Plants Vs Zom­bies: Gar­den Warfare 2

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - PopCap Games Elec­tronic Arts PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Out now

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.

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