PopCap's attempt to bring its beloved touchscreen franchise into the home console realm provides an ideal game to break out when you find yourself surrounded by sprogs. Responsible gamers that we are here at CVG, we've never really liked the idea of young 'uns blazing their way through the violence threaded, blue-toned online climes of Call Of Duty or Battlefield. With Garden Warfare, we have a cartoon-ified alternative for family fun times (with guns). Despite not boasting the same proclivity for realistic bloodshed, however, you may still find yourself holding back the swears...
Garden Warfare is a multiplayer-focused third-person shooter in the Battlefield mould, though with the eponymous perennials and cadavers in place of the now traditional military shooter types. Across Team Vanquish and Gardens and Graveyards modes (that's Team Deathmatch and Battlefield's Rush to you and us) you get to pick from eight delightfully different customisable roles, four for each of the two teams.
Go green fingers and you'll choose from Peashooter, Sunflower, Cactus and Chomper classes. Find yourself shuffling over to the equally green but less healthy-looking zombie team, and you'll pick from Scientist, Engineer, Soldier or All-Star. These characters may not jump off the (web)page as readily recognisable combat roles, but each plays significantly differently from the others.
Most obviously unique is the Chomper. While other classes can be more or less defined by referring back to other shooters - the Sunflower is a Medic, the All-Star is a Heavy and the Cactus is a Sniper, for example - the Chomper is something wholly unique to Garden Warfare. This freakish bulb-headed Mario reject swans around the colourful environs with a near game breakingly powerful Burrow move. With this you can dig under the turf/tarmac and attack your adversaries from below with a pretty much unavoidable insta-kill attack. It's the kind of move that kids will love while knowing veterans will nod, note the lack of balance, and say, well, it's a kids game...
Now, while we're enamoured with the colourful scenery, well-implemented character models, splendid animation and pleasingly reminiscent sound design (the soundtrack is especially great), whenever we get to about the halfway point of a match, regardless of how close victory is, we can feel a rant coming on...
The difference between a passable multiplayer shooter and an exceptional one often comes down to this: what are your reactions when you die? In COD or Battlefield it's easy to find yourself slow-clapping your opponent. In Garden Warfare this is very rare. Visual and physical feedback is hard to discern during a match, with attacks poorly fed through to your eyeballs. Shoot a man and you can relate to the resulting animation telling you he's been shot. Shoot a plant and it's hard to tell if you're hitting it or not. This is made even more unrelatable with the slow, splashy weaponry on offer.
Take the Peashooter. His primary weapon, that amiably honking nose, fires explodey petit pois at a numbingly slow pace. These peas splat into green mist on impact and damage much of what is nearby. It's messy, which is no bad thing if your thumbs are too small to grasp a controller properly, but frustrating when you're miles away from incoming projectiles, behind cover and still getting splatted.
Better are the abilities which are assigned to your Y and bumper buttons. For the Peashooter these range from a speed boost, which lets you squirrel across the ground faster and leap into the air for height advantage and another cause of frustration, the Chilli Bean. This Mexican foodstuff manages to be both fun to use and numbingly annoying to come up against. It's essentially a grenade, killing any and all enemies nearby. With no indicator letting you know there's one close to you and with the third-person camera obscuring your view of the ground with your admittedly lovely character model, these little blighters feel cheap.
The same can be said of many of the weapons and upgrades. Too many deaths come with little to no indication of how or why you died, beyond the post-death score card. We are frustrate.
But before we condemn Garden Warfare to the compost heap, there's plenty here that it gets right. Some of the character classes have been given abilities which even the odds somewhat. The Engineer, on the zombie team, for example, has a sonic grenade which knocks Chompers out of their burrows. Scientists, meanwhile, can warp out of the way of the hungry trapper's jaws at the last minute.
There's also the character upgrading system. By playing in matches you can earn coins which will let you buy sticker packs. Each pack contains upgrade stickers which, upon completing a set, will bestow new character types. Fancy rocking up with an icy cactus? This cold customer slows down enemies with its shots. There's a huge sticker book to fill up with plenty of useful upgrades which are not just cosmetic. This system provokes experimentation, inciting you to try out other characters even when you feel they lack the occasional match-winning imbalance that others boast.
By far the most fun we had with Garden Warfare came when we stepped out of the mainstay competitive multiplayer and into the co-op centric Garden Ops mode. Here you and a team of up to four have to protect your planted garden from increasingly difficult waves of zombies and bosses. A nice touch is the occasional one armed bandit slot machine that crops up between rounds to announce the boss fights inbound. Yeti zombies, disco Zombies and hulking great uber zombies make for chaotic four player battles, though without the sense of progression or scope that you might find in Borderlands 2 or Left 4 Dead. Again, though, these are not games you'd play with an innocent tyke aboard for the ride.
Garden Warfare will enrapture younger players with its characters and style, but other games manage to do this while catering for those interested in the actual game underneath the affable exterior. With its skewed balance, lack of feedback and samey maps there's little to keep you playing once the kids have gone to bed.
Like homemade fertiliser, it does the job, but the proper stuff gets it done better. Also it occasionally smells. Like poop.
- A multiplayer shooter for the whole family.
- The soundtrack is great, right down to the hooting celebrations of your leafy brethren.
- Lacks the tightness and variety to make it more than a babysitting aid.
- Looks lovely but without the visual feedback that's become a staple of quality shooters.