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Preview: PopCap Games takes Plants vs. Zombies to new heights with Garden Warfare

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Screenshot - The Plants vs. Zombies crew

Now that we think about it, PopCap Games has never really produced a straightforward action game, has it? Not that it's needed to. The company has moved to the forefront when it comes to strategic puzzle games, including titles like Peggle, Bejeweled, and Zuma's Revenge.

However, no series has risen to prominence as quickly as Plants vs. Zombies. This strategic action game became a phenomenon when it first launched in 2009, releasing on several mobile platforms and game consoles and becoming a huge best seller. Next month, we'll be treated to plenty more lurching and planting with the long-awaited sequel, Plants vs. Zombies 2. But that's not the only thing that PopCap is cooking up in the backyard.

The company announced during E3 that it is also working on a multiplayer action/shooting game, one that utilizes DICE's powerful Frostbite 3 technology. You read that right – Plants vs. Zombies is about to enter Garden Warfare.

Garden Warfare Zombies

This game features various familiar characters from the popular series, put into a third-person shooting scenario with team vs. team. On one team, obviously, you have the zombies, which include the usual straightforward and armored (clad in football gear or wearing road cone hats) types, as well as more powerful ones like the Disco Zombie (and his crew) and a large Ogre-type zombie that takes more damage to bring down.

On the other, you have the plants, and you have a team of four to choose from – the Cactus, the Chomper, the Peashooter and the Sunflower. Each has its own advantages on the battlefield, such as being able to launch an aerial pod to deal out destruction from overhead (the Sunflower), setting up a Gatling Pea to shoot at anyone that comes within its vicinity (the Peashooter), or digging into the ground for a sneak attack on an enemy, then eating them whole (the Chomper).  No matter who you choose, you can take the undead for a loop.

However, everything's done in good fun. Unlike most realistic first-person shooters these days, Garden Warfare takes a lighthearted, comical approach. Sure, you will need tactics to survive, but the game is set up so that all ages can get into the action.  How often do you see a versus multiplayer experience that both adults and kids can take part in without having to deal with the harsh realism of war? Not often, we can assure you.

Garden Warfare Zombie punch

Not only that, but Garden Warfare looks outstanding thus far. We've only seen the one map – a cornfield with multiple paths and beauty as far as the eye can see – but it's outstanding, and the action moves at a pretty frenetic clip, barely slowing down long enough for you to catch your breath. The character animations are good too, though it is a bit bizarre at first seeing these plants run around compared the sitting in place they've done in prior games. Still, it's nice to see them up and about, with PopCap Games rising to the challenge in terms of giving them distinction. The zombies look like fun too, especially the Disco Zombie, who doesn't hold back in getting his groove on. These guys are doing great work with the Frostbite engine thus far.

We've only seen a brief demo of the game in action, but we know we want more. And we'll get it, as the game will feature 24-player online battles, as well as four-player co-op support and multiplayer options where you'll be able to play as the zombies. (No word yet on what types will be on the battlefield, but the Disco Zombie probably has some interesting gameplay options.) You'll also be able to customize characters however you wish, unlocking new gear as you battle, and seeing multiple maps inspired by the original game – as well as a few original entries.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is going to be a fun game for sure, but I can't lie – I'm more excited for Garden Warfare. The multiplayer aspect is huge for this game, and the gameplay looks like it'll be a lot of fun, no matter what your age and skill level. We'll let you know how well it blossoms when it releases next year for next-gen consoles, along with PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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Robert Workman
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