Getting into the thicket of it
Beneath goofy scenes of a wand-wielding rose turning opponents into goats, zombies charging around on roaring jackhammers, and an angry stick of corn spitting projectiles while wearing a soggy bowl of cereal around his neck, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is serious business. With this sequel, PopCap’s energetic classbased shooter grows away from the top-down iOS tower defence on which it took root and blossoms into an experience even more involved than 2014’s initial foray into thirdperson action. “The art style helps take the edge off,” senior gameplay designer Chris Fox tells us, “but from a gameplay point of view, all the designers on our team are hardcore gamers. For us, it’s important to have a game that, while accessible for everybody, didn’t lose that depth.”
An example of PopCap’s approach lies in character abilities. Both plant and zombie teams contain seven classes, each with at least three unique moves, and they’re all simple to perform. Pressing R1 engages the Imp’s butt boosters to send the little guy spinning as blasters fire wildly, while hitting Triangle as Citron, a time-travelling, bounty-hunting orange, rolls him into a ball for a quick getaway. These are easy techniques for anyone to pull off – it’s timing that’s key. If a chomper burrows underground, you can unearth it with the engineer’s sonic grenade; if mobs cause a maelstrom, Rose’s time-slowing ability is specifically geared to manage them. Every character has a measure and countermeasure.
“What we have within the specific character classes is synergy between their primary weapon and all three of their abilities,” Fox explains, “and what I really like to see is when you start breaking that out across classes. On the zombies’ side, the Imp has his gravity grenade that the soldier then hits with his RPG. It’s about finding the cross-class synergy between abilities.” In play, it all feels convincingly intertwined.
There’s also the big addition of Backyard Battleground, which borrows from Destiny’s Tower. This is an open hub you can explore either alone or with up to three companions, featuring a booth to enter for character customisation, a portal to multiplayer or singleplayer (bots fill three teammate roles between which you can freely switch), Crazy Dave’s caravan (which hosts the co-op mode Ops), and even a quest board. Crazy Dave needs exactly five-and-a-half more pairs of shoes, reads one notice, so you need to get 11 kills as a plant to help him out. It’s not simply a means to get into other modes but a base whose exploration has a meaningful effect on your game – think persistent coins, character upgrades, and costumes.
Backyard Battleground also reveals the eternal plants/zombies war, the latter occupying one vibrant green slice of picketfenced suburbia and the former decking the other half in dirt and gravestones. A park in the centre of the map hosts an endless fray you can join any time by blasting through the cannon in your base. This triggers constant waves of either plants or zombies whose difficulty increases the more you fight. You can plant the likes of healing sunflowers or peashooters at set points, but this aspect feels like a weak nod to its tower defence heritage, since the foliage effects feel negligible. In multiplayer, these helpers are more mobile, but can serve to confuse an already anarchic game. We think there was an AI zombie wearing a Portaloo, but we’re not sure.
Five-on-five multiplayer features a mix of deathmatch, territory control, and capture the bomb. Turf Takeover is the highlight, a riff on Battlefield’s Rush mode which sees one team push the other back through a linear map, attempting to claim positions one by one. A low-gravity moon base climaxes in players trying to roll giant footballs into a goal, and one set in a demented theme park sees attackers chase defenders through various worlds (prehistoric, medieval), then fight them for a trebuchet with which to siege a castle. The frenzied action – a riot of noise, colour, attacks, buffs and debuffs – can be hard to track, and weapon feedback is practically nonexistent when you’re shooting at, say, a potato, making combat somewhat unsatisfying. If you learn powers and keep pace, though, Garden Warfare 2 reveals far greater complexity than its broad comedic leanings initially suggest.