Back in 2009, Popcap released Plants Vs Zombies to critical acclaim. Having spent the previous few years building up a reputation as a developer that offered fun, casual gaming with titles such as Bejeweled and Peggle, Plants Vs Zombies added a new type of gameplay to their library. Tasked with placing various plants and fungi in strategic defensive positions in the player’s back garden, the aim was to use them in such a configuration as to prevent the approaching zombie hordes from getting through your back door. It’s a tale as old as time. As a result of the original’s success, both on PC and Mac initially, and then later on mobile devices and home consoles, Popcap released a sequel in 2013 which enjoyed further success.
But, also during that year, something strange happened. At E3, Electronic Arts announced that there would be another game sharing the Plants Vs Zombies banner, but with very different gameplay. That game was Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. A title that took the many types of plants, and zombies, that gamers had come to know and love, and transported them to a third-person multiplayer shooter. It was an unusual and surprising choice, but one that eventually proved justified when it received many positive reviews upon release. The game featured both cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, but no solo option, and allowed the player to take control of either plants or zombies. Progression took the form of completing a series of challenges that allowed access to upgrades, new characters and more. Generously, Popcap also released a series of free downloadable content packs for the game over time, in contrast to the approach of the original game’s sequel, which was free-to-play on mobile devices, but with in-app purchases.
Whilst Garden Warfare was well received, it wasn’t so successful that we expected to see future installments so, imagine our surprise when, two years later at E3 2015 – Electronic Arts once again surprised everybody with the announcement of its sequel – the unsurprisingly titled Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2! This new chapter in the Plants Vs Zombies saga is expected to have gameplay broadly similar to the first, with all the main modes making a welcome return, along with a number of new additional plants and zombies. What will be different though, is the ability to play offline – impossible with the original – and also, to play solo.
The thing that really makes the Garden Warfare games special is the lack of violence. Sure, you’re essentially competing in various deathmatches, but no-one dies, at least not in the visceral manner of titles such as Call of Duty or Battlefield. After all – you can’t kill a zombie, they’re already dead! And plants don’t really ‘feel’ things, right?! As a result, this is a title that older brothers and sisters could play and enjoy with their younger siblings, as indeed could parents with their children. This means the adults can enjoy the same flavour of gameplay they would get from the more mature titles, but without exposing younger ones to the inappropriate excesses of modern adult titles.
It’s an area we’ve also seen Nintendo move into with the recent release of their new I.P, paint gun battler Splatoon, and one we hope to see more of in the future – its such a refreshing change of pace to play a game that isn’t awash with unrelenting gore, instead offering a more vibrant, colourful palette for its environment than the currently all-too-common browns and greys.
Given Plants Vs Zombies certainly isn’t a triple-A franchise, it would be easy to forget during the bombastic presentations of E3 that this is a series that, in every single iteration, has delivered good value for money, a vibrant art style, and gloriously silly, enjoyable gameplay. Let’s hope this latest title can continue to grow from the seeds planted by its forebears.