Plants vs. Zombies review
The Zombies Are Coming


I would love to know the thought process that went into devising and approving this idea. Let's take a tower defence game and make it accessible to newbies. But wait, we need it to have mass market appeal. No problem, for universal appeal just add zombies. Cool but everyone's doing zombies, so we need another element that elevates the game above the crowd. Yes, it's decided. The defending forces will not be armies of the world, gunslingers or survivors of a tragic event. They'll be plants. Epic plants with attitude. Who knew that gardening would be so vital to our survival when the zombie apocalyse descends?

For those unaware of this type of game I'll do a brief rundown of the general idea. Enemies (in this case, zombies) appear from the right side of the screen and make their way over to the left. Your job is to stop them by setting up defences. Time and resources are also the enemy, as you can only set up so much, and of course the zombies will happily eat away at your defences as they come to them.

In order to fend off the zombies you have access to various plants. At first you only start off with a pea shooter, which fires along the row it is set in. As you progress through the campaign mode more plants will be added to your collection, although you can only have a set number of them in any level (which can be increased as a purchasable upgrade). Before each level you're given a preview of the types of zombie that will be coming as well as the level layout so you can pick out a set of plants designed for maximum benefit.

Strategy is required when planting too. Your ability is plant is limited by sun and time. Sun is collected by clicking units that drop onto the level during the day and from certain plants. Each plant consumes a certain amount of sun to add to the level, with the more powerful plants using up more sun at a time. Each plant also has its own recharge timer, meaning once you set a plant down you cannot set another of the same type until it has finished recharging. The mechanics are fantastic. The sun system makes you pick between how much you want to collect sun versus how much damage you want to be dishing out to the invading forces. Recharging helps to prevent players from mass spamming the field.

Erm, yeah... good luck with that...

The variety of plant types is amazing. Projectile attackers like pea shooters start you off and then you move on to others like wallnuts that act as shields so slow the zombie approach, mines that instantly wipe out the first zombie to step on it, mushrooms that are low cost but sleep during the day and sunflowers that increase your sun stocks. The amount of approaches you can take is fantastic. On one run I might set up a line of pea shooters, while on others I may bring out the zombie eating plants set in multiple rows. Being able to adapt to situations is vital and fun.

The zombies vary just as much as the plants. Early on you just see regular slow shambling zombies, but as things move on you find tougher enemies like bucket zombie, football zombie and screen door zombie. These enemies increase offensive and/or defensive capabilities to make it tougher for the player. Football zombies, for example, take a pounding and charge forward faster than others. Miner zombies dig under the ground and start eating plants from the left side going to the right. Each addition requires an adjustment of strategy to deal with.

The levels tend to change around too. You start off fending off zombies on a simple green lawn. Later on you have to deal with night time stages (where sun doesn't fall from the sky), the backyard which has a couple of water lanes, fog filled stages that limit your field of view and even fighting on the roof where planting is limited by the plant pots up there. Each change challenges the players to adapt their tactics to take in the new setting and keeps things fresh.

The campaign is the main meat of the game but playing through it unlocks various other modes. too. Minigames puts a cool spin on the normal goal. Wallnut bowling has a sort of conveyor belt of wallnuts passing by that you can pick and set down to roll along set lanes, knocking down zombies on the way. Another plays like a crazy version of Bejeweled, with the plants serving the match 3 action on the garden as zombies make their attack. Nothing really to fault here and it can be fun working through them.

Puzzle mode doesn't really have anything I'd consider anymore "puzzling" than the other modes but does offer multiple levels of two game styles. Vase Breaker sets up a field of vases that the player must break by clicking on them and will produce either a plant or a zombie. Unfortunately, this game is poorly designed as it tends to come down purely to luck whether you get the plants you need when you need them. I Zombie, on the other hand, is a far more interesting game. It flips the game and puts you in charge of the zombies, who must try and eat the brains sitting behind the rows of plants. Like plants, deploying a zombie requires differing amounts of sun, which in this case is obtained by eating sunflowers. The tactical approach needed is a different kind of awesome from the main game as you must poke weaknesses in defences that are normally yours and so I found this quite addicting.

Then we come to the survival mode. In pure gameplay terms this is fairly identical to the main game, except that each level is structured into multiple rounds. When each round passes your sun, plants and lawnmowers carry over, a new preview of incoming zombies is shown and you get a chance to change up your plant collection. With each round the game throws different zombies at you and increases in difficulty. The switchups and challenge make this an ideal place to head to once you've finished the main campaign.

Multi-tasking - defeating zombies while matching sets of 3.

The game comes equipped with a shopping mechanic. Crazy Dave serves as the shop keeper and will stock his car with various items you can buy with money that is randomly dropped during any of the game modes. This is the way you upgrade the amount of plant slots you have but you can also pick up things like special plants and extra defences. The money system felt quite balanced for me. There is a plant that can earn you extra cash, but abusing it isn't possible until really late game, and even then some of the stufff can be pricy enough to prevent players from buying everything within the early hours of the game.

The Zen Garden serves as another interesting means of earning cash. When unlocked you're given a couple of plants and can then tend to the garden. Visiting the place and attending to the needs of the plants, such as watering then or using fertilizer, can net you cash. More plants for the garden will be dropped by zombies during the game and some can be purchased. With good management this can turn into a solid money maker.

The difficulty scales nicely. Early stages are a walkover as elements are introduced to you slowly. The challenge rises as the game grows in complexity and then by the end of the various modes you just might be approaching hair pulling territory. There are no sudden spikes which means that reaching each new challenge is a simple thing to get into, if not easy to master.

Popcap have opted for cartoony cutesy visuals for the game and they really do convey the light hearted silly approach the developer has taken with this title. All plants have some adoring facial expressions on them and the zombies have all the traits of zombies like the rotting skin and even losing or lost body parts but done with a charm that is nice to look at and less likely to mentally scar those playing it.

The colour usage is notably bright, even during the night stages where there is a clear vibrancy to the environments that make them stand out all the more. The imagery is large and clear with a solid layout that makes it nice and easy to keep track of everything happening and to click neatly onto objects. The use of highlight to further indicate what you're about to click on is a nice bonus.

The action is all animated well, like plants bob back and forth or the shambling approach of the zombies. Some of the effects look really cool too, like using exploding plants that turn zombies into ask with blinking eyes or watching a plant swallow a zombie and chew it slowly.

Soundwise the music is best described as pleasant and inoffensive. The biggest problem more being that nothing about the tunes really stands out during gameplay but in terms of providing a nice gentle backdrop it does its job.

Sound effects are generally more impressive. Hearing the zombies moan "brains" as they shamble across the stage not only serves as a handy audio cue but are done very well too. Other things like the sound of enemies being flash frozen or a splat as a giant pear lands on them is excellent.

Overall Plants vs Zombies is one of those highly addicting games that looks simple but is so addicting and has a lot of depth to proceedings. The range of plants and zombies is quite vast and there is a lot to do that will last a while. Given the relatively low requirements of the game then this is a perfect addition to anyone aiming to use their PC for some games.

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