Game Reviews - Reviews

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (EA, PS3 / PS4)


The original Plants Vs. Zombies became a genuine phenomenon after being ported to nearly every handheld device and console on the market. One of the original tower defence games, it combined easy to learn, hard to master strategy with a deliciously gonzo sense of humour. Whereas so many other games featuring the shambling undead were morose affairs, PvZ was brightly coloured, cartoonish and genuinely funny. However, when developers PopCap Games announced that they were making a third-person shooter in the same well-tapped vein as Gears Of War (Epic, Multi), more than a few eyebrows were raised. How exactly would the off-the-wall (lack of) sensibilities of the source material translate to the online multiplayer arena dominated by brash, thuggish COD clones?

Pretty well, as it turns out. Garden Warfare succeeds largely by virtue of its difference. In a virtual world of grunting, pumped up marines, the sight of anthropomorphic cacti and Venus fly-traps make for a very welcome palate cleanser. Further, the zombies remain as silly as before: undead quarterbacks, mad professors, soldiers and construction workers all jostle for attention on the screen. Now finally released for Sony consoles, these characters are rendered in glorious, pin-sharp HD where the garish level design and animations burst with life. The sound is also particularly strong: voice effects are as silly as you would expect and the music is reminiscent of toned-down Tom Waits songs about graveyards and undertakers and bone machines – minus the bourbon and cigarettes, of course.

The core gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in the company of a console. Two teams compete in generously sized arenas in a variety of modes. There are spins on Capture the Flag, Vanquish, King of the Hill, Deathmatch and so on, several of which borrow templates from EA stablemate Battlefield and jazz them up with slapstick weaponry and farting noises. Each round is fast and frenetic but the controls are tight and responsive, meaning that it does not take long to get to grips with manoeuvring your chosen dude around a given zone. Upgrades and add-ons are available through in-game “card packs”, designed to look like Topps trading cards and which grant you boosts, costume changes, coins to buy unlocks and the like. It’s a neat and no doubt tongue-in-cheek response to the accusation of forcing microtransactions on players – a black cloud that permanently hangs over EA’s reputation.

However, the main criticism of Garden Warfare is ultimately its lack of depth. While all of the DLC has generously been given away free, there is still the nagging doubts over the lack of a solid single player campaign. As with Titanfall (EA, Multi), this is effectively a game designed solely for online play. It again raises the question of the value for money of videogames, and aggravates the suspicion that gamers are systematically being ripped off. This claim is largely unfounded yet some will find the absence of real variety here will to be grating. Further, not everyone will be attuned to the wacky approach of Garden Warfare, dismissing it as a kids’ game rather than one for those weaned on headshots and executions. To that end the package succeeds, and it is no backhanded compliment to suggest that EA have pulled off a neat trick by releasing a game that younger players will find immensely appealing. Those with children who are into gaming should be happy to know that there is no equivalent of COD’s infamous “No Russian” level here, and it is refreshing to play a title where you are not being lambasted for being a noob every few minutes. Ross Thompson