Saturday 10 December 2016

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 review - In bloom

Mark O'Beirne

Published 11/03/2016 | 17:26

Plants vs. Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies

Popcap's multiplayer shooter, Garden Warfare, wasn't a once-off. The sequel has sprouted with more content and characters than ever.

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The battle between Popcap's plants and zombies wages on and there's no end in sight. In fact, it's escalated dramatically, taking over the town of Zomburbia with both factions setting up base and unable to break the stalemate.

The original Garden Warfare was an interesting diversion for the Plants vs. Zombies franchise. Who would have thought that the wave-based garden defence title would work as a multiplayer-focused shooter? And yet, it proved popular enough to warrant a sequel. Garden Warfare 2 doesn't just go through the motions; it's not a sequel by numbers. Instead, it is bigger and better in every way.

Right from the off, this ambition is evident. Players are dropped into the middle of the war as a humble Sunflower, battling off spawning zombies until they can reunite with Crazy Dave, who is still as crazy as ever.

Rather than being presented with dry menus asking what you'd like to do, Garden Warfare 2 gives you the freedom of the map. If you want to go out and slay zombies, perhaps ticking off daily quests or to help level up, you can. Alternatively, you can visit one of the many points of interest in a base to delve into missions, the multiplayer portal, the horde mode, customisation options, and much more.

One thing to note is that you'll have to manually opt in to these daily quests rather than simply ticking off tasks by just going about the game as normal. And when tasks include fairly mundane and straightforward challenges like vanquishing a certain number of enemies or using a particular attack to slay enemies, it seems like a bit of an oversight that you have to take this step.

Initially, the Backyard Battleground and base layout is a little overwhelming and takes time to get to grips with where each of the modes and options are located, but it's a novel touch and makes the world feel more alive.

There are some single player activities, including a host of missions on each side. Many of the missions resort to a horde mode structure, tasking you with defending a raised garden or tombstone, but there are some quirky inclusions and less traditional missions that break up the action nicely. Strangely, even if you are playing an entirely single player mode, you can't pause the action.

The horde mode, titled Garden or Graveyard Ops depending on which side you are playing as, lets you team up with friends locally or online, or you can go it alone. One neat element is that you can spawn AI bots to help you out and if you get bored of your current character, you can immediately switch to another of your spawned characters. This is a great way of sampling a number of different characters and seeing how the AI uses them effectively.

Of course, like its predecessor, the core of the game is its multiplayer offering. There is an abundance of game modes on offer ranging from the expected team deathmatch and point capture/defence modes to a bizarre bomb mode featuring explosive garden gnomes.

The roster of characters has also been expanded significantly, with new inclusions like Kernal Corn, Rose, and Super Brainz packing a punch. Every character feels particularly potent, possibly even overpowered, in certain situations. But it's all about recognising these situations and either getting out of there or pressing home the advantage depending on which side you find yourself on. Rose has already been hit with the nerf hammer, which is reassuring that Popcap wants characters to feel powerful, but fit a particular purpose.

One touch we particularly like is that even if you suck at the game, which you most likely will when you initially dive into the frenzied chaos, you can still be recognised for contributing, win or lose. If you acted as a valiant healer in the face of sure defeat, you'll still pop up in the post-match spotlights, and a little boast will appear next to your name on the scoresheet. It means that you can always make a difference even if you're not vanquishing all those who cross your path.

No matter what game mode you enjoy playing, you can earn plenty of cash, which can then be spent on sticker packs. These feature consumables, which you'll use in the horde mode, and character parts, which will give you access to souped up versions of characters. One addition since the launch of the game is the ability to purchase coins with real cash, so be careful about going down that rabbit hole or giving someone access to your credit card.

Garden Warfare 2 is a frenetic delight in multiplayer, which unfortunately makes its single player feel rather humdrum by comparison. It's a greenhouse for getting to grips with characters and improving your skills, but the wilds of multiplayer is where it thrives. The Rose tweak bodes well for the future of the game, and hopefully Popcap will continue to prune Garden Warfare 2 post-launch to keep gameplay feeling fresh and healthy.

8/10

- Mark O'Beirne

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