Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was such a tremendous success that a sequel was inevitable. And that follow-up effort is coming fast; it’ll hit PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on February 23. In the meantime, developer PopCap Games and publisher Electronic Arts gave us an early peek at the gameplay thanks to the open beta held this past weekend. The beta featured two 24-player modes – Herbal Assault and Gardens & Graveyard – along with four other attractive modes, a couple maps, and a handful of zany yet wonderfully distinct characters. After playing for a while, my conclusion is pretty simple: This is indeed an improved version of the last title and just about all fans of Garden Warfare will be pleased.
During the test, we were allowed to check out the Z-Tech Factory and Frosty Creek maps and much like the characters, each map is unique and appealing in unique ways. Plus, having access to Team Vanquish, Vanquish Confirmed, Gnome Bomb and Suburbination let us sample a diverse set of gameplay modes, which only further amplified the originality and freshness of each character. This was the primary appeal of the original as well: No character plays exactly like another and endless experimentation is half the fun. If you played the beta for the sequel, you soon found that Rose and Super Brainz are almost complete opposites, while Kernel Corn and Captain Deadbeard are about as different as night and day. The gameplay changes substantially depending on your choice.
This is the kind of variety you don’t get in most multiplayer action games. That’s why Garden Warfare 2 is so damn intriguing to me; even the same mode can feel a lot different simply by selecting a different character. And of course, the developers used this sequel opportunity to amp up the production values and flesh out the depth. This not only includes improved visuals and a much better overall presentation, but also those two aforementioned 24-player modes: Gardens & Graveyards pits plants versus zombies in good old-fashioned arcade-y combat; the plants must defend their gardens from the marauding zombies and there are five zones that will come under attack. Each area is different, though, so that adds even more diversity to the relatively straightforward action.
Then there’s Herbal Assault, which puts the plants on the attack, as they must attempt to secure the zones in question. However, while it may seem similar on the surface, everything changes once you break through to the final zone; suddenly, you’re trying to put these giant balls into your team’s hole to score a goal. The plants have green balls and the zombies have purple ones, and the first to score that goal wins. Kinda like a really bizarre version of Rocket League, actually. Once again, I’m struck by the inspired ideas and design, which, combined with the awesomely unique character abilities, gives this game unbelievable longevity. It’s just one of those multiplayer experiences you’ll thoroughly enjoy because it manages to avoid the dreaded repetition of the standard shooter, and also keeps infusing the action with zany creativity.
I mentioned the improvement in regards to production value and presentation, and that’s most evident with the addition of the Backyard Battleground. Gone are the boring menus from the first game and instead, we get a free-roaming hub map, filled with all sorts of goodies. This hub is separated into three zones— there’s one for the plants, one for the zombies, and a no man’s land where everyone can be a target. When you’re in the safe zone for your class, you can change characters, purchase stickers, and join split-screen fun with friends or dive into random multiplayer. The best part? This time, all modes are available for offline play with your buddies. So, it’s like you have the best of both worlds: Excellent online multiplayer bolstered by the addition of the always entertaining – yet oddly dwindling in popularity – local multiplayer.
By the way, if you do venture into no man’s land, you’ll throw down against AI enemies (or maybe some human foes as well), and if you can raise a flagpole at the center of the zone, you can start a fun little game of King of the Hill. Yep, just another fun addition that makes this follow-up rock-‘em sock-‘em adventure that much more entertaining. In short, it seems clear that Garden Warfare 2 retained the winning formula from the original and simply upgraded and added to that formula. Honestly, this should be the goal of all sequels, shouldn’t it?
1/19/2016 Ben Dutka