Plants vs. Zombies has evolved from a popular mobile game to a franchise selling millions of copies on PC and consoles. With the popularity of the previous releases such as Garden Warfare and Garden Warfare 2, it was a no brainer that the next game in the series from PopCap Games would be a game bursting at the seams for triple-A coverage. Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville launches with an abundance of multiplayer modes that will put even the most popular multiplayer games on notice, and a story that will leave you wanting more: pun intended.
Like Garden Warfare 2, the epic battle between flora and the undead is no longer confined in the backyards of the residents of Neighborville but has spilled into the streets. The world is open for you to explore, regardless of which side you choose: plant or zombie. It’s clear that PopCap Games wanted to grow the world in which we’ve all spent countless hours in, and they’ve succeeded. Don’t think of Battle for Neighborville as a revolution in the series, but an evolution of its gameplay, mechanics, and art-style. With a brand new story, characters, and multiplayer modes, there’s more fun than you can shake a stick at. My playthrough was on PC and the game looks stunning. The game takes advantage of HDR, making the lush world of plants look like a rich oil painting. No longer a one-trick pony-tower defense game, Battle for Neighborville’s campaign is the heart and soul of this game. With a hefty story that will captivate and leave you in awe for hours, and more multiplayer modes than minutes in a day, Battle for Neighborville has much to offer. The game has grown more complex with its character leveling systems, customization, and multiplayer mayhem, but it allows you to explore them at your pace.
Prior to starting, you’re given a chance to choose a side. I chose to be Kernel Corn, a cornstalk with a chip on his shoulder. Jumping into the game’s story, I was guided through a quick tutorial by Major Sweetie, an energetic sunflower who explained how the mechanics of the game worked. Mind you, all this takes place in the hub world which just happens to be an amusement park that’s hustling and bustling with other players, storefronts, multiplayer options and more. This is where all players are transported when beginning the game, and the developers made sure to make it feel like a place you’ll want to spend a lot of time. Players can interact with one another, explore side missions and challenges, customize their characters, join multiplayer matches, and unlock special in-game items in this area. Depending on which side you choose (plant or zombie), the world transforms to fit the tone and mood. Playing as the plants, the world is filled with beautiful foliage and feels alive and healthy. Choose to play as zombies and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the undead and barren lands.
At its core, Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense game, but with more competition in the multiplayer space, Battle for Neighborville has taken more of a battle shooter style – à la Overwatch. and that’s not bad. Like all Plants vs. Zombies games, there are classes to choose from: attack, defend, and support. With 20 characters to choose from, 10 on each side, players can choose whatever style suits them, as each character has their own unique set of abilities. After completing the tutorial, which was fun in its own right, I began the story mode which is where the proverbial apple has fallen far from the tree. Battle for Neighborville takes a big leap in developing a campaign for a series that’s been mostly about multiplayer, and they pull it off in dramatic fashion. Making my way to Town Center, armed with my corn kernel shooters and three special attack abilities, I found the place overrun with zombies who had trapped my fellow flora friends in a dance trap, and by doing this, left Neighborville defenseless. As you can see, Plants vs. Zombies continues to err on the side of comedic mannerisms – never taking itself too seriously, and it’s for the better.
Meeting Major Sweetie on the battlefield, I was tasked with freeing my vegetative friends and stopping the zombie apocalypse. Once out in the world, it’s clear that much thought has gone into making the story feel as if it’s a stand-alone game. The world looks like a neighborhood out of a partridge family episode. The homes are beautiful, and roads are perfectly paved, but make no mistake, this is a warzone. Leaving the base of operations, I was overrun by all types of zombies as they work in hordes to keep the odds stacked against me. It’s moments like these that continue to make the world feel like a living breathing environment. Up and down every street, skirmishes between plants and zombies occur on small and large scales. With collectibles, side-missions, challenges, and chests to find in the world, you can see how Battle for Neighborville is trying to have a strong single-player campaign and set itself apart from the rest of the multiplayer games that are trying to do the same. The story is never straightforward and throws a wrench into the story progression whenever you think you’re making headway. Because I was a plant trying to enter an area where zombies controlled (think being the uncool kid trying to get into the cool kid’s house party), I had to up my coolness by stealing bling from the bosses in the area. Finding Baron Von Bats, a boss who uses bats to trap you while he does the real damage, I had to pull out every trick in the book to defeat him and steal his cool top hat. Unlike other Plants vs. Zombies games, the action feels geared more for serious gamers and not the casual player. It takes skill, precision, and planning to win battles in Battle for Neighborville. Also, this is where some balance and control issues complicate things when large battles occur.
Though you have a plethora of attacks to use, many of them feel underpowered and useless. I found this to be the case with my super abilities. With the game being set in an open world, many of the attacks are close and mid-range attacks that never hit their mark when fired. It doesn’t help that the aiming reticle feels a bit off as well. I found myself needing to strafe to hit a target instead of aiming with the mouse or the right thumb stick of the controller. Dial in the large amount of input lag, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster for a shooter. Even at 120 FPS, there’s some input lag that completely makes going on the offensive a challenge. After fighting a Yeti and taking his blinged out gold chain, and a few other bosses, I was able to transform my lawnmower into a cool machine – which made me cool enough to get into the zombie club. The story offers hours upon hours of jovial banter and quests that will keep the laughter regions of your brain busy. But like all Plants vs. Zombies games, the spectacular multiplayer is where the real battle begins. Battle for Neighborhood offers much more than its predecessors in the multiplayer department. During the initial launch, there are six multiplayer modes to choose from, each offering a different challenge. Each mode offers a unique take on classic multiplayer modes: from a Battle Royale style, small 4v4 takeover, and team-based competitive skirmishes, there’s a mode to fill your appetite for destruction.
Because I am a sucker for chaos on a massive scale, I jumped into the Turf Takeover match, which is a twenty-four player battle royale style conflict with a mix of tower defense. The map is constantly expanding, giving the opposition chances to flank and set traps. Because of the three different classes, it’s important to work as a team when attacking the enemy’s base. I chose the Super Brainz zombie, a super hero attacking zombie whose attacks are built around close combat. Being a living dead superhero had it perks. The damage I dished out was immense, and anyone who was caught in my Superman like attacks was dead to rights. Unfortunately, this is where the imbalance of the game starts to rear its head. Fighters who have more close combat attacks are slowed when attacked and find themselves at a major disadvantage. This happens to others as well, but it’s more detrimental to with close combat attacks – and coupled with the fact that the reticle seems a bit off and the input latency, it can be a bit frustrating. I suggest sticking with those with big guns. Each multiplayer mode adds new challenges that test how well you can work as a team or survive on your own. If it’s choices, fun, and a challenging game you’re looking for, add Battle for Neighborville to your Christmas list.
Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville
Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is an amazing next chapter in the series. Its story campaign alone is enough to warrant a buy. It’s not just the graphics, the characters, or the amazing multiplayer that makes it a must buy, it’s the charm that the developers have dialed into this game. Every minute playing feels like you’re on track to discover something ridiculously funny and over the top. Though there are a few key tweaks needed to make the battles spot on, it’s the culmination of other things that make this a great game.