I like the evolution that the Plants vs. Zombies sub-series Garden Warfare took over the past few years. The original game was pretty good, presenting a great multiplayer concept in a series that had usually been known for being about puzzles. However, it didn’t offer anything with single players in mind. But Garden Warfare 2 changed that with a wonderful new dynamic, including lots of singleplayer action, as well as more exciting content for you and your friends. It was the perfect package, or so I thought.
Enter Battle for Neighborville, which got a surprise reveal a few weeks ago only to enter early beta access not too long later. It follows up where GW2 left off, with several new components that make this possibly the best game yet.
Welcome To Neighborville
The game takes place, surprise, in Neighborville, where the Plants and Zombies continue to hate each other with a vengeance. It isn’t long before their war starts up yet again, forcing the sides to set up their base camps — Zomboss HQ for the undead and Dave Manor (named after their beloved caretaker) for the plants.
In between bases is a neat little social area where you can talk to other players or even shoot ‘em up if you’re bored. It’s a fantastic theme park where you can goof around and also hunt for secrets, most of which seem to be gnome-related for some reason. It’s an ideal place to talk with folks or maybe even form up a team before you take on the game’s PvP and PvE events. There’s stuff for single players once again, even though the lack of a full-blown campaign is noticeable. (Perhaps it’ll be added later? The game is still kind of in lift-off mode.)
What’s neat about each home hub, no matter which team you’re on, is that you have a wealth of options on hand. This includes leveling up your soldiers, acquiring upgrades, and stocking up on a little XP. You can also enter matches (for either PvP or PvE), or check out the different cosmetic skins that are unlocked throughout the game. And, man, there are a bunch. Real zany ones, too.
What’s more, you can switch teams at any time, without having to fear being called a “defector.” (Well, I can’t say the same about your teammates.)
Aside from the modes, there are a lot of side missions and mini-games to take on, whether it’s destroying balloons or just taking on AI troops around certain maps. Your friends can jump in at any time, either locally (via split-screen) or online. I had no trouble getting a group together and just plain goofing off with disco zombies. Because that’s what you do, right?
Lock and Load, Plants (Or Zombies)
When it comes to gameplay, there is a bit of a mild split. With the PvE matches I took part in; I found them to be a lot of fun, especially when it came to the awesome boss battles. You’ll also unlock some neat rewards here, as you level up and turn your team into the personable force they are, whether it’s plants or zombies.
As for PvP, it’s about the same as it’s ever been, mind some changes to the class variants. This time around, everything’s a little more evened out between the older and newer characters. I like it, though some players may miss the idea of having an advantage. The game has also done away with booster packs in favor of just giving you items, but forcing you to use them more sporadically. Hey, it beats the “one and done” effect that was in previous games.
Most of the modes are about the same here, but they do offer a bit of variety. I’m a big fan of the usual 12 vs. 12 Turf Takeover, though the new Battle Arena mode is kind of neat, mixing things up and forcing players to deal with one life at a time. The Gnome Bomb mode might be fun for some people, as well.
Select Your Weirdo (Er, We Mean Soldier)
Then there are the characters. There’s an excellent array here, though some are going to be better than others when it comes to balance. For instance, some will die (ahem) to play the zombie Superman as opposed to the normal soldier. But the new faces are good fun as well, like the fiery Snapdragon and the 80’s Action Hero, who walks around with a bow and arrow set like he’s frickin’ Rambo.
The best way to learn these characters is to experiment. There are 20 in all, so players likely won’t get bored with the assortment here. They add replay value where it counts. You can also check where they stand with statistics, as PopCap Games appears to have taken a page out of competitive shooters to notify players what works best.
Overall, the gameplay feels really nice here. Sure, you may often die as you get into the game for the first time. And yeah, the weird monster plant probably isn’t as capable as those that shoot bullets (unless you like up-close attacks). But in all, this is slightly smoother than Garden Warfare 2. It also feels like less of a grind, mainly as you apply upgrades and see what your special powers can offer for you.
The Best Looking PvZ Yet
Where the game shines is in its presentation. PopCap did its homework here and applied the game with a fresh coat of paint. The new environments — particularly the Giddy Park hub and Weirding Woods — are pretty fantastic. The maps themselves also offer a heaping amount of variety, with lots of room to run around and even set up an ambush or two.
I love the animations as well, particularly on the Zombies. No offense to the Plants, but these guys are absolute goofballs, and it shows in their walk, limp, whatever. All the characters look excellent and interact with each other like champs. There is the occasional lag, but that’s mainly just due to online connection.
There’s not much variation in the sound, as PopCap seems to stick with what worked in Garden Warfare 2. But that’s not a bad thing. The environmental effects are good, and the noises made by both Plants and Zombies are funny. I would’ve liked to have heard more stuff that defines their personalities a little better (I’m a sucker like that), but what’s here certainly works.
The Best Organic (?) Battle Yet
Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is in full release right now, and going for an affordable $40 — a smart idea by EA considering most games go for $60. But it’d be great to see PopCap add even more stuff to make the package complete, as it’s done in the past. And hopefully without the need to fork over extra cash, as GW2 sort of had us do.
As it stands at the moment, however, Neighborville feels like a party that shouldn’t be missed. It’s a competitive affair that opens up to all ages and offers a bevy of options that fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. The characters offer outstanding variety, even if some are greater than others; the online battles are a blast, with support for a local buddy to step in, and the visuals shine, particularly on the Xbox One X.
If you enjoyed the previous Garden Warfare games, this is a must. But even if you didn’t get into them at the time, Neighborville might be the stepping stone you need to jump in and join the fun. Now that leaves the question of which side to pick. The Plants are technically “good guys”…but who can deny a disco zombie?