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Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
Around the start of March, I intended to do a full review of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare for the site. I was hoping to have an Xbox One by then, but still don’t. Of course most of what I talk about here reflects that version too. But, due to some bigger titles hitting the inbox, a few review copies of digital games I need to take care of, and all the games I bought during the recent Ultimate Game Sale on the Xbox Marketplace, this title immediately sat on the back burner. While an actual review is still a ways off, some of you have asked if it’s worth grabbing since the Xbox 360 version is on-line only. I figured I’d talk about my experiences so far in the game to at least get an opinion out there until I finally get around to giving it some proper coverage.

Like many others, I greatly enjoy the Plants vs. Zombies franchise. The Tower Defense style game was always fun for a quick play, and even the recent entry to Facebook was mildly entertaining. Of course there is a legit sequel, and Garden Warfare is more of a one-shot spin-off to the series that seems to be aimed at spoofing the Call of Duty franchise in particular.

The “Garden Warfare” mode core rules are relatively simple: Establish a garden and defeat the zombies before they destroy it. For the fifth and tenth round the game spins the “Zomboss Meter” to see which enemy you’ll get, and they range from a zombie yeti, a Frankenstein’s Monster zombie, all the way to the Disco Zombie, which is one I constantly underestimate. While it may be the corniest boss, it’s still pretty lethal and can knock you off quickly. There’s also the chance to earn coins which you use to buy sticker packs to unlock new characters and plant defenses in the available pots throughout the level. Just clear the ten waves then go to the loading zone and wait to escape the map.

My biggest complaint right now is that I’m kind of stuck playing Easy Mode. It’s not that I don’t want to play any other difficulty, it’s that I have yet to get on a team that can make it past wave seven on any other difficulty. This is moreso due to the fact that after a while, nobody is watching the damned garden. Everyone, and I mean every single person I’ve played with, have all wandered off to fight hordes of zombies and quit paying attention to the garden’s health meter. This was even the problem the one time where I handled all the waves on Normal difficulty up to the eighth myself. Even then I barely got to finish the final wave and survive the landing zone because, once again, everyone wandered off and didn’t stay nearby to revive downed allies. You get three revives, and if you run out entirely you need to get more in the sticker packs. If you don’t revive yourself you have to wait for the next wave to respawn.

Of course there’s also the issue of just finding a room. The games are set up to have four players, but you can play with just yourself in the lobby. I’m starting to lean more towards creating matches instead of joining considering the game is relatively new and has a decent amount of players that most times of the day or night you will have people join your lobby or in progress game relatively fast. By then you have done most of the grunt work yourself and don’t waste your life sitting around in a lobby waiting for three other gamers and a host who won’t start the match even when it’s full.

And that is the biggest problem of all. After a while, people just quit paying attention, and it’s usually the host. Even with four players, the other three ready to go, it’ll take a good five to ten minutes for the host to start the game. Even if you’re a host, I haven’t seen the option to kick players from the lobby, and it would definitely be nice to have in the game when people join the match and just wait at the character select screen until you make it to the landing pad, then decide to join in for some quick and easy coins. And what’s more, if the host leaves, the game just ends and you’re back to the main menu. While this would just be an inconvenience, any seeds you plant are gone for good, and you don’t get the bonus coins for completing the level. You do seem to keep the coins you earn from random tasks like planting or knocking off zombies.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

But, since this is on-line only, the Multiplayer division is really where you can get the most done. There’s a few different modes, but, I’ll be honest, I’ve only been playing the team deathmatch style mode. Teams of sixteen that pit the plants against the zombies, first to fifty kills wins. It’s actually a lot of fun, and where you can get the most experience for leveling your plants or zombies, the latter of which you don’t seem to be able to play in Garden Warfare mode, even though if you press the select (back) button on the controller there is a zombie player list available, just empty. The plants are honestly the weakest in this mode though. Every time I play on the zombie team, or go up against them, zombies win. You do swap teams every round, so chances are good you’ll be on the winning team each other round. Either way, it’s loads of fun, you can just pick up and play it right away, and even nets you the most coins in the shortest amount of time. I can’t wait to try the other modes out, but for now I’m enjoying this one way too much.

