When first announced it was completely reasonable if you had thought to yourself “really, on an Xbox One, a microtransaction filled cash in...you are killing us Microsoft, where are the proper games for this £429 console?”. Well here we all are, many months later, patiently waiting for Titanfall to be released so we can all actually play something new and good on the Xbox One, presented with a Plants Vs Zombies third person shooter...which is online only. You can only imagine the dread that one might have when initially booting this up, as it could quite frankly be as dreadful as it sounds...fortunately it isn’t and with a full house it’s actually not too shabby at all.
Utilising the latest Frostbite engine and mixing up third person shooter mechanics with tower defence, Garden Warfare isn’t perfect, safe to say its time in the spotlight will be a week or two but you may just enjoy your time with it, however brief. When you first boot it up you are bombarded by that classic Plants Vs Zombies sense of humour and your eyes will struggle to cope with the amount of colour on the screen. The art style is great and through utilising the aforementioned Frostbite engine everything is presented in a ridiculously high level of detail (900p for those who care...and should have far better things to debate), animated really nicely and brimming with both colour and personality.
As suggested earlier the gameplay itself is a great little mixture of third person shooter and tower defence, taken that little bit further with the inclusion of some classic shooter tropes; levelling, perks and special moves/powers. The controls are really loose and woolly, plus the aiming can be a little off but all in all for a fun little shooter, it does a fair number of things right. Garden ops is a four player online horde mode with multiple random (literally, there is a slot machine) boss waves at key points, along with a handful of twenty four player online modes. Gardens and graveyards takes the themes of the horde mode and opens it up to two teams of human players along with Team Vanquish which is quite simply deathmatch. Variety is thrown into these modes with certain set challenges and they have their own individual rewards. There are quite a few maps as well, all of course lovingly crafted in the aforementioned Frostbite engine, surprisingly detailed and multi-levelled making for some interesting battles.
The classes are actually very well thought out also, along with being very nicely animated as mentioned earlier, offering some great variation and particularly within Garden Ops the need to create as a team and work as a team. It is inherently pointless going into a horde type match with everyone the same class and the game very quickly highlights this to the player by spanking his or her ass very quickly. The classes include your standard rifleman (Pea Shooter), a healer (Sunflower), a melee class (Chomper) and a sniper (Cactus, well kinda). A nicely diverse set of skills grace each class from the get go and others unlock as you rank up.
Ranking up occurs by accruing points throughout the course of any game mode, whether it be against AI or human players, and can be for things as simple as “healing another player”. As the points rack up, you rank up but there is a twist...the points accrued can also be used for the tower defence and buff card packs used throughout the game. Naturally as this is EA there are card packs but for the time being no microtransactions, therefore using in-game currency you purchase packs, very much like FIFA, Madden et al and these packs include single use items. These items can be such things as a pea shooter, all of which can be planted around the map, working for you as you run off causing havoc, or such things as self reviving.
The minute to minute gameplay is simple, yet for the most part enjoyable. Team up with a group of like minded friends and Garden Ops particularly can be both very challenging but tons of fun. Setting up your garden with a defensive perimeter and watch as a huge wave ten boss rips through everything and you in crazy high def colour is often quite wonderful. The shooting and aiming are solid and the defence side of things is easy enough to get into, utilising your card packs to put down defensive emplacements from a quick menu, it’s all fun and really easy to get into.
It’s a shame therefore that there are often server issues, hindering progress. The matchmaking seems to be a little hit and miss, much more so now the game is out in the wild as it was rock solid before the game launched (our review has been delayed but our opinion of the title is better for it), entering games at wave ten on Garden Ops. Then the game ending is hugely annoying, and even more so the game crashing after you’ve completed ten waves and are waiting for the always satisfying rank up screen. It’s possible to play for an hour and not progress at all as a result of these issues which can be hugely frustrating and of course being an online only title, this really hinders its appeal and longevity.
Longevity is the one key thing here and there is unlikely to be much of it. With a crew of four (or more for online multi) there is a lot of fun to be had here but long term, if we are all honest with ourselves it’s not got the legs. Units will be shifted due to the current next gen games drought but when the big hitters start your friends will not be begging you to pop Garden Warfare in the drive.
Plants Vs Zombies is bright, colourful, lovely to look at and fun to play - it’s the third person shooter no-one knew they wanted and may go a little way to filling the small gap before the big triple A games start to drop.