Injecting plot into what is, ostensibly, the very definition of a casual game seems like a fools errand.
The notion that a tower defense title designed for Facebook and iOS could somehow be imbued with a narrative that was self-propelling, seems about as plausible as considering the contents of your fortune cookie as great literature.
But, this is exactly what EA has done with their upcoming Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, the upcoming Xbox One, PC, and Xbox 360 entry into the Plants vs Zombies franchise. Say what you will about EA, and there's plenty to be said about their handling of both the Sim City Online and Battlefield 4 launches, they've managed to provide a surprising amount of depth to what could be written off as a game that's normally reserved for trips to the bathroom.
The plant kingdom has been gifted with life and zombies, as zombies are wont to do, are still cursed with the shambling un-life they're so famous for. The two species are destined to destroy one another and the battle has now moved from the familiar top-down perspective to a free roaming, third person shooter. Taking a nod from contemporary shooters, both the plants and the zombies are given classes to choose from and specializations that are vital to your success.
That's right, the Plants vs. Zombies franchise has now become a shooter. And a surprisingly deep one at that.
Applying loadouts for each class of both zombie and plant soldiers will seem intuitive and instantly familiar to any one with the briefest of FPS experience.
Your Pea Shooter is now a light assault class, your Cactus takes on the role of sniper/recon, and other plant species take on the roles of engineer and medic.
It's should come as no surprise that EA has applied the class specializations straight from Battelfield 4, but it's comforting all the same. And while the new title has embraced its new shooter identity, strategy is still very much a huge part of the affair. As in the iOS versions of PvZ, utilization of your special plants is going to make all of the difference between victory and defeat.
Like Battlefield, the main attraction is online multiplayer. Surprisingly, this is also the only time the Zombie side becomes playable. The 12 on 12 battles will see the plants and the zombies cartoonishly destroy one another across 10 different maps. Match types will also seem familiar. Gardens and Graveyards will task players with capturing and holding enemy bases, while Team Vanquish takes on the role of Team Deathmatch.
All of the characters are provided weapon upgrades with bonus damage perks, buffs, and abilities to tailor play style accordingly.
Taking very serious influence from the Left 4 Dead series, Garden Ops Mode is Garden Warfare's take on horde mode. This is where we spent the majority of our time playing during the preview. Players can either play online or locally as you use your plants to fend off wave after wave of successively more difficult zombies. Players must prevent bases from becoming overrun and the use of the games familiar roster of support plants is crucial to surviving. Split screen, local co-op was bolstered by the support of any device supporting the Xbox SmartGlass app.
Whichever player uses the app is given an aerial overview of the battlefield with the ability to call in airstrikes, supply drops, and map the direction of the incoming zombie waves. It was one of the few times that SmartGlass integration felt like a worthy component to a title.
Throughout the battlefield, players will discover empty plant pots that are used as choke points to protect your base. Gatling Peashooter, Fume-Shroom, Bonk Choy, and the rest of the familiar arsenal can all be planted to add support to your defenses. Sadly, the local split screen option is an Xbox One exclusive. This is a bummer and a missed opportunity as yelling strategy between the other player and our SmartGlass commander was one of the best parts of our time spent with the game.
Players will be rewarded with coins from defeated enemies, and it's here that we get into the sticky realm of in-game currency and microtransactions.
Players will be able to grind for in-game currency but, as the trend seems to be, real-world currency can also be spent on upgrades.
Purchased upgrades take the form of collectible stickers that come in both practical and aesthetic applications. Funny hats, tattoos, and costume upgrades are for sale alongside passive buffs, increased damage, and weapon perks. The purchases are all made in the game's sticker shop and all upgrades are represented as stickers in a sticker book.
In the shop, unique character packs and sticker pieces are all for sale. Like Magic: The Gathering decks, you will be rewarded with random characters to reinforce your standing army of both plants and zombies. Unlocking sticker pieces, and completing a whole set for a single character, will unlock even more character upgrades.
Premium packs are available at, naturally, a higher price and present players with the fork in the road of grinding for coins or shelling out a couple bucks for the guaranteed rare card inside.
Garden Warfare is a dramatic shift from the Plants vs Zombies titles of the past, but it's one that should be welcomingly met. Aside from the obvious gripes about in-game purchases, the game still retains the quirks and sense of humor that have made the series so enjoyable. Sure, it's no longer a tower defense title, but the focus on single character action was way more fun than it should have been.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare drops February 25 on Xbox One, PC, and Xbox 360