2014’s Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was a valiant, if ultimately unfulfilling, attempt to turn the enormous popular and thoroughly lovable tower-defence mobile game franchise into a fully-fledged console shooter. While it did a brilliant job of translating Plants vs Zombies’ (known to all and sundry as PvZ) anarchic humour to a weightier stage, its lack of any credible single-player campaign let it down badly. Happily, developer PopCap has addressed that shortcoming in Garden Warfare 2, and while it may superficially resemble a game designed to keep the kids amused, it turns out to provide a thoroughly well-rounded dose of surprisingly grown-up third-person shooter action.
Not, you understand, that Garden Warfare 2 feels particularly grown-up: it’s certainly suitable for kids (and if you jump into the multiplayer, you’ll hear plenty of taunting from pre-teens, so it’s a good job you can mute your opponents), and its cast of cute but deadly plants and endearing zombies send you off on all manner of deliciously idiotic errands. Since that cast has been significantly expanded this time around, and most of the new zombies and plants have single-player missions for you, that element of the game now feels meaty, and it manages to be pretty varied, too.
There are some great new characters, such as Kernel Corn, with his twin corncob-machine-guns, Captain Deadbeard, the zombie pirate, and Rose, with her magic thistles and ability to turn zombies into goats. You would have to be miserable indeed not to find Garden Warfare 2 endlessly amusing – throwaway humorous touches abound. And Zomburbia looks fabulous in its inimitable cartoonish way.
As with the original Garden Warfare, the bulk of the gameplay involves defending gardens or tombstones, by spawning plants or zombies to fight alongside you, along with static allies that sit in pots – again, to stock up on the latter, you must purchase stickers. There are vast amounts of minions, accessories and rare characters to collect via those sticker packs, and even that side of the game is incredibly addictive – giving you incentive to earn in-game cash by completing single-player missions.
But it’s really when you go online that Garden Warfare 2 properly comes into its own. There are vast numbers of multiplayer modes – mostly similar to those found in games like Call of Duty, although the classic Plants vs Zombies modes, where you’re defending an area and are beset by waves of enemies, are pretty distinctive. You can switch on a split-screen mode, too, enabling two people to take on all-comers on one console, and you can venture into the Backyard Battleground, in which a perpetual war between zombies and plants takes place, and where you can find a number of diverting mini-games.
This may be the ideal introduction to multiplayer third-person shooters.
Garden Warfare 2’s maps are large and nicely designed, although as you progress (which perhaps happens slower than would be ideal), you do find that some seem inherently biased towards one or other of the factions. But despite its whimsical graphics, Garden Warfare 2 never fails to surprise you with the sheer credibility of its third-person shooter gameplay. You couldn’t imagine anything that looks less like, say, Gears of War, but in terms of general feel and the balancing that different characters’ abilities and the sticker system bring, Garden Warfare 2 manages to feel in no way inferior to serious, heavyweight third-person shooters of the past.
Plus it adds the benefit of being genuinely humorous and suitable for youngsters. While Garden Warfare 2 would never suggest, through its general demeanour, that it demands to be taken seriously, its underlying gameplay is anything but a joke. The one thing its predecessor lacked – a decent single-player mode – is now present and correct so, as a result, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 constitutes what may be the ideal introduction to multiplayer third-person shooters.