers will quickly find the game to be just too simple and repetitive, Garden Warfare nevertheless might serve as an online shooter more interesting for and directed towards younger players with its obvious easy-to-get-into game design.
Yet, there's no denying that Garden Warfare could've used a bit more gameplay substance in the form of more modes and maps to hold players' interest for a longer time. 

 Final Verdict: 6 out of 10 

Status: Okay

Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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