Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rating: E for Everyone
Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is the follow-up to the surprising, genre bending, Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Expanding upon the series’ signature tower defense gameplay, the Garden Warfare series sees the Plants faction defending not only the backyard, but the entire town from the invading zombies who are hungry for our brains. Led by the nefarious Zomboss, the Zombies are gaining ground. Will the heroic plants be able to quash the invasion and save the world in the Backyard Battleground? PVZ: Garden Warfare 2 seeks to answer this question as it brings a campaign mode to the series for the first time.
Those pesky undead are at it again! At the command of the evil Dr. Zomboss, the zombies are making headway against Crazy Dave and his army of plants as they attempt to defend the backyard and all of suburbia from hungry, hungry, zombies. The Plants will receive mission objectives from Crazy Dave and his robotic messengers while the Zombies get their orders from the Zomboss himself.
While largely told via Pixar/Dreamworks esque cutscenes, there are some hilarious, stand-out story moments to be experienced while fighting in the Backyard Battleground, like fighting alongside a giant, sentient tree stump named Grumpy Stumpy, or defending a specific location from waves of Kung Fu practicing zombies. Though most missions end with you finding a specific item that is often something simple and ridiculous like a smelly shoe with a secret power that can aid in the war effort, there are others that might require you to escort a support character to a safe zone while defeating a boss, or use the many flower pots scattered around the environment to set up defenses against the encroaching enemy hordes. These are more than mere filler missions however, as each story item obtained opens up new missions for both sides and offers more context to the overall plot as Crazy Dave or Dr. Zomboss will elaborate on a specific item with an often humorous anecdote about its history and/or intended purpose in the overall war. There are also over 50 Garden Gnomes to collect; these collectibles help to make the Backyard Battleground feel more like a true hub world that would be found in any other single player campaign as it encourages players to spend time outside of the already robust multiplayer offerings.
PVZ: GW2 is rated E for Everyone. While the game is a third-person war shooter, it is thanks to the Pixar/Dreamworks-like animation of the characters and the humorous, cartoony story that I can recommend this game to players of all ages, especially families with young children. Much like Splatoon, PVZ: GW2 offers something for everyone and features mild cartoon violence. Zombie heads will pop off of their bodies and roll around the environment and corn-strikes (the PVZ version of an airstrike) will create an explosion that can take out multiple enemies. However, to lessen the impact of what little violence there already is in this game, kills are referred to as Vanquishes and there is absolutely no blood to be found anywhere within this game. This is likely the only game featuring zombies where I can safely say that there is no gore and no blood to be found anywhere during battles.
However, as with any online multiplayer game, your experience can radically change you put on the Xbox headset and engage with others online. Within the game itself however, there is no foul language and no drug use of any kind. Though in my experiences playing PVZ: GW2 online, other players are quite chatty and it is inevitable that you may end up hearing something you should not. Always use caution when playing online if you do not desire exposure to foul language or crude humor.
PVZ: GW2 plays like any other third-person shooter. You have your standard commando, demolition, and healer classes on both sides of the conflict, however, one new twist to the formula is the inclusion of Imp on the zombies side and Rose on the plants side. Imp can call down and pilot a Z7 mech, a parody of Mass Effect, and run around the map raining destruction with the mech’s chaingun. Rose on the other hand plays very similar to a mage in a fantasy RPG as she has the ability to turn zombies into goats, making them much slower than other characters and rendering them virtually unable to fight back.
However, one thing I did notice about online PVP gameplay is that the zombie side seems to have a few classes that vastly overpower the classes that are offered on the plants team. While POPCap clearly did their best to balance the game equally on both sides, certain characters and classes, like the aforementioned Imp with its Mech seem too powerful as there is no equivalent unit on the opposing side to equally match its power. This often results in the zombies team winning more often in multiplayer matches, especially when you run into zombie teams consisting of mainly Imp characters and nothing else. On the other hand, the cactus sniper for the plants and the Pirate ombie have very similar abilities as both can send out a drone that can call in airstrikes or shooter characters from above.
Balance issues are unfortunately not the only complaint I have with the game as leveling up can take some time and certain character classes have the best weapons and abilities—such as fire and ice attacks and life-leeching abilities—locked behind a sticker pack which can only be earned when purchased using the in-game currency. Luckily, while micro-transactions for this currency are included in the game, you earn silver for just about everything that you do in PVZ: GW2 and sticker packs are easily purchases after 4 or 5 matches. There are several returning fighters from the first game, including the Cactus Sniper and the Piranha Plant-like Chomper. Players can even import their leveled up fighters from the first game and doing so will unlock sticker packs and other rewards in PVZ: GW2.
As far as modes go, there are plenty to offer for all types of shooter fans. For those who prefer to go it alone, there is the inclusion of a new story-centric mode that is set within the Backyard Battleground, which also acts as the game’s hub world. Here, players can access a host of multiplayer modes including Team Vanquish (Team Deathmatch), and other modes that are reminiscent of King of the Hill and Capture the Flag game types in other popular shooters. For fans of teamwork and playing within a group the Garden Ops mode also makes a welcome return and plays similarly to Gears of War’s horde mode, which features waves of baddies pouring in while a team of four players work together to erect defenses and defeat increasingly difficult waves of enemies and bosses.
Story missions are oddly reminiscent of the solo content found in similar online-only titles like Star Wars: Battlefront, however while most of the single player missions are shorter versions of the c-operative Garden Ops mode or the more popular PVP matches, at least with PVZ: GW 2 there is actually a story to be found.
Completion of single player missions earns silver that can be spent on sticker packs for your defenses in Garden Ops and the Backyard Battleground or cosmetic items in PVP. Completing a chapter of the campaign awards stars which can be used to unlock chests hidden within the Backyard Battleground. These chests contain a number of rewards including silver, cosmetic items, and defenses for both the Plants and the Zombies.
All of this comes together in a package that looks, and plays, like a Disney movie and allows kids to do something they’ve always been forbidden from doing: play with their food. The fighters for the Plants consist of Peapods, an Ear of Corn, and an robotic, six-legged Orange, just to name a few.
The graphics in PVZ: GW2 don’t look like much of an improvement of those of their predecessor. However, with a more fleshed out solo campaign and the clear framework of a story, the graphics, music, humor and overall presentation of the game make it feel like a kid’s movie come to life.
The whimsical chirps, grunts, and groans of thelants and zombies, and Crazy Dave and Zomboss’s crazy mumbling, inspire laughter and lend to the overall goofy atmosphere that the game aims to portray. All of this leads to a shooter that is not afraid to buck tradition and think outside of the box and just be comfortable in its own skin as a piece of entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a shooter that is taking chances and doing something new with the genre. Building upon, and improving the foundation laid by its predecessor, POPCap has made something truly special. PVZ: GW2 should be in every shooter fan’s game library and offers hours upon hours of fun for gamers of all ages. While the shooter genre has wilted its petals over the last few years with a near endless barrage of “me too” cookie-cutter shooters, some of which were published by EA, POPCap and EA have managed to breathe life into a genre that has arguably been on life support for quite some time. From the roots of a simple iOS tower-defense title, Plants Vs. Zombies has sprouted into a multi-genre and multi-platform franchise that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Just be sure to get lots of water and sunlight after each play session.
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