When I saw Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, my first thought was WTF. Still, it was an interestingly curious game. I played a fair amount of Plants vs. Zombies on my iPhone, and I avoided Plants vs. Zombies 2 like the plague. I didn't understand how Garden Warfare was a natural extension of the franchise — because it's not. By all accounts, this game should not work.
But it does. Like chicken and waffles, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare takes two things that likely shouldn't pair well together — a third-person shooter and Plants vs. Zombies — and creates something fun and delicious.
The premise of Garden Warfare is Plants vs. Zombies, but as a third-person behind-the-shoulder shooter. It takes characters that you're familiar with from the mobile game and creates classes out of them. For instance, the Sunflower, which gives you currency in the mobile game in the form of tiny suns, is now a healer with sunlight tethers and little sunflower pots that heal allies. Or maybe you'll recognize the football player, which plays like The Heavy from Team Fortress 2. Each class is unique and fits well in the game. Actually, Garden Warfare plays like a mix between Team Fortress 2 and Mass Effect 3 multiplayer (but mostly TF2).
There's a surprising amount of depth to character progression. Through Sticker Packs — bought with the in-game currency coins, which you get from playing matching and killing enemies — you unlock consumable plants, costume parts to customize each class, ability and weapons upgrades, and pieces to unlock new versions of each class. For instance, I've unlocked a hockey version of the All-Star, who shoots pucks that slow and eventually freeze the enemy. It allows a really nice amount of appearance customization for each class (mustaches, masks, different body parts), and you'll want to keep playing matches to keep unlocking packs to get all the characters.
In terms of matches, there are only three types — Team Vanquish, Garden & Graveyards, and Garden Ops. Both Team Vanquish and Garden & Graveyards are competitive multiplayer modes featuring 12v12 combat, and they each have a "Classic" version that bans customization — everyone is on a level playing field. Team Vanquish is your typical Team Deathmatch mode, pitting Plants against Zombies, and the first team to get to 50 Vanquishes wins. Garden & Graveyards has Plants defending their garden while Zombies try to take it over and turn it into a graveyard. The Zombies have 4 1/2 minutes to take it over; if they do, the map expands and a fight over another Garden starts with a refresh on the time allotted. The map can ultimately expand up to five times. It's a really neat mode with an evolving battlefield, and there are enough different points of attack for you to catch your enemy off-guard.
The third mode, Garden Ops, is co-op with up to four players. You play as the Plants and withstand 10 waves of enemies (when you're playing online), with boss waves sprinkled in. At the end, you'll have to extract at a certain location and defend against enemies until a ship picks you up, just like in Mass Effect 3's multiplayer. It's also the only mode that you can play split-screen, and when you do so, the waves are endless until you lose. Two things bothered me about split-screen play. As nice as it is to have split-screen as an option, I wish there was a 1 vs. 1 mode or support for up to four players split-screen. My other issue is that even if both players are logged into two different Xbox Live accounts, and each own the game but are playing on one console, it'll only take the first player's classes and customization and use that for both players. The second player won't get any progress towards their account.
While I also wish there were some more game modes, the ones they have and the maps in them are excellent. The map design is amazing, with a Team Fortress 2 feel to them, but all with the charm and art style that you'd expect from a Plants vs. Zombies game. In addition, the layout is excellent. There's a high amount of humor in the game, from short video tutorials to character design. The controls feel excellent as well. They strike the perfect balance between loose and tight, controlling just as you'd hope they would. As long as you have the patience to collect enough coins to unlock everything in the game, it's quite a fun experience.
Don't let the thought of a Plants vs. Zombies shooter scare you off; it actually is a really fun game. Yes it needs more game modes and split-screen play options, but everything else about the game shines. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare retails for $40, which is a little too pricey for the game, but if you're going to spend a lot of time firing cactus needles at zombies' heads, it's worth it. I've also described Garden Warfare as a shooter that kids and adults can enjoy, because I'd rather see 10-year-old play this than Call of Duty.