The release of the first genuine shooter of 2016, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, isn’t too far away. This game has a lot to live up to when considering the amount of fun and frenetic gameplay left by the original back in 2014. After playing the open beta for a few days, does it leaf the original for dead or does PopCap still have some growing to do?
Having not played a Plants vs. Zombies game for so long, being launched into the streets of suburbia as a Sunflower reminded me how great the graphics in this franchise are. A short introductory mission, no doubt a part of the game’s new single player campaign, had me despatching zombie baddies with rapid-firing seeds and sunlight lasers.
After clashing with the undead I was airlifted to Garden Warfare 2’s hub world, Backyard Battleground. This highly effective and detailed area is a fantastic combination of character customisation, main story missions, PvP and PvE gameplay. Here, players can also switch between their unlocked Plants and Zombies characters and brawl with party members in fun group battles. The more we battled the more AI enemies emerged and Flag of Power – a special King of the Hull-type mode – has players taking on waves of enemy class types. It gets extremely hectic.
Garden Warfare 2 has also integrated a few more new features. This second instalment incorporates a Quest system for Plants, Zombies and all-round play. It’s the same as the original but, instead of quests being the only way to level up your various characters, they reward you with experience points and possible bonuses to an XP Multiplier. This was a surprise, as my co-op buddy and I found that completing those quests/challenges in the original provided half of the fun to the actual game – encouraging you to try other characters; it’s an interesting choice by PopCap.
Despite one of these quests being to “progress the single player story”, and realising that content was actually locked, we tried our hand at Garden Ops – the wave-based game mode from the first Garden Warfare game. Sadly, and with much frustration on my part, that content was also locked. My expectations took a hit but there was still the option of online multiplayer, which never fails to entertain.
The new characters in Garden Warfare 2 all look outstanding. Rose and Citron (the orange) are by far the most visually attractive, whilst the Imp astounds with his quick movement speed. Also new is Kernel Corn, a hulking tank full of vitamins with the weaponry to match. There’s also a pirate-zombie class called Dreadbeard thrown into the mix, who wields a scattershot-type pistol as well as well a pet parrot for recon and overhead missile fire. Furthermore, a much-welcomed addition was the ability to see each characters’ abilities in action, in a quick cutscene, before selecting them – so well done to PopCap on that front.
After trying each new class as well as my go-to character from Garden Warfare 1, the zombie Foot Soldier, I’d found Rose, Dreadbeard, Citron as well as a new Superhero zombie type called Super Brainz, to be rather unsuitable for my play style. With a nonsensical Orange Ball move and a lengthy low-damage beam, Citron was particularly underwhelming for me; the Sunflower was a far better alternative.
However, Kernel Corn and the zombie Imp were by far the best newcomers to the Plants vs. Zombies roster. The Kernel provided a satisfying and enthralling attack pattern: Double Cob Buster machine guns, a 2-in-1 missile attack, a buttery drone strike and an epic overhead assault.
Admittedly, despite the Imp’s crazy breakdancing double-pistol move and useful Gravity Grenade, it’s all about the Z-Mech. This ability leaves no room for defence – it’s all offence. There’s a powerful, ground-shaking Stomp move; Missile Madness grants you an unlimited supplies of ordinance for a short time; the Explosive Escape allows you to exit the mech with your Imp character still intact.
All this variety was put to work in three modes – Team Vanquish, Gardens and Graveyards as well as Herbal Assault – the latter of which has the plants attacking the zombies every time. After numerous rounds, I was shocked to find the Backyard Battleground segment the most enjoyable part of the beta.
Upon beating our previous stage in Flag of Power, we were bombarded by handfuls of challenging Plant Boss types such as huge sunflowers and giant oak trees. Along with the incredible stability of the game, it was hard to ignore how much fun this particular mode actually was.
That’s not to say the PvP aspect wasn’t good, but there was definitely something missing that made Garden Warfare 2’s open beta a relatively underwhelming experience. Perhaps it was the amount of locked single player and co-operative content; perhaps it’s the sheer fact that, with the new experience points system, I no longer need to diversify in other characters to increase my levels. Where stages in the original Plants vs. Zombies felt extremely balanced with lots of tactical viewpoints and one-on-one combat areas, here I got the feeling of a far more frantic and close-quarters game; it’s hard to explain.
Regardless, this is still a visually beautiful and technically superb demo. On the whole, it’s left me awaiting the release of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 with much anticipation, where I will cautiously decide if it’s a worthwhile purchase.
Stay tuned to Power Up Gaming for a full review of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
Did you get the chance to play the Open Beta? What’s your opinion of it? Drop a line in the comments below!