Electronic Arts has taken the wraps off its new console/PC game Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, a wacky third-person shooter where you now get to play as the zombies. A sequel to the original Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare that came out in early 2014, the new title is the latest installment in a series that has generated tens of millions of fans and is mainly known for its humor.
Like the prior game, it’s a zany title built on EA’s Frostbite engine, which is used to create the outstanding graphics in the Battlefield combat releases. But this shooter has cartoon-style characters and the signature sense of humor from developer PopCap Games. EA announced the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show in Los Angeles. The first title in the series sold more than 6 million copies — not bad for a shooter that doesn’t take itself seriously.
I saw a demo of a cooperative mode — dubbed Graveyard Ops — at an EA preview event. In this demo, you play the zombies, whose leader Zomboss has taken over the suburbs. The plants are mad about that, and they’re sending wave after wave of enemies to take back their ground in Zomburbia.
“This is the next big game in the PvZ universe,” said Jeremy Vanhoozer, franchise creative director at PopCap Games, at a presentation. The developer created it after getting many requests to play the zombie side. This time, the zombies are smart, and they hold off the artificial-intelligence-controlled plants. You’ll have plants that are more like bosses. Each character is crazy and over the top.
New wacky characters
Six new playable classes and 40 new characters will be available at launch. One includes the Imp. The Imp is the smallest zombie, who can sit atop a zombie mech warrior, the Zmech. Imp has a gravity grenade that can paralyze enemies. And the Zmech brings a lot of firepower to the battlefield, Vanhoozer said. You’ll also see a big orange — that’s right, an orange — on the plant side. It rolls around the battlefield and launches off an “EMPeach” electromagnetic pulse weapon. Captain Deadbeard is a zombie sniper — a pirate zombie with a big moustache. He has been adrift for hundreds of years, and he washes ashore to join the zombie forces.
Another mystical seer plant uses magic to convert zombies into harmless goats. (I can’t wait to do that.) The Super Brainz zombie has a fast-action melee ability as well as a handheld laser. He can also jump really high. Colonel Corn is a run-and-gun assault class on the plant side.
“In the second game, we had a bit more of our stride going,” Vanhoozer said. “We started with a list of things we wanted to do. We also started listening to the player feedback on day one. The mode that you played today was one of the number one asks: ‘I want to be on the zombie side defending against waves of plants.’ We’d never done that before, so we started exploring that early on. But one of the main goals of the second game is to go bigger with what we’ve learned and deliver a better experience.”
If you don’t like some of the modes that PopCap has created, you can create your own private matches with your own rules, like pitting engineers against the plants. And when you boot up for the first time, you’ll be able to bring every single character from the original Garden Warfare into the new game, as long as you own that previous game. With these old characters and new variants, the game is offering a lot more choice than it did in the past.
In the battle I fought — four zombies against a wave of plants on a defensive map — we had to stop the plants from taking over our base. The enemies included a whole new class of plants, dubbed the Weeds, which will attack in hordes. The plants have their own personalities. The sniper-like Cactus plants will move to the high ground and try to pick off your teammates. The Sunflowers heal other plants. Some plants will charge at you, and some hang back and shoot.
In the prep time before the match, we had to set up our turrets to cover avenues of attack. The Weeds came in from multiple directions. Our turrets took out some of them, but the plants tried to disable them. So, I had to keep running around repairing turrets. One of our zombies had a “heal beam” to heal everyone else. The map we played had a lot of height variation. The plants can jump down to the basement and come up the stairs behind the zombies’ line of defense. A zombie with a flamethrower helped hold the plants off.
Crazy Dave, the main human character in the game who sides with the plants, came into the game and dropped a bunch of gifts. Some of them were traps, where we had to fight off a hidden plant. But some of the gifts were useful. It really helped to have a single commander telling us what to do, like regrouping at the base. In a real match, you won’t always have that luxury. I made sure to watch the upper levels for Cactus plants. The Pea Shooters were back, causing trouble with rapid-fire shooting. But they were vulnerable if you hit them from behind or the side.
At some point, we had to circle the wagons and gather in the middle as these giant Torch Wood flaming tree trunks came running at us. Self-destructing plants came charging at us as well. That kind of mixture of different attackers kept us on our toes.
Then, we had to move through the teleport and get more stuff in the armory. After that, we returned to the main base and finished off the plants. It was pretty tense fighting, and it was a relief when we finally fought off the last wave.
The title still has other modes we haven’t seen yet, like 24-player multiplayer rounds where 12 zombies square off against 12 plants. Gardens and Graveyards and Herbal Assault modes will be available, too. Altogether, you’ll find 12 new maps, including snowy tundra and outer space. Another map is the time-travel theme park, where you transport yourself through a time portal to historical areas of the park, like ancient Egypt. The maps are bigger and “more alive,” Vanhoozer said. He said a lot happens in the environment that makes the game feel more interactive.
EA isn’t talking about all of the modes yet, but some kind of solo play will be accessible, including training modes where you play against A.I. enemies in order to get you into shape for multiplayer combat.
Asked if a single-player campaign will exist, Vanhoozer said, “We’re working on lots of stuff. We like to say it’s kind of a PopCap twist on that. We’ll have more details later. We will explain it a bit better. But there are things we’re working on.”
The enhanced graphics on the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 mean that you’ll have intense combat where as many as 100 plants are charging at you. A lot more action will be on the screen at the same time, and the lighting and shadows are high quality.
I’m looking forward to this one. It has goofy gameplay and characters. The graphics look great. And the private matches should allow players to customize the experience to their own liking. With all the new characters and classes, gamers will have numerous choices. That could keep everyone playing for a long time.