Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a strange game. It is something we haven’t really seen before, and it is likely that nobody expected such a game to be released. Garden Warfare is a strange mix of an ‘online shooter’ and ‘Plants vs Zombies’. The end result is something along the lines of an online-only third-person shooter, except with no shooting (in the traditional sense), but plant attacks.

If you are confused, I’m not surprised. It is a strange game and a difficult concept to grasp without seeing it in action. Surprisingly, the team at PopCap have pulled it off, and Garden Warfare presents itself as an excellent online-only multiplayer shooter. The plants are equally-equipped in ability (ie. the game is balanced), the gameplay is fun and the map design is fantastic.

Lets start with the gamemode you are most likely to begin with; GARDEN OPS. This game mode allows you to play across ten waves of zombie attacks alongside three other plants (other online players). You are given the location of a garden, and must defend it from the zombies. It’s a simple base concept which works well, given the nature of PvZ.

There are many choices of plants in the game, however, you will start with four options: sunflower, peashooter, chomper and cactus. You can also plant additional support in flowerpots located around the map, to help fight off the zombies. Each of the plants have unique attacks and abilities for the player to explore and use strategically. For most of my time with the game, I played as the chomper. The chomper can, as the name suggests, ‘chomp’ on zombies. Additionally, if you attack a zombie from behind, the chomper will swallow the zombie whole. You can also burrow underground, and swallow a zombie from beneath it. Finally, the chomper can spew a damaging purple goo across all zombies in its radius. These abilities vary from plant to plant, so, be sure to check them all out to find your personal favourite.

In Garden Ops, each of the rounds are short, but exciting. Once you successfully survive the ten rounds, the game will send in Crazy Dave to rescue your team from the zombie horde. You will then be tasked with surviving for a couple of minutes while your rescue ship makes its way toward you. Surviving this part of the game requires teamwork, and even in this mode, the game shows off its depth and character. I was shocked by how enjoyable this game mode alone came to be.

We also see the solid mechanics in this game mode. As zombies spawn and spawn, the game’s frame rate never seems to slow, something which is rather impressive, and shows PopCap have done a great job employing the Frostbite 3 engine. Also, we must remember, this is likely PopCap’s most ambitious project yet, as the studio generally develops mobile titles. I would guess that this is their biggest console game yet, and they have done an excellent job using the powerful Frostbite 3 engine in a stable and visually impressive manner.

The plants are all designed fantastically, even having their own unique quirks in movement and attacking. The character models are presented as vivid, detailed images on screen. PopCap have certainly managed to present 3D plant models worthy of the Plants vs Zombies name, which certainly stay true to the mobile game versions of the plants.

When I opened my copy of Garden Warfare, I instantly thought I was not going to like this game, simply due to one of the inserts within the box. Looking up at me was a code stating “Get your 2 free sticker packs”. I thought to myself, this is going to be similar to the FIFA Ultimate Team style packs, which are purchased primarily using cash. Upon entering this advertised “Sticker Store” from the insert, I was relieved to see that, in fact, there were no microtransactions, and the sticker packs are simply purchased using coins earned in-game. This re-assured me that PopCap was not being forced to implement microtransactions by EA, however, could they be added in the future? Hopefully not, and for now, they have not wormed their way into this excellent title, which is a huge positive.

Now, moving on to the next gamemode present in Garden Warfare; multiplayer. Multiplayer offers a couple of gamemodes, include Garden Warfare’s take on team deathmatch and, in my opinion, the best mode in the game, Gardens and Graveyards. This is kind of like domination, in the sense the zombie team must attempt to capture the gardens, while the plants defend them. When captured, the gardens become graveyards. Each team has 15 players, and this gamemode is the most fun offering the game brings to the table. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this gamemode, and I will certainly be heading back for more in the future.

The beauty of this game is the number of different plants and zombies available to play as. Each time you unlock a new character, you get to try their abilities and play a new game. There is also a perfect balance, for every ability is countered with the ability of a character on the opposite team. The zombies can also be great fun to play as, as they each have their abilities and quirks. Gardens and Graveyards requires a high level of teamwork, plant variety and strategic thinking. PopCap have done an exceptional job with bringing the elements of the mobile games to the big screen, while at the same time creating something completely different.

Graphically, the game offers exceptional visuals. The maps are unique, vivid and what you would expect from Plants vs Zombies. The sound effects and music pair perfectly with the graphics to create an immersive online experience, which nobody expected to be arriving at our screens, yet it did. Only a few small issues are present in the game, namely the lack of multiplayer modes, however, the quality of these make up for lack of quantity. Hopefully we will see some small additions to the game in the future by way of gamemodes, but, for the moment, the game presents an excellent experience which should be enjoyed by all shooter fans who would like something a little different.

Garden Warfare takes a casual game, and brings it into a ‘hardcore’ game genre. It does something few people expected to happen, and even fewer people expected to happen successfully. PopCap has pulled off something impressive, and for that, Garden Warfare is highly recommended. It is available now on Xbox One and Xbox 360, and will be making its way to PC in the near future.