In these early days for the two new consoles, Electronic Arts has firmly thrown its heft behind the Xbox One, with some exclusives for Microsoft’s new rig – most notably Titanfall, but also this clever reinvention of the archetypal, much-loved mobile tower-defence game. Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is strikingly different from its mobile forebears: a team-based third-person shooter. But it isn’t your average shooter: it manages to preserve Plants Vs Zombies’ renowned humour and general wackiness – those zombies have never been dumber, nor the plants simultaneously cuter and more deadly.
Garden Warfare may initially disappoint traditionalists, as it has no single-player story mode (which is reflected in a lower-than-average price). It’s split into two halves: in Garden Ops, you plant a garden and defend it (with up to three other fellow plants) against 10 waves of zombies; if you make it that far, waves five and ten will be studded with boss-zombies. To improve your odds, you can spawn tower-defence-style plants in pots.
But the meat of the game resides in Multiplayer. Noobs should head to Welcome Mat, a team death-match on giant maps, in which you receive health-boosts if you die quickly. Welcome Mat is worth visiting in order to level up quickly – it’s essential to unlock each of the different plants and zombies’ three special abilities before heading to more challenging pastures (although Garden Ops is also good for that). You level up by fulfilling challenges, which are easy at first, but become more arcane.
Team Vanquish is the most bite-sized mode: straightforward team death-match, in which a cumulative opposition 50 kills brings a team-win. But our favourite mode is Gardens Vs Graveyards, in which plants defend gardens, and if the zombies manage to over-run them, the action moves around the map – eventually culminating in an assault on Crazy Dave’s mansion or the menacing Tactical Cuke aimed at Zomboss Mountain.
Much of Garden Warfare’s appeal lies in the brilliantly conceived different types of plants and zombies – Peashooters, for example, are all-rounders, while Sunflowers are healers; the All-Star, meanwhile, is a zombie American Footballer who can plant tackle-pads for use as cover, while the Engineer can derive a speed-boost from his pneumatic drill or launch drones.
What the game calls “consumables” – offensive plants or all manner of hilarious zombies (one uses a chemical toilet as armour) that can be spawned – are great. You acquire them by using the in-game currency (earned from good play) to buy sticker-packs, which can also include customisation objects and rare items. Although there’s no current indication that it will, this system seems set up to allow EA to start charging real money for in-game purchases, something it has received stick for in the past. And Garden Warfare makes you sign up to the company’s unpopular Origin online service.
But even if, at some point, it does try to fleece you along such lines, you won’t mind, since Garden Warfare is utterly beguiling – you’d have to be beyond morose for it not to put a smile on your face. It’s so well structured that it makes the ideal introduction to online shooters, and it will be fascinating to see how it develops, with new game modes and the like. A future cult-classic.