Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
PC, PS4, Xbox One
PopCap’s second foray into arena shooters fulfils many of the requirements that a dutiful sequel should. It’s certainly bigger, introducing new modes, characters and an open-world hub area. And it’s discernibly louder, too, with an expanded arsenal of organic and undead ordnance. But like creeping knotweed stubbornly resisting treatment, many of the original Garden Warfare’s problems remain.
But problems aren’t the only thing to be carried over. The first game’s penchant for gorgeous visuals and its easy charm are very much intact. And you can also import all of the character variants that took so long to earn the first time around – a welcome headstart given the glacial pace of individually levelling up characters here, and the not-inconsiderable task of collecting all the available variants by buying blind sticker packs in the returning between-round metagame.
Buying stickers also constitutes one of the many activities available to you in the hub world (though here they’re accessed via vending machines dotted about the place). The large area is split into plant- and zombiecontrolled sections (each home to a walled-off base of operations that provides access to the game’s various modes) separated by a contested no-man’s land in the middle. There are plenty of hidden areas to explore, loot-filled chests to find and even some distracting minigames – shooting at gnomes on a pirate ship proves particularly enjoyable.
The hub area also serves as one of the locations for the newly introduced singleplayer campaign. That title is something of a misnomer, since missions (which are handed out by a variety of characters you unlock along the way) are predominantly made up of quickly tedious fetch quests and a diluted, single-location take on the tower defence Garden Ops mode, both of which are wholly unsatisfying when played alone.
Fortunately, the online multiplayer component of the game is far more successfully fleshed out. The lumbering undead now have their own equivalent of Garden Ops: Graveyard Ops, while the plants get to go on the offensive in their version of Gardens & Graveyards, called Herbal Assault. While both are little more than reskins, the ability to play two of the game’s better modes as either side is welcome. Beyond this, not much has changed in the rotation.
The character roster gets a more thorough overhaul, introducing six new classes. On the plants’ side, Kernel Corn brings ranged devastation, wielding machine cobs, a timed bomb and the ability to call in airstrikes, while Citron is a six-legged citrus tank with a sci-fi shield, a powerful beam weapon and the option to fold into a Samus-style ball, which can also boost into enemies. Finally, Rose brings some debuffing options to the battlefield, slowing enemies’ movements to a crawl or transforming them into goats.
The zombies’ additions are a little harder to classify. Captain Dreadbeard wields both a sniper weapon and a shotgun, he can become a walking explosive barrel (the potential damage from which decreases the longer you wait to detonate), and he can launch a parrot drone. Super Brainz is far from the boffin his name suggests; instead he’s a caped superhero with a robust health bar, hand lasers and an extensive selection of devastating melee attacks (we quickly learned to dread his arrival while playing as the plants). The third newcomer is Imp, a playable version of the American-football-kit-wearing All-Star zombie’s Imp Punt ability. Imp has a gravity grenade that will suspend enemies in the air for a short time, a powerful all-guns-blazing breakdance that damages any enemies in range, and he can call in a hulking mech to mitigate his diminutive size. Far from overcrowding things, the new additions mean that both sides now feel better balanced, and there’s almost always an effective retort available when you pick your next character after death. The preexisting roster retain the abilities they had in the first game, but all have benefited from a facelift as part of the overhauled visuals. PopCap’s beguiling art direction continues but there’s significantly more detail in the stages and a sometimes overwhelming amount of colour and lighting effects onscreen as busy encounters explode into muddled firework displays.
But getting into the thick of battle continues to be a laborious task – depending on who you’re playing as. Characters move with unappealing lethargy by default, faster travel reserved as a cooldown-limited special ability for certain plants and zombies. It’s not so much of a problem when you’re at the centre of the action, but slowly making your way back across the large levels after dying can prove frustrating – especially since there’s no option to spawn on teammates. One map is set in a segmented theme park where the areas are linked by teleports, and we found ourselves spending minutes chasing the fight.
But a more significant problem is the lack of satisfying feedback from firing weapons or killing opponents – weapons feel light and disconnected, combat never quite thumping like it should. As a result, the accompanying selection of forthright audio cues come across as if they were added to cover the shortfall in weapon feel, rather than bolster it.
While these issues frustrate, Garden Warfare 2 isn’t trying to compete with the likes of Battlefield or Call Of Duty, but instead offers an alternative, lighthearted take on a genre that can often feel po-faced. In that respect it certainly succeeds, and PopCap has built on its predecessor’s co-op-focused strengths. But, as with tending to a real garden, not everyone will have the patience required to persevere.