When you hear the gaming term shooter, you most likely start thinking of things like battle-hardened soldiers toting large-caliber rifles, gore spurting from exploding headshots and war-torn battlefields stretching out as far as the screen can stretch.
Cute and silly, though? No, those words are waaaay down the lexicon list, if they even make it at all. But gamemaker PopCap’s new release is aiming to change that perception by giving us a turf war of a whole ‘nother color.
The idea started with a little cellphone/tablet “tower defense” game called Plants vs. Zombies that sprouted like a preternatural petunia a few years back. Players were assigned the duty of protecting a house of innocents from wave after wave of shambling cartoon zombies. The quirky defense tactic? Sowing seeds for different types of quick-growing plants and fungi in front of the house—fight-filled flora that pack a variety of offensive and defensive capabilities.
Give Peas a Chance
This new game takes things to the next level, as it were. Instead of being root-bound, the plants and their zombie foes all have the freedom to move around a series of three-dimensional maps in an effort to gain garden or graveyard global glory through two-, four- or 24-person online battles. All of which quickly raises the green-minded question of how this zombie-looking-for-a-salad-lunch combat actually works.
First up: choosing a cute representative from several colorful classes of leafy or living-dead troops. The frontline guy in the plant world, for instance, is called a Peashooter. He’s a pod-like grower who, well, shoots peas. He can also toss out a red grenade-like seed that’s good for taking out a small group of the hungry horticultural hounders. Then there’s a Chomper, a razor-toothed zombie-gobbler who looks like he was transplanted out of Little Shop of Horrors. The Cactus is a sharpshooter who can send a cactus spine zinging with long-range precision while covering his back with a potent potato land mine or two. And the Sunflower is a cheery yellow fellow who can heal his pals or dig in his roots and blast baddies with a sunray that blazes forth from his ever-grinning face.
The zombies have equally zany—but blank-eyed and drooling—melee, ranged and support forces of their own.
Meet, Greet and Try to Eat
The three modes of play then start the blooming process. Garden Ops sets players as the leafy defenders who must build a garden and protect it from 10 consecutive onslaughts of computer-controlled zombie attackers that grow ever more powerful and numerous. Here gamers can grab a pal and play co-op offline on the same console or go online and join three friends for a four-against-the-hordes battle.
Team Vanquish mode gives online teams of 12 plants and 12 zombies the freedom to swarm one of several different maps—first team to take down 50 foes wins. Gardens and Graveyards mode is an attack-and-defend game that establishes a series of gardens that plant life must defend while those reanimated corpses try to eat them into extinction before a ticking clock runs out.
Worrying About Root Rot?
If you’re wondering about the dirty drawbacks to this shrubs-vs.-shufflers showdown, the mere existence of the zombies may be more troubling to some families than the reality of the warfare they perpetrate. Still, it’s worth noting that the goofy-looking goons can lose a noggin if hit enough times or be gobbled whole by a sneaky Chomper. To keep that from happening, the zombies are out to slash, blast and gnaw on heads … of lettuce.
Indeed, this version of a third-person firefight can actually be far more silly sounding and laugh-out-loud funny looking than anything close to scary or ferocious.
There is a little butt-crack and gas-expelling humor from the zombie squad (overweight undead plumbers can be difficult to manage, it would seem). And it’s worth bringing up the whole unregulated online component thing again—because the majority of this game must be played online. You can have a little offline fun with the two-person co-op, but that’s just a very small sampler to get players ready for the real farming frenzy—which requires an Internet connection and the purchase of an Xbox Live online membership.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.