Thursday, 14 May 2009

Plants vs Zombies review

If you've previously read my review of Peggle on the 360, you're probably aware that I have a bit of a penchant for Pop Cap games. Normally I don't buy into the whole casual gaming phenomenon, but Pop Crack are different somehow. They seem to have an adept understanding of what it is that makes games fun and addictive; something that is missing from a large proportion of mainstream gaming. With this in mind, I'm going to try my best to give a fair and balanced review of Plants vs Zombies (no promises).
Pop Cap games... because you don't have the willpower to say no

Plants vs Zombies takes its roots predominantly in the tower defence genre with a few interesting twists thrown in along the way, in the form of a series of mini games. The basic concept of the game is that you're a home owner who is under attack from the zombie horde who have developed a taste for brains. On the guidance of your insane neighbour (Who wears a pan on his head and has a habit of of blurting out spouts of incoherent blather), like any rational person, you turn to your garden plants to act as your first line of defence. Gleefully your battalion of botanical bodyguards rise up to the challenge of taking the 'un' out of the 'undead'. Still with me?

In the absence of government intervention, only plants can be relied on to defend your brains

To begin with the selection of plants available to you is pretty limited, with new variants becoming available at the end of most levels throughout the campaign. Later on in the campaign, some more specialized plants become available for purchase from your neighbour's shop. The amount of different plants available to you throughout the game is pretty impressive and grants a fairly good depth of strategy. Initially you are only allowed to bring six plant variants into the level meaning that you have to choose your defenders carefully based on what strategy you intend to play. Throughout the campaign you are shown which zombies you can expect to be facing before the level begins, which allows you to tailor your strategy before the get go. As you progress through the game more plant slots become available for purchase making your decisions at the start of the level a little easier.

You're given free choice of which plants will be defending your valuable grey matter at the start of each level

The control interface is pretty intuitive, with you simply clicking on the type of unit that you want to use from the selection bar at the to top of the screen and then clicking again wherever you want to place it on the grid. As the zombies make their way down the screen they are restricted to one of five lanes so correct infantry placement is very important (unless of course you think you'd be better off without your brains).

In order to purchase your petal'd protectors you're required to gather sunshine whilst in game play. During daytime levels sunshine periodically falls from the sky for your use; however this isn't enough sunshine to fuel a chlorophyll powered army. Thankfully, to tackle this shortage of sunshine, sun flowers can be planted to periodically make your day just that little bit brighter. During night time levels you rely entirely on this source of light so defence of your flowery friends becomes an integral part of your success.

As you make your way through the campaign levels you are introduced to a myriad of different zombie types each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses (all with a desire to excavate your skull). Each of the characters is charmingly designed and comes with their own short back story written in the plants vs zombies almanac (these stories invariably run along the lines of "At some point he found a bucket and placed it on his head"). Every facet of this game is brimming with playful humour which makes progressing through a each level childishly gleeful. Each stage has a new layer of strategy to consider from the backyard where you are expected to defend yourself from pool venturing zombies; to the rooftop where you are limited to plant pots. These slight variants on game play add a decent level of depth to the game play, but unfortunately never really make the levels particularly challenging.

Herein lies the games main weakness; the campaign never gets particularly difficult. To be quite frank I only ever felt that the game was getting 'hard' during the last three levels. One of the trademarks of the tower defence genre is its punishing difficulty, so it's quite disappointing that Pop Crack have missed the trick here. Don't worry though, there is challenge to be found in the form mini games and puzzle levels. Here you can find plenty of interesting challenges from zombie attack levels (where the acquisition of brains becomes your primary concern) to a brilliant take on bejewelled. There are twenty mini game levels and twenty puzzle levels leaving you with plenty to work your way through.

The onscreen action can get pretty hectic at times, but it never gets too difficult with effective planning

So is Plants vs Zombies worth your money? Well... I certainly had a lot of fun with this title (and will continue to do so). The level of challenge will probably be a bit disappointing for the tower defence fans amongst you but there is plenty of substance here to make up for it. A lot of love has gone into crafting this game and it shows. The graphical presentation throughout is pleasing, the sounds are hilarious (I didn't know there where so may ways to say the word brains), the character design is charming, the concept is pleasantly insane and there's lots of different levels on offer. For £6.99 on steam (British price) you really can't question the value on offer here. One thing i would say though is, if you despise tower defence games, this probably won't convert you; it doesn't redefine the tower defence genre, it simply tackles it with a bit more flare. As for everyone else, use your brains and at least try the demo to see what you think; I think you'll like what you find.

Gameplay: 4/5 (Great fun, but too easy)
Graphics: 4/5 (Charmingly designed; resolution could have been a bit higher though)
Sound: 4.5/5 (Hilarious dialogue and catchy music throughout)
Value: 5/5 (Lots on offer for a tiny price)
Overall 4.5/5 (Exactly the kind of casual gaming crack that I've come to expect from Pop Cap)

Thanks for reading.