Isn’t a pleasant surprise a wonderful thing? Like finding a fiver in your pocket, or going home to find a bikini babes /hunks in trunks (delete as applicable) competition happening in your living room. Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 1 was just such a surprise; a game I only picked up on EA access and which sat in my hard-drive like a neglected puppy, only to be awoken from cryo-sleep to discover it was really rather fun. Perhaps its my natural cynicism but I had assumed that a 3D update of a esteemed 2D  title would be nothing but a mediocre name-brand cash-grab aimed at gullible idiots who like bright colours and funny faces. How wrong was I?

….I had assumed that a 3D update of a esteemed 2D  title would be nothing but a mediocre name-brand cash-grab aimed at gullible idiots who like bright colours and funny faces. How wrong was I?

OK, the story is a bit pants.

OK, the story is a bit pants.

So it was with very little hesitation which I bought the follow up and it turns out this is also a fantastic game and one which has crept into my brain and planted rhizomes, utterly entrancing me for the last week or so.

The plot for Garden Warfare 2 is moot really but for the purposes of thoroughness, here it is; Zombies have taken over the world and you as a plant under the control of the mad bloke (Dave) with the pot on his head who lives in a trailer have to strike back.

You see unlike its forbear, Garden Warfare 2 now has a single player campaign. However it is the weakest element of a fine game and whilst EA/Popcap should be semi-applauded for actually trying to appease us campaign lovers, it is less inspiring than a egg-flavoured quiche. Yes folks, this is for one for cheev-whores/trophy-hounds, or people with the thorough attitudes of German mathematician only.

…whilst EA/Popcap should be applauded for actually trying to appease us campaign lovers, it is less inspiring than an egg-flavoured quiche.

Yes this is a dragon age joke.

Yes ….this is a dragon age joke.

Part of the problem is the delivery the method of which is tower defence and escort missions. Whilst you could reasonably argue that the series is built on a heritage of tower defence and this is merely playing to character, when it is functionally pretty much identical to Garden Ops, why bother?

All Popcap are doing is serving you  the same hamburger but with a processed cheese slice on top. Yes, it may well entertain your lil’un’s (it is after all aimed at people significantly younger than me) but whilst you are reinventing the wheel (after all it jumped from 2D to 3D), why not make an actual campaign? Call me mad/silly but I can actually see Garden Warfare 2 working with a short linear story campaign a bit like zany and fun Gears of War, with progression through levels and character choice/co-op rather than simply repackaging Garden Ops in a repetitious structure.

Whilst you could reasonably argue that the series is built on a heritage of tower defence and this is merely playing to character, when it is functionally pretty much identical to Garden ops, why bother?

The game uses the story to introduce new characters and classes for both sides; the pick of each being the Zombie Imp, with a nifty power armour and my personal favorite Kernel Corn with corn-based mini-guns for hands. There is sure to be a character you will love playing as and although debate will rage on about which side is better or more over-powered, they are both entertaining to play as. Rather wonderfully, even the original characters such as Pea Shooter and Zombie Solider are still competitive and although the new additions may be aesthetically fancier, they don’t trump the old-guard.

The new characters are great but the old ones still rock.

The new characters are great but the old ones still rock.

Garden Ops is back and it represents one of the best attempts at the Horde template yet produced. Notably if you have a hatred of chlorophyll you can now play as zombies in this game mode too in a mode called Graveyard Ops. The key to its success is the surprising depth to the gameplay, with character abilities and consumables introducing tactics, in a stealthy yet elegant and fun way. The closest comparison is still the mighty fine Gears of War 3, but the ability to vary your team-mates strengths and weaknesses, instead of just having bald, grumpy men who hold big guns kicks the whole thing up a notch.

The ability to play split screen should also be congratulated from here to Mercury and back as it’s getting increasingly rare to find games where couch co-op is an integral part of the experience.

The key to its success is the surprising depth to the gameplay, with character abilities and consumables introducing tactics, in a stealthy yet elegant and fun way.

However, the best part of the game is the competitive PvP multi-player. Much like Garden Ops, the bight colours and goofy tone mask a level of depth which would shame many other more serious shooters. Theres a beautiful ebb and flow to the PvP matches and you always feel in with a fighting chance no matter what the score is. Character selection is key to doing well in any given round and the upgrades are important but more importantly no matter what level you are playing at, the game feels fair.

Garden/Graveyard Ops is a blast.

Garden/Graveyard Ops is a blast.

