Plants Vs Zom­bies: Gar­den War­fare 2

Get­ting into the thicket of it


PC, PS4, Xbox One

Be­neath goofy scenes of a wand-wield­ing rose turn­ing op­po­nents into goats, zom­bies charg­ing around on roar­ing jack­ham­mers, and an an­gry stick of corn spit­ting pro­jec­tiles while wear­ing a soggy bowl of ce­real around his neck, Plants Vs Zom­bies: Gar­den War­fare 2 is se­ri­ous busi­ness. With this se­quel, PopCap’s en­er­getic class­based shooter grows away from the top-down iOS tower de­fence on which it took root and blos­soms into an ex­pe­ri­ence even more in­volved than 2014’s ini­tial foray into third­per­son ac­tion. “The art style helps take the edge off,” se­nior game­play de­signer Chris Fox tells us, “but from a game­play point of view, all the de­sign­ers on our team are hard­core gamers. For us, it’s im­por­tant to have a game that, while ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­body, didn’t lose that depth.”

An ex­am­ple of PopCap’s ap­proach lies in char­ac­ter abil­i­ties. Both plant and zom­bie teams con­tain seven classes, each with at least three unique moves, and they’re all sim­ple to per­form. Press­ing R1 en­gages the Imp’s butt boost­ers to send the lit­tle guy spin­ning as blasters fire wildly, while hit­ting Tri­an­gle as Citron, a time-trav­el­ling, bounty-hunt­ing or­ange, rolls him into a ball for a quick get­away. Th­ese are easy tech­niques for any­one to pull off – it’s tim­ing that’s key. If a chom­per bur­rows un­der­ground, you can un­earth it with the en­gi­neer’s sonic grenade; if mobs cause a mael­strom, Rose’s time-slow­ing abil­ity is specif­i­cally geared to man­age them. Ev­ery char­ac­ter has a mea­sure and coun­ter­mea­sure.

“What we have within the spe­cific char­ac­ter classes is syn­ergy be­tween their

pri­mary weapon and all three of their abil­i­ties,” Fox ex­plains, “and what I really like to see is when you start break­ing that out across classes. On the zom­bies’ side, the Imp has his grav­ity grenade that the sol­dier then hits with his RPG. It’s about find­ing the cross-class syn­ergy be­tween abil­i­ties.” In play, it all feels con­vinc­ingly in­ter­twined.

There’s also the big ad­di­tion of Back­yard Bat­tle­ground, which bor­rows from Des­tiny’s Tower. This is an open hub you can ex­plore ei­ther alone or with up to three com­pan­ions, fea­tur­ing a booth to en­ter for char­ac­ter cus­tomi­sa­tion, a por­tal to mul­ti­player or sin­gle­player (bots fill three team­mate roles be­tween which you can freely switch), Crazy Dave’s car­a­van (which hosts the co-op mode Ops), and even a quest board. Crazy Dave needs ex­actly five-and-a-half more pairs of shoes, reads one no­tice, so you need to get 11 kills as a plant to help him out. It’s not sim­ply a means to get into other modes but a base whose ex­plo­ration has a mean­ing­ful ef­fect on your game – think per­sis­tent coins, char­ac­ter up­grades, and cos­tumes.

Back­yard Bat­tle­ground also re­veals the eter­nal plants/zom­bies war, the lat­ter oc­cu­py­ing one vi­brant green slice of pick­et­fenced sub­ur­bia and the for­mer deck­ing the other half in dirt and grave­stones. A park in the cen­tre of the map hosts an end­less fray you can join any time by blast­ing through the can­non in your base. This trig­gers con­stant waves of ei­ther plants or zom­bies whose dif­fi­culty in­creases the more you fight. You can plant the likes of heal­ing sun­flow­ers or peashoot­ers at set points, but this as­pect feels like a weak nod to its tower de­fence her­itage, since the fo­liage ef­fects feel neg­li­gi­ble. In mul­ti­player, th­ese helpers are more mo­bile, but can serve to con­fuse an al­ready an­ar­chic game. We think there was an AI zom­bie wear­ing a Por­taloo, but we’re not sure.

Five-on-five mul­ti­player fea­tures a mix of death­match, ter­ri­tory con­trol, and cap­ture the bomb. Turf Takeover is the high­light, a riff on Battlefield’s Rush mode which sees one team push the other back through a lin­ear map, at­tempt­ing to claim po­si­tions one by one. A low-grav­ity moon base cli­maxes in play­ers try­ing to roll gi­ant foot­balls into a goal, and one set in a de­mented theme park sees at­tack­ers chase de­fend­ers through var­i­ous worlds (pre­his­toric, me­dieval), then fight them for a tre­buchet with which to siege a cas­tle. The fren­zied ac­tion – a riot of noise, colour, at­tacks, buffs and de­buffs – can be hard to track, and weapon feed­back is prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent when you’re shoot­ing at, say, a potato, making com­bat some­what un­sat­is­fy­ing. If you learn pow­ers and keep pace, though, Gar­den War­fare 2 re­veals far greater com­plex­ity than its broad comedic lean­ings ini­tially sug­gest.

“It’s im­por­tant that, while ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­body, the game didn’t lose that depth”

Druid sor­cer­ess Rose’s abil­ity to tem­po­rar­ily ‘goat­ify’ op­po­nents adds in­sult to in­jury, leav­ing them defenceless save only for a ram at­tack. Her ar­cane enigma power com­pen­sates for weak ar­mour by trans­form­ing her into pure en­ergy so that she’s un­tar­getable for a time

Vi­su­als are Pixar-esque, brim­ming with so much colour and char­ac­ter that even the mush­rooms have per­son­al­ity. Al­though some­times lead­ing to sen­sory over­load, it’s not hard to be charmed by the de­sign­ers’ ef­forts

LEFT Back­yard Bat­tle­ground is like a small-scale MMO gar­ri­son in which you can choose quests, en­ter warp tun­nels to ac­cess mul­ti­player matches, and ob­serve un­locked char­ac­ter mod­els. Plants get a tree­house, while zom­bies get a grave­yard

Ker­nel Corn was fight­ing over­seas dur­ing the events of Gar­den War­fare, but now he’s re­turned pack­ing dual cob busters to re­claim sub­ur­bia. A straight­for­ward as­sault class, he’s a solid pick for be­gin­ners

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