The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Gamers were dumbfounded when PopCap announced it was
transplanting the Plants vs. Zombies series from the backyard to the
battlefield. To say the multiplayer-shooter spinoff is a huge departure for the
casual game developer is an understatement, but the aesthetics and lighthearted
tone are a wonderful change of pace for the violence-obsessed genre. Dig
beneath the surface, though, and you find some fundamental flaws that hold back
this family-friendly shooter.
PopCap is known for making highly polished games that
virtually anyone can pick up and play. Unfortunately, that equation only rings
half true for Garden Warfare. The developer's simplified approach to the genre does
away with basic concepts like sprinting, melee attacks, and limited ammo,
making it easy for anyone to get into the swing of battle. However, the
gameplay is uncharacteristically buggy; players get hung up on other characters
and geometry, corpses twitch on the ground, and even the slightest bit of
network lag renders some abilities (like the all-star zombie's dash attack)
ineffective. A variety of classes and unlockable characters add some nuance to
the simple fun, but PopCap's limited mode offerings hamstring replayability.
Garden Warfare only features two main competitive modes:
Team Vanquish and Gardens & Graveyards. Team Vanquish is your
run-of-the-mill team deathmatch. Gardens & Graveyards tasks zombies with
assaulting a series of consecutive capture points in a map, similar to Battlefield's
rush mode. A classic variant of each mode disables upgrades and unlockable
characters (making them less interesting), and the beginner mode gives you more
health the more you die, but you're still playing one of two basic formulas.
Gardens & Graveyards is clearly the main attraction. Maps
have unique themes, and capture points are built around interesting locations
that facilitate large-scale confrontations. Every map features an interesting
final objective, such as sneaking five zombies into Crazy Dave's mansion or
destroying the roots of a giant sunflower growing inside of a lighthouse. Gardens
& Graveyards provides hours of fun, but eventually you get tired of
assaulting or defending the same points on the same handful of maps, and Team
Vanquish does little to alleviate the boredom.
Garden Warfare's co-op offerings are equally uninspired.
Garden Ops is a four-player horde mode, which tasks players with defending a
garden against ten increasingly difficult waves of zombies. Aside from the
occasional zombie boss or special wave, you don't have much to draw you in once
you've beaten a few matches. The Xbox One-exclusive modes are even more
disappointing. The splitscreen mode is an endless version of Garden Ops, where
the second player doesn't get to save his or her progress and the boss mode relegates
you to providing support to your team during competitive matches from a topdown
map of the battlefield.
Garden Warfare's most interesting twist is how it
incorporates the series' tower-defense elements into matches. Players can spawn
zombies or plants in designated locations on the map, which then attack
opponents autonomously. Unfortunately, these characters are treated as
consumable items that players must purchase before matches using Garden Warfare's
The vast majority of Garden Warfare's content is locked
behind its PvZ Coin currency. Support plants and zombies, customization items,
weapon upgrades, and even new class characters are bought with the coins you
earn from matches. However, can't just buy what you want; instead you must
purchase blind card packs of varying prices. Consumable card packs give you a handful
of zombies and plants to summon during matches, while more expensive packs
provide random upgrades or character stickers – though you have to collect all of
the stickers for a character before you can actually play as them. Like any
good pusher, EA gives you a couple packs for free, but after that the grinding for coins begins.
This faux free-to-play approach undermines Garden Warfare's promising
tower-defense elements. Each plant or zombie you spawn feels like a waste of
money; regardless of how helpful they may be on the battlefield, buying
consumable packs just holds you back from the larger goal of unlocking more playable
characters, which is the only motivator to continue playing after you've learned
the maps inside and out.
Those extra playable characters are worth unlocking. Although
they have the same class abilities, each character has its own unique twist on
gameplay. For instance, the marine-biologist zombie features a higher rate of
fire than the regular scientist zombie, and the fire sunflower deals extra
elemental damage. Unfortunately, characters take an exorbitant amount of time to
unlock, and because card packs are random, you can't just unlock upgrades or characters
for the class you're interested in.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the economy is that
there's no option to purchase coins with real money, but EA says it may
institute such an option in the future. Frankly, I can't imagine a world where
that change doesn't happen, but it doesn't really matter. The progression
system and tower-defense elements are already broken to accommodate the
possibility. Garden Warfare is designed like a free-to-play game, despite the
$40 price tag.
PopCap's approach to class progression also plays out for
the worse. Instead of gaining experience points, you level up classes by
completing a series of challenges. Things start out easy – deploy five potato
mines, kill three plants with rockets – but more specific challenges distract
players from what's best for the match and make leveling up a pain. Killing two
scientist zombies with a sun beam or shooting down three garlic drones seems
easy enough, but what if the other team isn't using those characters? I went
entire matches making zero progress with characters simply because the right
elements weren't on the battlefield. Some challenges are downright devious; spawning
five conehead zombies first requires you to buy consumable card packs until you
randomly receive enough of them to complete the challenge. Luckily, you unlock
all of the abilities for a class in the first few levels anyway, so you can
abandon the progression scheme after that.
Before the tedium set in, I had fun with Garden Warfare.
Spending a few hours with the accessible combat and charming world was
entertaining, but the random card packs and achievement-style leveling system
killed my desire to keep playing. Garden Warfare's simplified gameplay and
limited map selection can only entertain for so long – without rewarding
progression, there's no carrot (or brain) at the end of the stick.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.