Much like Angry Birds before it, the zany Plants vs. Zombies series got its start on mobile platforms and from there has ballooned into a veritable mega-franchise that has now officially crossed over into the console and PC gaming space. Developer PopCap’s multiplayer-focused shooter Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare initially released on Xbox platforms back in February and later on PC this past June. Now the title has completed its trifecta circuit with Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. These new PlayStation versions contain all of the content from the Xbox and PC versions as well as a few bits and ends you’ll only find on Sony’s platforms. But are the new additions enough to make the PlayStation port of Garden Warfare a worthy investment? Or has PopCap’s plant-themed shooter overstayed its welcome?
Since Garden Warfare is going on seven months old, many gamers are likely already familiar with its premise but I’ll cover the basic details just in case. While the original mobile PvZ games were single-player tower-defense-esque titles, Garden Warfare takes the iconic PvZ setting and transfers it into a fully fledged 3D multiplayer shooter game that pits teams of zombies and plants against each other in various competitive game modes. The game also has a co-op mode titled “Garden Ops” in which a four-player team of plants has to defend a garden against waves of A.I. zombie foes.
There are four different playable units available to each side, each with their own signature attacks and special abilities. While there are some basic archetypes that define each unit on both sides (the “healer” archetype for instance is filled by the Sunflower on the plants’ side and the Scientist on the zombies’ side), every unit plays differently enough that there is no gameplay overlap. Each unit has a basic attack as well as three different abilities which can be activated by the player (the peashooter, for instance, can lob chili bean bombs, activate a temporary speed boost, and utilize a limited stationary rapid-fire mode). Both the appearance and abilities of each unit can be further customized through collectable stickers (more on those later).
In total, there are six different game modes if you count Garden Ops, each of which is a PvZ-themed variant of modes from standard multiplayer shooters: Team Vanquish (team deathmatch), Gardens & Graveyards (zombies attack bases, plants defend), Gnome Bomb (secure the bomb, plant it at the enemy’s base), Suburbination (control point capture), and Vanquish Confirmed (kill confirmed). There are also “classic” versions of both Gardens & Graveyards and Team Vanquish in which customized and unlocked characters and abilities aren’t allowed as well as a “Welcome Mat” playlist for new players which features only Team Vanquish and also has no customized characters or abilities.
In addition to leveling up individual units and increasing their overall rank, players also earn coins for completing in-game tasks such as vanquishing enemy units, healing and/or reviving downed allies, and completing objectives. These coins can in turn be used to purchase variously-priced “sticker packs” (similar to the item packs from Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer) which contain one-time-use consumables, cosmetic items, and a chance to unlock new character variants for the standard units. More expensive packs come with a chance for better rewards and both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 versions of Garden Warfare grant several free packs to new players right off the bat, two of which contain the PlayStation-exclusive Berry Shooter and Citrus Cactus playable units. More impatient players can also purchase coins through microtransactions.
The gameplay in Garden Warfare is fun and frantic no matter what mode you play though but newbies are advised to start out in either the Welcome Mat playlist or in Garden Ops until they’ve gotten used to the controls and unlocked some basic abilities (there is no playable tutorial). Those who reviewed past versions of Garden Warfare have lamented its lack of depth and such sadly remains the case with the PlayStation versions. While it is fun to play a few matches and unlock some cool new cosmetic stuff along the way, the novelty of Garden Warfare’s unique charm quickly gives way to tedium as you realize there’s really nothing else to do other then grind for coins and unlock new stuff.
How much mileage you get out of Garden Warfare depends heavily on the type of gamer you are. If you enjoy frantic multiplayer battles and unlocking random rewards, and maybe if you have a few friends to play with, you could certainly sink more than a few hours into the game. If you’re a more solo-oriented gamer who enjoys progression and unlocks but also wants a deeper story-driven experience, your interest in Garden Warfare likely won’t last long.
As a gamer who prefers co-op multiplayer, I did appreciate PopCap’s inclusion of a dedicated co-op mode but, since Garden Ops can only ever be played from the plants’ perspective (likely as an homage to the series’ mobile roots), its appeal is even more limited than the standard competitive multiplayer. I also ran into some matchmaking/networking issues during my time with Garden Warfare but it wasn’t severe enough to ruin the experience and was likely the result of launch-day hiccups.
While initially it is quite fun, its lack of depth combined with its grind-oriented progression system means I can’t recommend paying full-price for Garden Warfare. In fact, unless you’re a hardcore multiplayer shooter fan or you just really like the Plants vs. Zombies series, I’d say the PlayStation versions of Garden Warfare are worth a rental at best since you’ll likely grow bored with them after no more than a few hours. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is an admirable attempt on PopCap’s part to introduce the fun of Plants vs. Zombies to a different breed of gamers but it sadly lacks the necessary components to make it a game worth investing in.