Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare should not be a good game. Turning PopCap's beloved tower defense game into a console third-person shooter sounds like a joke; surely this must be the result of mega-corp Electronic Arts' heavy focus-testing. Yet, Garden Warfare manages to instantly wash away any cynicism surrounding the title with its loving 3D recreations of PvZ's iconic characters. It even manages to be an interesting game in its own right, by successfully translating the strategic gameplay of the original into a tactical shooter experience.
The importance of Garden Warfare's visuals cannot be understated. This is the first time fans will see these characters fully animated in 3D, and a poor adaptation will make the game immediately unapproachable. Thankfully, PopCap nailed it, animating its plants and zombies in eye-catching ways. If you thought the disco zombie was amusing in 2D, it's quite another thing to see rendered in full 3D.
Writing has also survived the transition in Garden Warfare. The game's debut trailer should have clued us on its wit, parodying the very genre PopCap is attempting to assume. Crucially, Crazy Dave is back, and it's hard not to smile at his presence.
In the one mode shown at E3, Garden Warfare is a four-player co-op horde mode shooter, with players having to use their plants' unique abilities to survive waves of increasingly challenging zombies. Each plant type plays rather differently thanks to three special powers that each plant has. The Peashooter, for example, can become more agile, able to run away quickly or jump over obstacles. The Peashooter can also throw a bomb, or root into the ground to rapid-fire at enemies. Each ability has a cooldown period, meaning players won't be able to spam them.
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It wouldn't be much of a PvZ game if tactics weren't involved. Like in the original game, the Peashooter is the most straightforward plant to use. However, success will rely on using other classes of plants. You'll want the healing power of the Sunflower, for example. Like with Team Fortress' medic, you'll be able to become invincible with the help of the Sunflower, helpful for when a particularly difficult barrage of zombies comes crashing through.
Tower defense elements also remain in Garden Warfare, with pots scattered throughout the arena. In between rounds, you'll be able to choose different plants to put down. Some will help generate more sun, while others will play an offensive role in the upcoming assault.
Through teamwork, it'll be possible to create interesting strategies that exploit zombie behavior. For example, in a particularly challenging bit against a boss, one player could lay down a number of potato mines. The Peashooter would then have to get the attention of the boss by shooting at it, activating super-speed, running away to lure the boss into the trap. The mines will trigger, giving other players time to shoot at the stunned boss.
It will take much more hands-on time with the game to understand how deep the interplay between the various plants actually plays out. However, initial impressions of Garden Warfare are quite favorable. Not hating Garden Warfare is an accomplishment by itself--but PopCap actually created something leaving me wanting to play more.
Garden Warfare will be coming to PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. And while only a horde mode was shown off at E3, PopCap seems to have greater plans for this full-priced retail release. PvP PvZ seems like an inevitability, given Garden Warfare's shooty gameplay.