If there was one main criticism about the original it’s that outside of the multiplayer there just wasn’t anything to do. It was fun to play, and earning coins to buy sticker packs was a great hook, but if you didn’t fancy playing with others online then your options were pretty barren. In a stroke of genius here they’ve completely removed the menu system and created the Backyard Battleground, an overworld hub in which you can do all the things the original games menus allowed you to do, but you can also explore.
This isn’t just some bland substitute for menus though. PopCap has populated the Backyard Battleground with a multitude of things to see and do. There’s a triggerable horde mode in the centre of the map, bounties to run for NPCs, chests to find and open, and even a game of football that you can indulge in with other people (complete with PEA Sports logo in the centre circle). As well as that there are single player campaigns added for both Plants and Zombies. For the most part these are formed of repurposed multiplayer content complete with AI compatriots to help keep the heat off when things get busy. There’s the occasional original mission, and some genuine laughs to be had with some of the missions, but it feels a little like filler content, even if it’s a nice diversion from the multiplayer.
This is made better by the fact it can all be undertaken in split screen, which improves another aspect of the original title. Split screen was restricted solely to the Garden Ops wave based horde mode in Garden Warfare, but here you can do all the single player content and all the extra hub based activities, not to mention online in private parties, you can’t say that PopCap hasn’t been flexible with what it’s created here. Both factions have been treated equally this time around, too. In the previous title outside of the multiplayer you only had the plants to play as, now the zombies get just as much love with their own versions of play modes the plants originally got.
But this wouldn’t be a sequel if it didn’t introduce new character classes to play as. We get six new characters; three for each faction. Most interesting amongst these is the Imp; freed from his role as a grenade for the zombie all-star class the little critter wanders around dual wielding laser pistols and throwing gravity bombs capable of holding enemies in place. Unfortunately, he does have woefully low health, but this is because of his third special ability. After a certain amount of time has passed he can call down a giant mech that grants him ‘BOSS’ status, his health jumps up to 350, his gun doesn’t require reloading (but can overheat), and he gains a devastating stomp attack. It is a timed ability though, once time is up you have to eject before it explodes, but while it lasts it’s an excellent power trip.
The zombie roster is further fleshed out with the Captain Deadbeard with his scouting parrot and Super Brains, the brawling melee class with wrist mounted laser. The plants see the arrival of Kernel Corn with his ability to call in a mini air strike, Citron; an orange who can throw up a shield to block shots and turn into a Samus Aran style ball, and finally Rose, who has the ability to turn zombies into sheep. Like the previous game these are further expanded on with different character load-outs unlocked from sticker packs giving the game a huge roster. To further sweeten the deal you can import all your unlocked (but unlicensed) characters from Garden Warfare which is excellent news for those who piled hours upon hours into the original (like my son).
As usual, sticker packs are purchased with in-game coins. Now, these can be bought with real money, but you shouldn’t ever need to do so. Every activity in the game earns coins meaning that purchasing thes is nothing more than folly. You’ll get a short term boost in the amount of available characters, but all the classes are so well balanced that you won’t gain any real advantage by doing so.
A few changes have been made to the multiplayer from the original Garden Warfare. The Capture the Flag variant “Taco Bandits” has gone (which is a shame), along with the classic versions of Gardens and Graveyards and Team Vanquish. In their place we have Turf Takeover, which we’ll come to in a minute.
A quick run-down on each mode then: Team Vanquish and Vanquish Confirmed are team deathmatch modes, Surburbination is Domination, where the opposing teams fight for control of three areas – and then there’s Gnome Bomb, where you need to secure a bomb and use it to blow up three map points. First team to blow up all three is the winner. If you can’t decide between which one you prefer you can play a mixed mode which rotates between them all. While each mode is fun in its own right with a really good flow of battle between evenly matched teams, the highlight here is Turf Takeover.
Here, one team has to gain control of a map area and the other team has to defend it. When the attacking team has gained control a new area spawns and the match continues. If the attacking team successfully captures all areas then they win, but if the defending team is successful only once, then they claim the victory. While the defenders have several chances to win the attackers have a slight advantage due to the fact that any time they spend in the area without opposition racks up, and the bar doesn’t diminish. That dynamic evens things out nicely, and creates some really tense moments as time ticks down in each phase. Story vignettes provide a nice hook for Turf Takeover as well, giving it a better feeling than just ‘make sure you protect/attack this area’, and they add a nice touch of charm and humour to the chaotic proceedings.
While the balance is good for the most part, Rose is the exception: she’s totally overpowered, her regular fire homes in on targets, meaning you only have to point in the vague direction in order to hit your enemies. She’s also able to turn into an invulnerable wisp and float around doing damage for a short time. She has the ability to turn zombies into goats making them almost useless, and finally, she has a slow-down power that prevents her enemies from using their special abilities, to make matters worse, that slow down covers a wide area. All together this gives Rose a huge advantage, and right now most Plant players are using her, affecting the balance. PopCap are aware of this problem, and are looking to fix it, so fingers crossed they won’t take too long. On a more positive note, the servers have been rock solid; player matching works fast, arenas load quickly, and currently lag doesn’t appear to be an issue at all.
Popcap has improved upon the template they laid out with Garden Warfare, fleshing out the sequel with an array of things with which you can wile away your time. It’s excellent family friendly fun but genuinely great to play for all ages. Get it, play it with your little ones, and play it on your own. You’ll love it.
Full of things to see and do.
Turf Takeover is fantastic.
Internet connection required, even for single player.
Single player missions are mainly re-purposed multiplayer content.
Rose is completely overpowered.