Publisher: EA Developer: PopCap Format: 360, Xbox One Release: out now
To help while away time spent waiting in the lobby for the next spot of Garden Warfare to begin, PopCap has provided a distraction in the form of collectible stickers. These blind packs are acquired with credits earned in the main game and provide you with in-game perks, such as variants on the base classes, customisation items, and an array of plants (or zombies) to assist you in the more tower-defence-focused modes. It’s snappy, moreish and immediately gratifying; all characteristics the main game fails to possess.
Which is especially disappointing given that, aside from a few LOD wobbles, Garden Warfare sure looks the part. PopCap’s charming 2D cast has made the leap to 3D almost entirely unscathed, and these bright, chunky worlds could have sprung from Nintendo’s imagination. You’ll have plenty of time to study them, given the glacial pace at which you’re forced to move. Some of the assembled troops can briefly move faster by using one of their abilities – the Scientist, for example, has a short-range teleport move, while the Peashooter can become ‘hyper’ for a short time – but this only makes it all the more agonising when you’re forced to wait out the cooldown period before being able to travel at speeds that really should have been the default.
Characters not blessed with the extra puff to break into a run must make do with their own bespoke set of three abilities. The Cactus, whose main strength is picking off targets from a distance with its needles, can place Potato Mines and Tallnut walls to create deadly bottlenecks, and its Garlic Drone can provide air support with airstrikes and an onboard cannon (the zombie Engineer has a robotic equivalent). The Sunflower, meanwhile, can establish a healing beam link with nearby allies, deploy healing potted sunflowers or root itself to the ground and fire a damaging sunbeam.
PopCap’s colourful, charming cast of plants and zombies make a handsome transition to 3D in Garden Warfare.
While the assignment of sprinting and even grenades to only certain classes feels a shade too contrived, the mix of abilities is still appealingly complementary, and successful teamwork is both explicitly encouraged and satisfying. The languorous pace that makes it so frustrating to return to the fray in Team Deathmatch is somewhat alleviated in Garden Ops and Gardens And Graveyards, both twists on tower defence that more aggressively localise the action.
Sadly, any gains made here are squandered by woolly controls, a dearth of feedback and infuriating inaccuracy even with aiming assist dialed up to maximum. There’s the seed of something much greater in PopCap’s first foray into team shooters, but it’s telling that the elements that most closely resemble the series’ 2D outings are the ones that fare best.