The original Plants vs. Zombies won over the mobile, PC, and console crowds with its easy to understand design and general charm. It offered a surprising amount of depth in its strategy gameplay and found crossover success with gamers and non-gamers alike. Thirty million players and a sequel later, PopCap has changed up the formula, opting for a first-person shooter game that retains the same kooky charms and successfully apes many multiplayer FPS tropes to carve its own flowery niche.
Like many of its more hardcore genre brethren, Garden Warfare offers a variety of Zombie and Plant classes to approach. From the ridiculous Football Zombie All-Star to the healing wonder that is the Sunflower, players are given options how to approach their residential (or graveyard) garden mayhem. The balance appears, at least so far, to be right near perfect and there seems to be a fair amount of room for experimentation within each class.
Further complementing this variety is a crazy amount of unlockables that do everything from cosmetically alter your player's appearance to giving actual stat modifiers and upgrades. These are varied and usually humorous alterations, and if the player so desires, can be purchased earlier (with an in-game currency) if one doesn't want to wait. However, one frustration found in the unlock system is that the player doesn't necessarily control what skill or perhaps which character they'll be unlocking. The skills are random as are the character arrivals and the word 'customisable' does not apply to Garden Warfare like it does to many FPS these days. This is a puzzling but not crippling omission, although it definitely stands to alienate those looking for more customizability.
Thankfully, the core gameplay here stands out as being both tight and well-realized. Controls are simple and approachable, and the diverse player skills all pack their own charms and applications. There's a nice pace to the action too, as the smaller maps accommodate the 12-player count well, making battles quickly heated and always contested. Rarely did a match feel one-sided or empty, and there was always a sense of a battle approaching or the promise of action as soon as you spawned in every environment.
Rounding out the package are great aesthetic qualities and the well-rounded presentational charms. The game doesn't take itself seriously, inherently carving a niche for itself amongst the denizens of self-serious FPS games around. The colors are bright, the music is cheery, and the characters are humorous to the point that you never forget you're witnessing a battle between plants and zombies. This helps the game find a cathartic tone beside the foliage massacre and undead re-deading, and it really defines the title differently than just about any other FPS on the market.
One final point to mention here is that the game does feel a bit scant, even at its $40 point. There aren't quite enough maps or modes to really justify the price, and when you compare feature sets, Garden Warfare fairs modestly to most $15 downloadable shooters. Add in the fact that micro-transactions are suggested frequently and seem more essential than supplemental - the game can feel a little disenfranchising for the more economical gamer.
Still overall, Garden Warfare offers a unique FPS type of battle and setting, and one that plays as tight as it looks (with charm to spare). Gamers looking for a change of pace from the dystopia and blood-stained violence would do well to give this one a look. Those that are a bit more price-conscious may wait for a drop, but for its arcade-y thrills and immediate action, Garden Warfare seems planted to bloom into immediate success.