Popcap's plants and zombies have yet to tire of taking each other down - we've checked out the third instalment in the series.
It's pretty ridiculous to think how many hours we spent playing Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare when it released back in 2014. It may have been due to the fact that both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were new consoles on the market and we didn't have a lot of games to play, and so we gave the game a chance - but boy, are we glad we did.
You see, behind the colourful exterior hid an unexpectedly solid action game with varied classes (and it goes without saying that you have to wing it a bit when pitting a sunflower and a zombified American football player against each other in battle). The result was a fun action game that felt like a solid military shooter with the soul of an arcade game, albeit more colourful, more varied and more of a joy to play. We'd actually go as far as saying that PopCap Games actually made the controversial phenomenon that is loot boxes fun.
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Sure, the latter is controversial, but the fact of the matter is that it didn't include actual money to unlock the new content for a long time. When the industry became more transaction-heavy, what you did purchase impacted the game, but not too much since you got to unlock so much of it at once. That said, the game became a massive success and as with other video game success stories, it spawned a sequel. With the jump to Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, however, the series went from a charming, arcade-like action game to a fully-fledged AAA game.
As series instalments get bigger audiences, it can sometimes wreak destruction rather than do good and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 followed that trend. As the menus got switched out for an open hub world, players found more of everything and microtransactions were the key to a lot of the experience. The game was stunning but it lacked the charm of the first. What's more, it could have been more successful and many thought there wouldn't be a sequel, but now it's here, with brand-new title Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville.
The amount of new content that we were greeted by in the new hub world blew our minds and that's also what the first plant tells us when we converse with it. The opening of the game is simple but effective and the structure had us excited for what was to come. The first thing we chose to experience was the single-player mode. Here, we got to run around, taking on easier missions, looking for treasure, defeating enemies and much more.
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Of course, this alone doesn't give one reason enough to buy the game (it also requires you to be connected to the internet), but we were delighted by the addition of the single-player mode nonetheless, especially considering the variety it brings to the game. PopCap has tried to give each character a unique personality. In Garden Warfare it didn't really work and in Garden Warfare 2 the developer went a bit too far down the comedy line. Battle for Neighborville's single-player mode has the same problem as the latter; you can't escape the jokes that are being told about everything all of the time, and it just feels forced.
That said, we killed quite a few hours searching for chests and chasing the single-player campaign's end and while that was fun enough, it's in the multiplayer that the real fun begins. We enjoyed the Garden/Graveyard Ops the most, which is basically a horde mode where you fight tougher and tougher enemies as you go. Because the game's many classes are so vastly different, you can easily turn the tide in battle by simply switching classes.
We also thoroughly enjoyed the Overwatch-like game mode Battle Arena, which pits teams of four with each player having only one life, against each other. This mode quickly added some tension to the game, and it was more intense than we thought possible from a game about plants and zombies. Turf War has also made a comeback and lets you work towards specific goals. It's fun, but since there's not a lot of strategy at play when getting paired up with random players who all seem to think every mode is deathmatch, it never reaches its full potential. Maybe you'll have better luck than us on that front.
Apart from the aforementioned modes, there is, of course, a deathmatch mode, which is always fun. Deciding whether to play the newbie Night Cap (a stealthy mushroom ninja), the brutal Kernel Corn, or the classic Peashooter has a major impact on what will happen in-game and there are also achievements that encourage you to constantly switch out your character for a new one, better helping you experience the variety that the game has to offer.
Just as in previous instalments in the series, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville puts a big focus on unlocking cosmetic items like fun hats, worn slippers, colour schemes, and much more. Maybe we're just too old and boring for the process of unlocking items, but we would much rather have seen a simple menu instead of such a vast hub to navigate. In the end, it's basically just a question of what's convenient, but more isn't always better. The hub also feels like it slows the game down a bit.
We would also like to commend the developers for the game's phenomenal graphics. Battle for Neighborville looks fantastic despite the Nickelodeon-esque design. We're talking the kind of graphics that only Nintendo's titles and platformers like Ratchet & Clank have delivered prior. The attention to detail is often phenomenal and the character models look great and so do their animations. The entire in-game world feels alive and it's accompanied by a fun soundtrack.
The game has been released in sections since September before now finally getting its full release, but despite its time in its game preview stage, it's still oddly unbalanced, partly between characters but also between plants and zombies. The latter is the biggest issue and during all of the matches we played, it felt like zombies won three out of four matches. Sure, the game just released and it'll most likely receive plenty of updates in due course, but we still felt it was surprisingly unbalanced.
In the end, a couple of niggles aside, we're delighted that this third shooter spin-off has been released. We've had a lot of fun playing PopCap's PvZ games and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville brings back some of the joy that the original brought to the table. It has something for everyone to enjoy and it's intense, exciting, hectic and surprisingly hard to put down once you get into it. There is, however, room for improvement, and we hope that the aforementioned flaws are fixed soon.
7 / 10
Good variety of game modes, single-player works, wonderful graphics, lots of content to unlock, lovely soundtrack, good options regarding settings.
Characters don't feel balanced, tired humour, bland hub world.