And finally there’s also the fact that this is based on a widely popular casual game, and priced relatively low. This means you get everyone from kids, gamers who don’t play a lot of shooters (if any), and families playing. Tack on open microphones or an always active Kinect, and you’re going to have some incredibly annoying background noise you won’t get the chance to mute until you get into the game, which takes forever due to the insanely long loading times. Between babies screaming, three to five year olds talking over mommy’s headset, and foul mouthed douchebags cussing up a storm about how pointless the game is that their girlfriend is playing, dropping f-bombs every other word, or how many of them slept with my mother last night, you’ll be ready to just mute the television itself and game in silence.

I do have to admit that I absolutely love the controls to the game, as well as how it handles. This is incredibly simple, and it only gains some complexity when you level your character up and unlock certain new moves. My Peapod has unlocked the chili bean explosive, used with left bumper, a brief run ability on the right bumper, and the gattling gun attack with the y button. All of these have their uses, though the Gattling attack roots me to the ground (literally) and can become annoying, especially in the time that my Peapod wastes going in and out of that stance. I also unlocked the painter zombie which is just so much fun when he rides his jackhammer around for a while, though it often sounds like he’s orgasming, and the Chomper plant is coming along nicely and quickly becomin my go-to plant of choice.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

Really, the zombie voice overs are funnier than they have any right to be. I love the narrating zombie who alerts you the match started and his random announcements the close you get to the goal. Crazy Dave appears from time to time, but he’s just not as silly to me. Like I said the Painter on the jackhammer is hysterical and I crack up every time. It makes playing on that team even more fun than it already is, which you would imagine becomes distracting, but actually has kept me engaged longer than when I’m on the team of the plants.

One other thing I noticed, and I’m not sure if it’s the community or PopCap Games just having some really good servers, but I only had one match out of the twenty or so I’ve played that had any sort of lag. But man, when it lags, it lags to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to play. You can basically be stuck in the middle of an open section of the map. After two steps one direction, you find yourself right where you were. Even if you turn, you’re facing the same way as before. Luckily I was able to ride that out, and still able to shoot the zombies attacking the garden in the waves that I found myself glitching out horrible.

But, there is one major drawback to this game that I didn’t notice until I was at the check out counter, and it’s ehat I already mentioned a few times: The Xbox 360 version is on-line only. There is no local co-op, everything has to be done over Xbox Live, so if you can’t get on the internet or Electronic Art’s servers are done, you are screwed and not doing any gaming until it’s fixed. I have absolutely no idea why it’s even like this. The Xbox One version has local co-op, but yet the still current generation version for some reason pulled a Shadowrun and removed it. This killed me because I wanted this specifically so my fiancee and I could play together, and because it’s one player local she doesn’t even want to, which is devastating because it’s so much fun I just know she’d love it.

It’s also missing any sort of tutorial or explanation as to what you’re doing other than warnings of zombies and the direction to grow your garden at the start of a Garden Warfare mission. Even the instruction manual in the game (that’s right, this doesn’t come with a paper manual, just a forty-eight hour gold trial code) is essentially worthless outside of outlining the controller and the functions of the buttons. Thankfully there are brief descriptions of what the multiplayer game mode is that sums things up well enough so you don’t go into the match looking like a total idiot. Sadly not even this exists for Garden Warfare mode, and I was left wandering aimless my first time, figuring out what to do on my own, and feeling like the physical version of every “I have no idea what I’m doing” meme on the planet.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

While I’m having a blast basically dominating in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, I can’t help but feel held back by the restrictions I mentioned. Hopefully the community will settle down on the swearing or remember to turn their microphones off when kids are screaming or they’re on the phone, and start paying closer attention to the lobby, maybe hitting the I’m Ready button as soon as the lobby is formed to make life easier. While I may have played a decent amount of mathes and reached the rank of eight, this is over the course of many hours, and only six of the Garden Warfare matches were completed from start to finish. Once these and the other issues outlined eventually clear up, throwing this game in for the main co-op mode and not just a random multiplayer mode for a quick match or two with strangers from around the world will be more streamlined and easier to do instead of waiting twenty minutes for the host to realize all three of us have been waiting on him to stop doing the common casual gamer thing that irritates all long time gamers: Ignore all outside interference and game!

Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.