How long is this joke going to go on for? Sure, pitting cheery flora against undead hordes might have worked for PopCap Games’ mobile tower defense game back in 2009. But to see this absurd gag sprout an online shooter sequel is an insult to any veteran of the virtual war on terror, depicted in the likes of the Battlefield series. To add insult to injury, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was even built on the very same engine as its poe-faced, realistic older brother. It’s enough to send any hardened online soldier with a prestige rank into a tizzy. For those of us in on the joke however, the series is a breath of fresh air. Continuing the colour and humour of its predecessors, Garden Warfare 2 is a welcome break from the Ooh Rah angst of most modern shooters. Adopting a third-person perspective is just the beginning, as the game runs wild with its bizarre concept, albeit through some traditional mission archetypes and the standard online multiplayer modes. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the garden…The game takes place in a central hub known as the Backyard Battleground. Here the lines have been drawn, with Crazy Dave’s copious garden of plant life occupying one side and Dr Zomboss’ cannibal corpse Zomburbia on the other. From here, players will have be able to work through the by-the-numbers single-player campaign or access the variety of multiplayer modes on offer via a series of portals. It makes for fluid gameplay that can sucker you in for hours on end. Beyond the initial set-up, there’s very little in the way of cohesive narrative. But it doesn’t really matter. The game’s impressive, cartoony graphics are ridiculously inviting, abundant visual puns and gags that will keep you laughing while shooting your way through the enemy. After the introductory mission, which sees a single sunflower escape from the clutches of rampaging zombies, you’re left to your own devices from here on in. With so many options available to you from the outset, the big question is where do you begin. The main map may be a bit asymmetrical, but there’s plenty of secrets to discoverSingle-player acts as a much more engrossing alternative to the simple tutorials of the first game. Characters on both sides of the plant/zombie divide will issue orders which send you deeper into the Backyard. Sometimes these quests become repetitive, alternating between fetch errands, taking down special units or defending allies, but if the promise of experience and in-game currency wasn’t enough of an incentive, then the sheer joy of exploring the game’s main hub is a reward in itself. Honestly, you can spend hours searching for the game’s many secrets and hidden treasures before even going near the multiplayer options. There’s always a spat to be found across the battlefield meaning there’s never a lull in the action. Challenges are scattered around the map. Everything you do will further level up the assortment of characters on both sides and while rotating between them evenly can be a chore, it’s the fun and humour that keeps you coming back for more. Whether you’re controlling a piece of fruit posing as a secret agent or a zombie in full disco garbs, the game embraces its sheer lunacy at every turn. It’s alive!!!!New costumes, weapons, and abilities can be discovered through sticker packs, bought with the in-game currency received upon completing missions. Of course, there’s always the option to bypass hours of gameplay and simply purchase these through the online store, but thankfully the game doesn’t push you down that route. The inviting world and constantly revolving gameplay styles give you plenty of reason to put the hours in and earn these rewards the old-fashioned way, so your credit card can sleep easy tonight. It’s almost easy to forget that beyond the central hub, there’s still plenty more content to explore. The game tries to steer you towards some of the other modes on offer, including the returning Garden/Graveyard Ops missions. Whisking you away to one of the battle arenas beyond the central map, your goal is to defend your tower from wave after wave of incoming enemies. Traps can be set before each round and while it’s possible to go it alone for these missions, selecting some AI companions or inviting online friends to be your backup bridges the gap nicely between single and multiplayer. But overall the mode is very much rooted in the addictive gameplay style that made the original Plants vs. Zombies mobile game so popular, by taking the game back to its roots and giving it a well-deserved 3D makeover. Roses are red, zombies are green, don’t mess with this flower, because she’s really mean!In fact, most of the single-player missions throughout are spun-off from the various multiplayer modes. It puts you in good stead for venturing online where you can really sink your teeth into some full-blown twenty-four player carnage. Outside the standard deathmatches, the game also borrows some selected modes from other online shooters, with the Vanquish Confirmed riffing on a popular Call of Duty game type, and Suburbination acting as a carbon copy of the map takeover objective introduced in Battlefield 4’s Rush mode. There’s even a variation of the traditional Capture the Flag set-up in the form of Gnome Bomb, a game that sees both teams battling it out for control over the most destructive weapon in the game.A few rounds of PvP multiplayer will quickly open your eyes to just how unbalanced it is. There are so many different characters to choose from and considering that each one comes equipped with a range of special attacks and battle bonuses, trying to get to grips with them all is incredibly demanding. Some of the characters, such as the Rose on the Plant side of the fence, are just too powerful, especially when matched up against some of the lower classes on the zombie front. Transferring character data from the original game might be a blessing for some, but will immediately put new players on the backfoot as they fumble their way across the dozens of abilities on offer on both sides of the war. The humour may be a little on the corny side but it makes for a hugely entertaining gameBut for the most part, multiplayer is relatively easy to slip into, even with the absolutely ludicrous concept the game is packaged within. Controls are simple enough to get the hang of and even the third-person perspective takes very little getting used if you’re more accustomed to dishing out carnage through the scope of a rifle. Losing matches is all part of the learning curve and after some experimentation, you’ll eventually settle on a handful of characters to switch between while playing online. There’s a strong combination of maps on rotation and if you ever do feel like luck is not in your favour, the seamless switch back to single-player means that the game’s not over if you decide you need a break from getting your arse handed to you. The wide range of playing options and characters on offer means that Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 can be adapted depending on your mood and preferred style of gameplay. But overall, it’s the humour that keeps you coming back for more. Blossoming from the small seed that was a tower defense game, this full-rounded sequel tells the shoot-em-up genre to wake up and smell the roses through inventive gameplay and silly charm.
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