|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Release: February 23, 2016|
|Players: 1-2 Local, 2-24 Online|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Animated Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Turning the mega-popular Plants vs. Zombies tower defense game into a multiplayer shooter may have seemed like a weird idea at first, but PopCap handled the challenge with aplomb. In PvZ: Garden Warfare 2, the basic conceit has been expanded, offering a solo campaign, co-op modes, and a hub world full of mini-quests and secrets to uncover. The first game was fun for competitive multiplayer fans, but Garden Warfare 2 is a shooter for everyone.
It's also a joy to experience from the very start, when you're transported into a wacky wonderland with enough vibrancy and life to create a bit of sensory overload. The Backyard Battleground, your hub world with bases for each faction and a free-for-all area in the middle, is a delight to explore. Check out the plant and zombie themed businesses, ride the slide in the Zompark, or discover a secret shooting gallery in the sewers. It's a richly detailed world that looks and sounds uniquely fantastic.
You'll find the game quite easy to pick up once you're done admiring the scenery. An excellent camera follows your character, never getting stuck on the scenery. The fourteen character types (seven per side, with a ton of unlockable alternate versions for each type) all play quite differently, but are simple to figure out thanks to a good interface and vivid attack animations. Whether you like a ranged or melee character, a gunner or a beam weapon specialist, a straightforward fighter or a tricky gimmick character, you'll be able to find the plant or zombie of your dreams – and the weapon you wield will control the way you'd expect it to based on its type.
The six new classes are especially cool. On the plant side you have Kernel Corn, a glass cannon artillery expert; Rose, a magician with control abilities; and Citron, who answers the unasked question of what Samus Aran would be like if she turned into an anthropomorphic orange. All three newcomers are simple to learn and add some great punch to the battlefield – I particularly enjoyed turning my foes into goats as Rose (and the goats even have their own moveset, should your zombie get goated on the battlefield). On the zombie side you've got Captain Deadbeard, a versatile character with lots of tricks; Super Brainz, a punch-happy hero; and Imp, who is tiny and a bit vulnerable until his giant mech suit warms up. Deadbeard and Imp are a bit trickier to play effectively than the new plant heroes, but are deadly in the hands of skilled players (I shake my fist at the expert Deadbeard player who splatted me repeatedly during my multiplayer session).
The only issue with these great new classes is that they make some of the original classes feel a bit lackluster in comparison, especially the humble Peashooter. There are also a few balance issues to work out – at the time of writing the All-Star's football cannon seems a bit overpowered and Citron might be a little too tanky, but EA has been doing regular balance passes with each beta, and I expect that work will continue. In general, though, just about everybody is fun to play and has at least one great attack that will make you grin when you smite your foes in the most over-the-top way possible.
As I mentioned earlier, Garden Warfare 2 is about much more than simple competitive multiplayer matches. There's a short single-player campaign for each side, which offers an introduction to the game's maps via simple but varied missions. Either alone or with friends, you can play in the hub world, take on the base-defense Garden/Graveyard Ops, and try out numerous competitive multiplayer modes against real foes or bots. Split screen co-op support for everything but the campaign is a very welcome addition, though I'll note that it was next to impossible to read the game's text in split-screen mode on my 40" TV. An altered UI in this mode might have been nice.
The various maps are just as charming as the hub world, enough that I've loaded them up in multiplayer mode without any foes just so I can drink in the scenery. They're well designed for gameplay as well as for looks, with lots of pathways and tricky approaches. My favorite is the Seeds of Time map, a time-travel themed amusement park that provides lots of varied scenery and tight spaces that make for intense firefights.