Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 Hands-On Impressions: High-Powered Herbicide

Shacknews joins the ongoing battle between vegetation and the undead horde with an early look at Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. If you thought the first game added a sense of weirdness to team-based battle, just wait until time travel and killer citrus is involved.

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The battle between vegetation and the undead rages on in Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, but this time with a significant twist. The competitive team-based game takes place sometime after the first game, and the zombies have won. That means that the plants now have to go on the offensive while the zombies are in a more defensive role to protect the zombie utopia, Zomburbia.

This sequel will include all eight previous classes along with six new one; three for each side. New zombie additions include Captain Deadbeard, who fills the role of the long range sniper class now that the undead are on the defensive. In addition to having a blunderbuss that transforms into a sniper rifle, he can also control his zombie parrot as an attack bird, and set up a rodeo style cannon that can be fired five times.

Super Brainz is team zombie's first melee class, and can drop kick enemies from high above when not firing wrist lasers at them. Most impressively, there is the Imp class, which works in two modes. The first has low health but high speed, and can lob gravity grenades to pull enemies into tight groups before cutting loose with a two-handed Imp Kata move. But after a while, they can call in a mech suit, sent back in time by Dr. Zomboss himself to help win the war. The suit of armor falls onto the battlefield Titanfall style, and Imps can jump inside for a significant boost to power and health at the cost of speed.

The Z-Mech has a chain laser as its main weapon, which overheats if fired for too long. There's also a missile barrage, but sometimes it's just easier to use the mech to stomp on nearby enemies. Should the Imp find itself surrounded by too many enemies, it always has the option to make an Explosive Escape, which (as the name suggests) will give the Imp a quick getaway while wrecking everyone around the suit.

Rose, a seer from the past, joins the plant side with weapons like Homing Thistles, which works similarly to the Needler from Halo. She can also throw her wand across the battlefield to slow down time, transform into pure energy to damage nearby enemies without taking damage herself, or transform select enemies into goats using Goatify. Enemies that are changed into goats can still fight using a new set of powers, but it will be difficult to take players down. Goats that do manage to put up a good fight will earn special achievements.

Kernel Corn is a character that returns from overseas to find his hometown overrun with zombies. He can call in a Butter Barrage air strike to deal with the problem, or jump in with dual cob blaster miniguns, which can also be fired like rocket launchers. If an enemy looks like they're getting low on health, he can perform a move called a Husk Hop, which enables him to flip over them and rain fire down onto them.

Probably one of the most visible new plants is Citron, a genetically modified orange from the future, sent back specifically to target the Imps. Citron has two modes, the first being a ball that can quickly roll around the battlefield and knock enemies back with a spin attack. Then he transforms into battle mode, where he fires a laser, summons a shield to protect him from weapons like the Z-Mech's missile barrage, and can fire an EM Peach to disable everything that's mechanical within an area. This not only stops mechs, but also any nearby turrets. Citron can also fire from behind the shield he summons.

Unlocked classes and variations from the previous game can get imported into Garden Warfare 2 at launch, even if it's from a different platform. As a means of setting the first game off into the sunset, players will start the sequel off with a big advantage if they put a lot of time and energy into its predecessor.

The reason Popcap Games is going with a full sequel instead of a major expansion is because of all the major changes that are coming to the game. Changes that include a new XP system for character progression, and a stronger focus on local and single player features. Every game mode will support local split screen with AI players filling in the ranks. You'll be able to play Garden Ops and Graveyard Ops teamed with AI controlled characters that you've unlocked, and you won't need an Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus subscription to access all the different modes.

Garden Warfare 2 will have 12 new maps, that take you everywhere from a Time Travel Theme Park, to a Zombie Moon Base, to snowy levels with will impact gameplay. There will also be support for private matches, which allows hosts to modify rules. One example includes a Gnome Bomb missions with reduced capture time, cooldowns turned off, and low gravity.

However, one of the most impressive new features is actually a fun twist on the traditional game menu called Backyard Battle Grounds. Instead of being taken to a static menu to jump into games, collect unlocks, and check daily challenges, players are dropped into an interactive base. All activities are handled from within a base that's under constant attack from AI enemies. Players can choose to ignore them (the base can take care of itself) or engage them with up to three friends joining in. It's a cooperative game mode, filled with dynamic events, that will still earn XP toward unlocks and progression. But making it inside an enemy base will increase the players' threat level, which calls in the big bosses to step in.

I played with the zombie team on the Zomboss Factory map, where Z-tech builds its robots. The zombies were set up in a defensive position, which meant setting up turrets and protecting a giant tombstone from invading plants, many controlled by the AI. There were three or four points of entry, which don't include rooftops, which keeps the gameplay as fast and frenzied as the previous game.

Although Superbrains has a significant health boost compared to most other characters, he ended up sustaining the most damage out of any other class, including the Imp's mech. I guess that's just one of the hazards of being a melee class. The imp has a tremendous amount of firepower when it calls in the mech suit, and can largely take care of itself.

After defending for a while, tougher boss characters like trees starting showing up, signaling that we were nearing the end of the match. Once we defeated all the plant bosses, we all had to quickly make our way over to the evac zone, which was a little problematic for our Imp player who refused to eject from his suit. At this point, we would have to defend the evac zone until the pickup timer ran out, but we all made it without much problem.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is shaping up to be just as fun, zany, and exciting as the previous game. The true test will be when all the classes are thrown together in all-out battle, but there is plenty of time for more surprises and reveals. The game is expected to release in 2016 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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