If like me you only dabble online with PvP on occasion and only stick to it when something really hooks you, often PvP feels like kicking water uphill. In Battlefield game for example, I spend most of my time running to an objective from the base only to be taken out by a sniper without ever having used my gun, to be dumped back at base again for another hike. At this stage in the life of Battlefield I’ve spent more time admiring vistas with laboured breath than shooting anyone. I’m sure that there are many of you fine gamers out there that love that (and at one time I played more time playing CoD Blops online than I did attending to my personal hygiene), but with life being life, gaming has to take its place in the queue and many games require such an immense and continued investment in time to be competitive at that it isn’t worth bothering anymore.

….no matter what level you are playing at the game feels fair.

Garden Warfare 2 is a game which can be picked up by pretty much anyone, with any level character and still be fun, as it feels like balanced experience. You could argue this is helped by the younger user base of PvZ but if online play life has taught me anything its that children are often better at online shooters than grown-ups (a million CoD deaths to cackling youngsters haunts me).  Fair enough, some characters occasionally feel a little OP, but (as stated above) even the starting characters imported from the first game don’t feel outclassed by the newer, more flashy looking ones.

The PvP is terrific.

The PvP is terrific.

The 4 or 5 PvP game modes on offer could come across as little samey but such an accusation could be leveled at pretty much any online shooter these days. Thankfully they are just different enough to spice things up. The only real issue I had was finding games of stuff like Gnome Bomb, as most players were indulging in the more traditional fare of Team Vanquish, but there seems to be a good user base and connection to a game is quick and easy with lag-free servers.

Entertaining and competitive game modes.

Entertaining and competitive game modes.

The maps are also great, imaginatively designed, colourful and brimming with detail. Its so nice playing a online MP which is not only a great laugh but isn’t grey, brown or green. This same compliment could be applied to the game as a whole in fact, as it’s brimming with invention and imagination, with an appealing visual style and a classy presentation.

The character customisation and leveling systems, as well as the range of playable characters alone should engage your interest for a good while; helped greatly by the amount of unlockables on offer. Compared to the likes of Star Wars Battlefront with its pitiful number of samey maps, 4 guns and multitude of boring consumables, Garden Warfare 2 is a revelation.

Although much of the customisation is aesthetic rather than ability based, this works in the games favour, meaning even veterans who have more upgrades than you’ve had hot dinners wont have too much of an advantage.

Compared to the likes of Star Wars Battlefront with its 4 guns and multitude of boring consumables, Garden Warfare 2 is a revelation.

The sticker packs are back back back and just as as before, they are as addictive as chocolate flavoured heroin (just say no kids). Although the arguments about micro-transactions aren’t going way anytime soon and the concept of having free-to-play elements within a full price title are at their core a little distasteful (optional or not), it doesn’t tarnish the experience in this case. The points rack up so fast, especially in the objective based game-modes that you don’t need to buy extra coins.

...so moreish.

…so moreish.

One other bug-bear though… its one that may not irk everyone is the always online mode of the game. Yes now even to play single player you have to be logged onto EA’s servers. Why this is, who the hell knows… but whatever it is, it is silly and seems unnecessary.

VERDICT:

Garden Warfare 2 is a quality game. The appealing, fresh and family-friendly design belies the gameplay depth, all tied together with an accessible and lively attitude towards the genre. The single player campaign is more than a little lackluster but the amount of content, quality of maps and number of unlockables in the rest of the game makes it a great value for money package. I say with no hesitation that this is one of the best shooters on current gen.

Review Score:

8

What did you think of Garden Warfare 2? Let us know below (no registration required).

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Ed F

I am a keen amateur gamer who has always found himself slightly behind the times. My interest in gaming piqued with jealous looks at my friends copy of Duck Hunt on the NES all the way back in the early 90’s. Since then I graduated to a Sega Mega Drive of my own, a late 90s obsession with PlayStation One and then an ill-advised GameCube phase in the early noughties. Since my relatively late introduction to the Xbox360 in early 2009, I have being playing catch up. Among my other interests are comics, movies and boring my wife to death with talk of ‘cinematic tropes’ and ‘narrative arcs’. I am currently gorging myself on the next gen whilst keeping one foot in the previous one.

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1 Response

  1. Brandon says:

    I enjoy GW2 – the backyard is just okay – but what made the first game and this one is the Multi-Player element. Yes the game does lean a lot more towards enticing a gamer to buy coins which sucks, because if feels like the leveling system is so slow.

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