PopCap Games offers up the sequel to one of our favourite games this generation.
The mission was clear enough. Return an agent who disappeared behind enemy lines. Playing as the sunflower, we headed out to tackle the challenge. The agent was found to be a bloody walking tree that needed to be escorted home. The tree had some issues with his temper and handed out a generous serving of punches sending zombie pirates and mad undead scientists flying all over the place. But even a tree has limits and only by frequent healing, we managed to keep the wooden tank alive while pulverising an army of zombies with targeted laser beams.
As is tradition, rewards are handed out for completing missions, in this case coins to buy booster packs. It's an addictive progression system where you score random goodies that comes in themed packs with different prices. Playing as both zombies and plants, we opted for one costing 35,000 coins, which contains items for both teams, guaranteed to include at least one rare card. The familiar feeling of wanting to earn more coins for more packs was immediately there, after roughly an hour we knew this game would take over our lives for the next while.
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Our first really positive surprise this generation was the modest Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Having played well over 100 hours with colleagues at Gamereactor, friends and others, it's a game that grew over time. Better than most it lived up to the age old "pick up and play" adage and it was lightning quick to jump into the action and start having fun.
The visuals were brilliant, the controls precise and sharp, there were entertaining game modes and it was balanced, importantly the netcode worked like a charm and the online experience was smooth. Everything adhered to a minimalistic design, which paradoxically was the game's only weakness. When it was released, it was a little sparse on content, something which was fixed post-launch through free DLC. Today, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a completely different game than when it arrived and it's as rich on content as anyone could ask for and Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 follows suit neatly.
This offering is crammed from day one. Although the introduction is handled well, you're confronted with a plethora of options and opportunities where much is brand new. Here, you can take on daily challenges, play single-player missions, view your stats across the many different classes, customise your characters, fix the settings, and load in your saved game from the first game. This last thing is something we really appreciate as we get to keep some of our progression from Garden Warfare and we aren't forced to start over with the returning characters.
The main event here (and pretty much the only thing the previous game offered) is the multiplayer. But before we dive into that, it feels necessary to mention single-player, which is something completely new. It should be considered a bonus, an easy way to learn the game, get acquainted with the world and learn the controls. Heading online straight away often ends with a quick death for the happy beginner, and it's nice to be able to figure out the new classes in a more relaxed scenario.
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We quickly fell in love with Citron, but on the plant side we also enjoyed discovering Rose and Kernel Corn, whose name tells you what veggies they are based on. Citron is an orange from the future with the ability to roll into an... well... an orange. As such, you can then get around the stages faster or, with a button press, dash into the enemy like a huge bowling ball, causing substantial damage. He also sports a nice shield and a healthy arsenal of weapons. At first glance the new characters feels more developed and sophisticated than the old ones, and it's not just the novelty of having new characters that is playing tricks on us. Some sort of update for the original cast would have been appreciated, where only the sunflower feels like an essential part of your the team and continues to be the funniest healer class in any game ever.
By walking around and performing simple tasks like killing fifty enemies, we were well prepared for the first multiplayer game, and ended up in at a decent second spot. This is something we really appreciate over being thrown to the wolves in an online game, being forced to endure some beatings until we're able to adapt and evolve with the new situation on the battlefield. For those who wish, you can also play together locally in split-screen. It certainly takes a toll on the beautiful graphics and frame rate, but it is something fans most likely think is worth the compromise. The single-player missions last for roughly eight hours, and they unlock Infinity Time with a battle against gnomes, a great way to earn extra coins.
It is still difficult to recommend Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 to those who just want to play alone, but for everyone else, it's a welcome addition that brings added value and variety compared to the first. Furthermore, it offers great progression and constantly adds new objectives.
As we previously mentioned, multiplayer is where the real action is, and it's better than ever. A personal favourite in the original was Garden Ops, where wave after wave of zombies invade. However, we really wished it wasn't limited to ten rounds, so those who want to fight to the bitter end to see how long they can survive can do so. Players got so good at handling the waves of undead in the predecessor that it would have been nice with an additional challenge to motivate us this time around. Perhaps not a big negative, but it's something we would have liked to have seen. There is also a new variant called Graveyard Ops where the roles are reversed with invading fruits and vegetables, a nice change of scenery.
Most of the game modes are familiar from other deathmatch offerings, but dressed up in greenery and rotting meat. Instead of defending your turf or a flag, you're defending tombstones, or dominating three zones in Suburbination, Rush from Battlefield is called Herbal Assault here and so on. Everything is perfectly packaged in appropriate attire and exquisitely designed in a way that allows the graphics to come across as timeless. When the zombies or plants come surging and the music increases in intensity - it is insanely entertaining. Even so, we can't help feeling that we would have liked to see a game mode that felt innovative and unique. Even if the game does a great job making fun of other games and pop culture (how about a the mission called Zero Bark Thirty?), it still needs more of an identity of its own.
In recent months, we have mostly played Halo 5: Guardians and Star Wars Battlefront, and this falls somewhere in between those two. It doesn't have the depth of the former, but is more rich and rewarding than the latter. Ignoring the game based on its charming appearance is a real mistake, this is as hardcore as you want it to be, but also so casual that anyone can have fun with it.
The only problem we really have with the multiplayer now at launch is that so many people are playing as the new classes. In addition to the above mentioned plants, there is also Captain Dead Beard, The Imp with his Z-Mech, and Super Brainz. They do feel a bit more powerful than the originals, and if that hunch is true, we do hope that PopCap will adjust this with a patch. It is clear in any case that people are curious about the newcomers while some of the older ones are barely visible at all. Truly a game for every sort of gamer.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a complete game that constantly provides the player with adrenaline rushes, and it kept us coming back for more. You quickly unlock new items and character types, but as there is a tremendous amount of content to unlock this has still had us lose plenty of sleep as we mumble "Just one more round...". That in itself is of course an honour badge and a sign of how much fun we've had, and we sincerely recommend this for anyone who wants an easy going action game without sacrificing depth or the amount of content.
8 / 10
Tremendous amount of content, Highly addictive, Sharp controls, varied character classes, Gorgeous design, Lots of game modes, Lots of new features, Great soundtrack.
Unbalanced new characters, Lacks a truly unique game mode, Repetitive missions.