2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Video Game Review: ‘Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare’

Published: March 4, 2014, 1:42 am, by Terry Terrones

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Title: Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
Format: Xbox 360, Xbox One
Price: $29.99-$39.99
Publisher: EA
Developer: PopCap Games
ESRB Rating: E10+ (10 years and older)
The Grade: C –

What is it? A new vision of the strategy game “Plants vs. Zombies.” In a traditional “Plants vs. Zombies” title, gamers manipulate a 2D environment by placing sunflowers, walnuts, pea pods and a wide variety of other vegetables and fungi in front of a house to protect it from a zombie horde. Because of its ubiquity, the game has become a tower defense classic playable on almost any device. “Garden Warfare” has evolved the series and has turned it into a tower defense/shooter hybrid, with gamers now working in a 3D environment and taking a more active role in the action.

The good:
A twist on traditional gameplay. Tower defense games can be intimidating. Casual and younger gamers often look for something that’s easy to pick up and play and this game fits the bill. “Garden Warfare” is tower defense light, with some basic shooting elements mixed in. It’s a good game to introduce first time players of the series with.

Classic PvZ charm and humor. Part of what makes “Garden Warfare” endearing is how it takes boring, ordinary vegetables are repurposes them for military use. The chili bean acts as a hand grenade; making loud noises and yelling excitedly to draw zombies close before blowing up. Potatoes are landmines, exploding with a large “Spudow!”. My favorite weapon is the cactus, which has the special ability to call in a garlic drone. The drone can fire on enemies from above and can even call in deadly corn strikes. But what really cracked me up is seeing port-a-potty attacking my garden. I literally laughed out loud when I saw that.

The bad:
Online or bust.
To get the most out of “Garden Warfare” you have to play online. There are four games modes but only one, the horde mode Garden Ops, can be played single player. The other modes require you to play through Xbox Live Gold. While finding a game on the Xbox 360 wasn’t too difficult, finding one on Xbox One was very challenging and, depending on the time of day, almost impossible (attempting to play a multiplayer match locked up my Xbox One several times). I was disappointed to see how little “Garden Warfare” had to offer the single player, especially considering how much fun the “Plants vs. Zombies” series has been to play solo.

An enigma wrapped in a blanket, wrapped in a burrito. “Garden Warfare” tries to be many things but succeeds only on a surface level. The shooting sections of the game are straightforward and simplistic and lack the challenge a gamer would normally expect when running and gunning. The strategic aspect that gamers have come to enjoy in this tower defense series have also been dumbed down, with placement of plants having minimal impact on the outcome of a match. Because of this “Garden Warfare” is left with an identity crisis as it doesn’t fit in with either genre, which many experienced gamers will find frustrating.

The verdict: I went into “Garden Warfare” with high expectations. I’ve always been a fan of this franchise and when I first saw the game demoed at E3 in Los Angeles last year it looked like a brilliant mix of shooter and tower defense. Sadly that vision hasn’t been realized with this newest model. A lower than normal price point takes some of the sting out of a disappointing offering but unless you’re okay with limited modes, a required online experience and are a die hard “Plants vs. Zombies” fan, I’d stay away from this title.

Gazette Media Columnist Terry Terrones is a veteran video game journalist. He has written for numerous publications including GamesBeat, PC World, GameZone, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/terryterrones.