PopCap's foray onto major consoles with a title larger in size than their typical tower defense and simple puzzles was inevitable, but most wouldn't have guessed that their next big title would send their unassuming franchise directly into the shooter genre. It's surprising, but the more you think it over the more the shoe really fits. Both genres require an element of strategy, and Plants vs Zombies is a game with mechanics almost entirely dependent on cooperation. In a multiplayer setting the same mechanics have an opportunity to translate over really well, and PopCap does a great job of capitalizing on the similarities.
Anyone familiar with Team Fortress or Monday Night Combat will settle in with Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare quite nicely. Teams are broken into four Zombies and Plants, both of whom have their own classes that are identical to one another in order to keep things well balanced. A class for close range attacks, long range attacks, healing and utility provide a good bit of variety for players to enjoy; each class coming with its own unique weapon and three special abilities. The separate classes feel incredibly well defined on their own and can certainly hold their ground in limited circumstances, but it's when each class works together as a team that the game truly feels like its design is like clockwork.
The trick behind Garden Warfare is making sure everyone you play with realizes this, because just like Team Fortress, the number of player slots per team matches the number of classes available in game. Unlike Team Fortress you only have four slots, which means the room for creative team matchups or mix-and-match groups is actually pretty slim. It also means that teamwork is exceptionally critical in order to win, and matches largely boil down to whatever team utilizes communication the most.
It's a double edged sword, because on one hand if you don't get a thrill or rush from working together with three other people to accomplish a unified goal in a fairly competitive setting, then the odds are you shouldn't be playing this kind of a game in the first place. It's fun, pure and simple, made better by the fact that you must rely on others to score. On the same page if any one member of the team refuses to cooperate your loss may be both painful and inevitable, compounded by the fact that teams really need a good variety of classes in order to receive a full advantage in the field. To be precise you should really use all four, which means someone may get stuck playing a class they don't fully enjoy for the sake of representation.
There are ten maps for undead and flora to duke it out and three modes for teams to participate in; Team Vanquish (which is Team Deathmatch), Gardens and Graveyards and Garden Ops. Garden's and Graveyards is an objective based game type that puts Plants on the defensive in an attempt to keep the Zombies from overtaking certain locations, the game being declared a win or loss depending on how many graveyards or gardens are held (or defended). It's a far more mobile, strategic mode than Team Vanquish but the wacky and stylized level design makes it tough to get tired of the environments. Garden Ops acts as a Horde mode, pitting teams against waves of enemies in a third-person sort of tower defense action.
The problem is that it all doesn't seem like quite enough. The map selection is excellent,but the game modes are remarkably slim, and the lack of variety makes it difficult to really appreciate how creative and enjoyable each map truly is because you're almost always approaching it from the same few angles. The lack of available classes is particularly disappointing when you consider how robust the Plants vs Zombies franchise is, although there are certainly arguments for both sides of the fence.
Choosing a more balanced gameplay experience over a character-flooded multiplayer is really the better of the two, though it's hard not to want more. There is a degree of customization to the game in the form of outfits which allows for some visual differences, but the game is so vibrant that this is hardly ever an issue. If anything it's a nice way to show off the art and design team's creativity while at the same time mask the rather slim character selection, which admittedly works to an extent.
As it stands right now four classes are quite well balanced, and providing a unique gameplay experience without one class overshadowing the other is nothing to sneeze at. Where the game truly suffers is in its lack of game types, which are really puzzling in how limiting they are. With such a strange franchise at your disposal, why not come up with some unique objective modes, or a more robust set of offline characters? The lack of flexibility here is puzzling, particularly given how creative and memorable Plants vs Zombies as a franchise really is. Even an upgraded Tower Defense mini-game of some sort would be a welcome sight, a next-gen throwback to the garden's humble roots.
If you're looking for a game that's fun, easy to understand and more importantly a family friendly shooter (something that's incredibly rare these days) then Garden Warfare will not only satisfy you, it will leave you craving more. Depending on your experience within the genre it's easy to feel like you're only getting a piece of the larger picture, but if the worst that Garden Warfare has to offer is that there's simply not enough then PopCap is on really at a fantastic start in expanding their horizons.
|Fills an almost completely ignored niche as a family friendly shooter|
|Very well balanced, easy to understand|
|Design is quirky, fun|
|Not enough game modes|
|Four classes feels a little bare bones|
|Feels somewhat like a trial launch before something bigger.|