PopCap Games brings the beloved Plants vs. Zombies series to the Xbox One (and Xbox 360) in a third-person, class-based shooter with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, but does this stellar tower-defense franchise translate to the shooter world, or does it get blown sky high? Let's take a look.
Let's establish some points about Garden Warfare at the outset. While you unlock character customization, weapon upgrades, and additional playable characters by purchasing sticker packs, there are no microtransactions in this game. You earn all of the coins you need to purchase sticker packs by playing the game and contributing to your team. You will even be given a few packs when you first start the game, and one pack will most likely unlock a rare character for you right at the beginning. Next, while you can play the "Garden Ops" mode solo, this game requires Xbox LIVE Gold to play. Even while playing solo you are still "online"; there is no single-player story mode and no campaign, just Plants vs. Zombies battles to be won.
You might be asking yourself, "What is there to do in this game with no true single player component?" The answer? A lot. Garden Warfare brings a charming twist to the world of shooters, and brings some of that charm into the game modes themselves. "Garden Ops" blends tower defense, third-person shooting, and horde mode. This mode can also bring SmartGlass or Kinect (the Xbox One exclusive "Boss Mode") to the table as you and up to three other buddies battle ten waves of zombie hordes while protecting your garden. You will find three places to plant your garden at the start of the mode, and one of them may pay you a bonus for defending that placement. All of the placements have pros and cons to defending them, and each will have pots scattered around the area to allow you to plant some reinforcements. These reinforcements are consumable items you acquire through purchasing the previously-mentioned sticker packs. In addition to the previously-mentioned, Xbox One exclusive "Boss Mode", Xbox One players can play split-screen co-op with couch buddies in "Garden Ops" mode.
A horde mode, as tired as they may be, might seem like the easiest way to transform the original Plants vs. Zombies, but this iteration of horde mode is really well done. Those familiar with the series will see several special zombies from the original game show up during Boss Waves, and the slot machine-style spinner for selecting your boss waves gives a lot of variety to the game mode. Depending on the outcome of the spinner, you might get three Disco Zombies or a Yeti, Gargantuan, and a tombstone that will raise a whole swarm of lesser zombies for you to contend with. The game, especially on harder modes, rewards teamwork and coordination like a good horde mode should. Running off lone wolf style will get you and your team wiped from the playing field rather quickly.
Those of you who prefer human competition can find a couple of different modes in varying flavors to get your competitive thirsts quenched. "Team Vanquish" is your traditional, team deathmatch mode, where the first team to 50 vanquishes wins. You can, however, steal back vanquishes by reviving your fellow teammates and thus help your team claw its way towards victory. The "Welcome Mat" variation is specifically targeted at new players, disallows character customization or upgrades, and gives struggling players bonus health on their next re-spawn if their previous attempt went horribly awry. In addition to the "Welcome Mat" playlist, there is a "Classic Team Vanquish" and a regular "Team Vanquish". Neither of these playlists rewards struggling players with additional health, but the "Classic" variant again denies custom characters or upgrades from the field of play.
These modes do a great job of allowing those who want to play a team role to do so, and those who want to go in guns (or rather peashooters) blazing that option as well. The maps are large enough to allow you space to plot your next attack, or recover some much needed health, while being small enough that you are not so far from the action upon a respawn that you can't participate in the battle. Lesser obstacles can be destroyed, taking away cover options, or opening up new paths to locating your enemies. The addition of taking points away from the opposing team via revives is a welcome change to this game type, and gives the healing classes a valuable role in a game mode traditionally dominated by high-damage players.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is the "Garden & Graveyards" mode. This mode takes a twist on capture the flag and pits the Plants as the defenders, and the Zombies as the attacking force. You attempt to work your way through seven garden capture points to a final, all-out assault on various Plant strongholds (like Crazy Dave's mansion). Each capture point is timed, so the Plants can score a victory at any garden by denying the Zombies a capture. Like "Team Vanquish", this mode comes in regular and "Classic" varieties, with "Classic" again banning character customization and upgrades from either side. This mode is really the prize jewel of the game. These matches can vary in length from a quick round that lasts less than ten minutes, to upwards of thirty minutes or more in a complete battle. Instead of having a set flag location that each team is battling back and forth with, players are constantly working against the clock to capture or defend a set location. This keeps the action hot at various choke points as you work your way to your larger goal. Each class must be played to its strengths in this mode if you hope to contribute to your team winning.
Both the Plants and Zombies have four distinct classes with each class having variations that can be unlocked through collecting all of the pieces for that character in your sticker book. On the Plant side, the Peashooter is the standard all-around soldier class, the Cactus is the long-range sniper class, the Sunflower is the medic or healer class, and, lastly, the Chomper is a bit unique and best described as the powerful one-shot class. A bonus of vanquishing Zombies with the Chomper is that they cannot be revived - they are immediately put into a respawn queue. As you level up each of these classes, you'll unlock complimentary abilities to help you further use your class to the fullest of its abilities.
The Zombies feature a similar lineup, with one notable exception; Zombies don't get a one-shot class, and instead get an Engineer who can speed up your progression over the map by opening teleport pads and building turrets to protect those pads. They also have an standard Soldier, a Scientist who acts as the medic or healer, and the All-Star (better known as the Football Zombie) who takes the role of a tank-like character.
Overall, the character classes give a great mix of play styles so any player should be able to find a character they feel comfortable with. The game also alternates players between the Plants and Zombies sides each match which helps keep things fresh.
Character upgrades and customization are tied to purchasing sticker packs from the sticker store. These packs come in a variety of options, from your base consumable pack, to a pack with consumables and one uncommon item, and so on. You can even purchase a pack with five stickers that are guaranteed to complete one of your rare characters, but this pack will make you part ways with a significant amount of in-game coins. Stickers you collect are also placed into a sticker book, which also records all of your significant gameplay stats. You can track which stickers you still need to unlock certain characters and see how you've performed with the different variants of a specific class and/or the class overall.
The achievements for this game are a good mix of some natural progression tasks, as well as some to entice you to play in certain ways (or as certain classes) to obtain the objectives. As of the time of this writing, thirteen players have already completed the game and it looks safe to say a minimum of twenty-five hours of gameplay are needed for a completion. Obviously this time could vary some from player-to-player.
This game undoubtedly accomplishes the task of transforming a tower-defense franchise into a third-person shooter, and it does it quite well. The bright colors and friendly animations, while certainly appealing to the older gamer, also give this game a good footing at training the next wave of console players into the world of class-based shooters. With the stickers, the depth of character customization, and unlocks to keep you playing for "just one more round", Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare deserves a look from any shooter enthusiast. Its charm and art direction might just convert you into a long-term player as well.
The reviewer spent over seven hours shooting Plants, chomping Zombies, buying and collecting stickers, and customizing his characters. Twenty of forty-five achievements were unlocked along the way. The publisher supplied an Xbox One copy of the game for review.