Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Review
You know, it is possible to create a colorful, inoffensive, family-friendly shooter. Sure, you're shooting things, but it's within the cute, charming confines of the Plants vs. Zombies universe, which is the epitome of silliness. While Xbox owners got a chance to play the latest iteration, Garden Warfare, back in February, PlayStation owners are finally getting the opportunity to enjoy it. It's basically the same game with a few minor additions - such as the inclusion of PlayStation-centric costumes like Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank - but it's pretty dang fun.
The graphics are vivid, nicely detailed, and always engaging. There's a real spirit of imagination and creativity throughout, as the developers have worked hard to present players with a fantastical world of happy-go-lucky mayhem. The special effects will make you laugh and the overall level design is great. Each map appears painstakingly crafted and you're always intrigued by the madcap array of colors and hues. It's not the cleanest or most impressive visual presentation you'll see on the PlayStation 4, but bear in mind that the targeted demographic probably won't be too anal when it comes to technical elements.
The sound completes the goofball theme. Music fits in well with the vibrant colors and nonstop on-screen action and once again, you'll be grinning at some of the over-the-top effects. This is a shooter with a lot of bite - in some ways, I mean that literally - thanks to a solid soundtrack, top-notch effects and an overarching appealing nature. I suppose you might not notice the audio quite as much during periods of intense encounters, but that's par for the course in a multiplayer shooter. Trust me, though, when you take the time to appreciate the little things, the graphics and sound really start to shine.
Don't be too put off by the loopy style. If you've played a multiplayer shooter before, you probably know what to expect. The basics aren't that much different: You play on one of two teams in matches that support up to 24 players. Obviously, this isn't much like the original smartphone installments; it acts very much like a shooter from front to back. However, each side has access to four different classes, which in turn boast unique skills and strengths. This has an immediate and drastically positive effect on the gameplay. Those classes alone separate Garden Warfare from the rest of the pack, and encourages constant experimentation.
Remember, this is indeed an action game, not a strategy-based game, like previous entries. That doesn't mean you won't use a lot of strategy when playing, though. For instance, selecting the Chompers as a class means you won't be testing out your aiming abilities as much. Rather, you'll be burrowing under the ground and popping out to surprise other players; spitting on them to eliminate their special abilities and then attacking with - yeah, you guessed it - your chompers. Other classes, like the Cacti, function more like standard soldiers in a shooter, as they can set mines and snipe from afar.
If you'd rather take hold of a zombie, you could try the Scientist, who can teleport all over the place, or my personal favorite, the American Football zombie. That dude fires hand-eggs at his arch enemies, the plants. Then there's the engineer who can call in drones to support his cause (not unlike the engineering skills in Killzone). The bottom line is that your choice of side and class dictates how the game plays out. The Plants and Zombies really aren't easily comparable, and there's such a gulf between certain classes that the game rarely feels repetitive. And that's my biggest beef with most multiplayer shooters.
Garden Warfare combats that by simply remaining as fresh as possible for as long as possible. If the player is willing to experiment, if they keep bouncing from side to side, trying new classes, they're bound to enjoy a variety of action experiences. The only downside is that there are only three primary modes: Team Vanquish (which is basically Team Deathmatch), Gardens and Graveyards (it's like Rush, only the last round features a specific objective), and Garden Ops, which will bring you closest to the franchise's original strategy roots. This mode is like a third-person Tower Defense setup, where four teammates must defend against oncoming waves of foes.
The game doesn't play perfectly, as it can be difficult to wrap your head around the quirky effects and animations. Sometimes, you're just not sure how effective your attacks are, simply because you're having a tough time interpreting an enemy's reaction. You get used to it as time goes on, though, and those wonderfully attractive visuals typically override any frustration. There's no shortage of entertainment value given the various classes and well-designed maps, but I do have a few problems: First, no single-player mode. That always bugs me. Second, Garden Ops is the only mode that supports split-screen fun. Well, damn.
Then there are those pesky microtransactions, which are indeed optional, but they do have an effect. If you'd rather be honest, you can earn abilities via Sticker Packs that you purchase with your hard-earned in-game currency. Of course, there are those who are willing to shell out real cash and thus get a leg up on the competition; you're just gonna have to deal with that. The good news is that it doesn't take a ridiculous amount of time to earn an appropriate amount of in-game cash, so you don't feel forced into the microtransactions. It's also cool that the PS4 version features those special costumes based on classic PlayStation mascots.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a very solid shooter with a lot of variety and charm. It offers players of all ages a dynamic, entertaining experience that encourages practice and experimentation. The two sides - Plants and Zombies - are about as different as you could possibly hope for, and the maps are exceedingly well designed and presented. There just aren't a ton of modes, only one supports split-screen, and without a campaign of any kind, it just feels a tad lackluster. As for the microtransactions...oh, get over it. You can still perform just fine without them.
The Good: Attractive, very nicely detailed graphics. Great map design. Hugely diverse classes help eliminate the repetitiveness of the standard shooter. Well-balanced and technically quite sound. A fantastic option for younger kids who shouldn't be playing those M-rated shooters.
The Bad: Only three main modes, and only one that supports split-screen. No single-player option. Can be difficult to gauge the effectiveness of certain attacks.
The Ugly: "In most shooters, there's always plenty of ‘ugly,' but not here. Too quirky and cute."
8/25/2014 Ben Dutka