The online multiplayer shooter is a popular video game genre offering the violence of war in the safety of the living room. Garden Warfare takes this formula to a new, less violent, and even comic level.
As the series name indicates, the game pits plants against zombies in their bid to take over the world. The player’s job is to cultivate a garden of specialized plants to stop wave after wave of zombies. The game is rated for ages 10 and up because of animated blood, crude humor, and fantasy violence. The zombies are cartoonish and other than falling apart, they aren’t gory. When the zombies die, they can lose limbs or their heads. Both the zombies and plants have green blood and the crudeness mostly comes from the Zombie Engineer’s pants, which droop in the back and leave him partially exposed. The zombies use guns that look cartoonish and even silly. One of them is a live dolphin that shoots fish parts from barrels strapped to its back. After all, intelligent plants fighting hordes of the undead is far from realistic, but it sure is fun.
Released only for PC and Xbox One, Garden Warfare offers two gameplay modes. The first, Garden Ops, is the most like the original game, created for mobile devices. Four players work together as the plants to protect their garden until the round ends with their evacuation. The other mode is the team-versus-team multiplayer. Playing online with other players is always risky because anyone can say whatever they please. But this game’s audience is likely pretty tame. While playing Garden Warfare, I heard only a few people talking during matches, and most sounded like kids who didn’t know to mute the console’s chat function.
The best part of Garden Warfare is its emphasis on cooperation. While so many online shooters tend to bring out the lone-wolf in players, this game asks everyone to work together to succeed, one reason the game can only be played online. Online shooters can be stressful, even downright frustrating at times. But Garden Warfare never feels too hard because of its cooperation emphasis. Charging into battle against the undead as the Chomper, which looks like a giant purple plant with a mouth full of sharp teeth, you soon learn to take out most zombies with one bite. Playing field medic as a sunflower requires you to fight hard, blasting the zombies with bursts of sunlight. But you also need to watch for fallen teammates who need your help.
The game’s variety of characters keeps each round fun and interesting. No plant has a zombie equal and visa-versa. The Peashooter is nothing like the foot soldier zombie. Sticker packs, which can be bought by spending the coins you gain after every battle, help unlock new character variations. So if you get bored with being a regular Peashooter, you can unlock the gas mask-wearing Toxic Pea, which peppers enemies with poisonous glowing shots. Garden Warfare offers players many incentives to keep playing and fighting.
But unlike other shooters, this game does not promote the player with the most kills. Instead, the key to winning is to help a downed ally so the opposing team won’t get the kill. Both sides also have a type of soldier class that acts as a medic for the team. These players can be the deciding factor to a successful match, if they balance attacking and healing. Another feature in the Xbox One version is Boss Mode. This allows an additional player using a tablet or smart device to oversee the match and use perks to help the team.
Garden Warfare is a welcome addition, and possible change, to the shooter genre. If it proves successful, we may see more games that encourage teamwork and tone down the violence.