The fact that EA and Popcap’s Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare series of games have never managed to set the charts on fire may be one of the greatest injustices of this gaming decade. A pair of games that delighted in being sillier than Monty Python’s dedicated ministry for walking, Garden Warfare was the kind of game that would open E3 with a reveal trailer featuring household plants lobbing explosive peppers at legions of un and brain-dead zombies as they shuffled forward.
Garden Warfare knew that its entire premise was stupidity dialled up to 11, but beneath the goofy facade there was a properly good time to be had. Whether you chose to go green with the plants or you preferred life after death as the recently deceased, Garden Warfare in both of its outings was a tightly balanced showcase of fun and style.
It just so happens to be back in all but name, this time rebranded as Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. Once again, the plants and zombies have reached a stalemate in their ongoing turf war, and it’s up to you turn the tide of battle. Mechanically, not much has changed in Battle for Neighborville. Several classes are back in action, ready to go behind enemy vines in a variety of PvP modes.
There’s some fertile ground here, split between modes you’ve probably played in other games so far. Turf Takeover has you waging war in 12 v 12 maps that throw in some objectives for good measure, Suburbination is PvZ’s take on Call of Duty’s Domination mode and there’s always some good ol’ fashioned Team Deathmatch in case you feel like waging war on a traditional scale.
Battle Arena is the newest addition to the modes on offer, a tight challenge that emphasises variety and flexibility in how you play Battle for Neighborville. A 4v4 offering that trims the respawn fat off of each showdown, the catch here is that once you’ve been vanquished you’ll need to choose a different character with which to continue through the match. It’s a fast-paced and exciting mode, one that emphasises the true strength of this latest Plants vs Zombies game: It’s colourful cast.
While the vast majority of the characters on offer are returning favourites, a few new faces are also popping out from the soil. If you fancy melee attacks and tricky tactics, maybe a shinobi mushroom will suit your style of play. Prefer a beefy sniper tank instead? The zombies have just dug up a relic from 1980s action movies who can charge up a crossbow to dish out precise damage while ducking heavy seed fire with a dynamite dodge.
Every playable character in Battle for Neighborville oozes charm and personality, whether they be cackling mad scientists keeping undead teammates in action or an overgrown Venus flytrap that gleefully chomps on unsuspecting ankle-biters before burrowing back underground. With a roster of twenty characters to choose from, the options for team-based tactics are gloriously diverse and silly, although a tad bit chaotic when the manure hits the fan.
It’s PvE where Battle for Neighborville is looking to add some variety this year, a mode that seems like a trail mix bag of highs and lows across its solo and co-op options. While the core idea is charming and wonderfully told, the actual tofu on the bones here quickly wears out when the formula quickly establishes itself: Find a barrier, get tasked with assembling some items and fight some bosses. Granted, those boss fights are brilliantly bonkers.
One encounter for the zombies has you facing off against a gigantic Pickle that has a license to dill when it challenges you to insult warfare, while an early mission for team green has you protecting a taco hut from a swarm of Kung-fu zombie rejects. It’s mindless stuff, but the approach that you’re able to take is satisfyingly complex. You can pick and choose between any class before you commit to a mission, explore the various locales to your heart’s content and level up to unlock new abilities to change up your approach to how you play.
Being that this is an EA game, you’ve probably got an extremely relevant question: What’s the microtransaction situation? Look, the temptation is there. Each plant has a whole closet of fashionable accessories that you can unlock, earned via exploration or through currencies. Collect a bunch of tacos and you can trade them in for rare goods, or use all the coin you’ve earned from missions to take a random spin on a gigantic arcade device and pray that you get lucky.
At a later date, Battle for Neighborville will introduce the Rainbow Stars premium currency, but for now, unlocking cosmetics doesn’t feel exploitative at all. Tacos and coins flow in abundance from completing story missions, bounties and ranking up your characters, easily filling your coffers up with generous rewards. If Popcap and EA ever decide to ditch the random element and offer some more transparency on purchasing specific items with gold, I don’t think anyone would complain.
Those gripes aside, Battle for Neighborville still works like half of its playable characters: Mindless fun that you don’t have to commit too many brain cells towards. It’s an undeniably gorgeous game, one that revels in its absurdity and uses that wacky setup to paint a superb picture using the Frostbite engine.
Last Updated: November 6, 2019