Released alongside the likes of Call of Duty, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville might just be the alternative that family-oriented gamers are looking for. How did it turn out? It’s out for PS4, Xbox One and PC – we played it on a Playstation 4 Pro.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been over 10 years since the original Plants vs Zombies came out. A great example of a tower defense/strategy game, part of its popularity also came from the fact that it worked great on mobile platforms as well. Since then, the game’s been turned into a bit of a franchise, with a sequel and two subsequent spin-offs in the shape of Garden Warfare – a fresh take on the (third person) online shooter.
Battle for Neighborville is much closer to the Garden Warfare games than the original Plants vs Zombies, but despite its emphasis on online play there’s more for local players to enjoy this time around as well – especially on consoles. More on that later.
As per the norm for the franchise, you choose a side between the zombie and plant armies, with each side having their own unique units with their own unique abilities. Some of the characters are returning ones from previous games in the series, but others seem to have been taken from the playbook of something like the LEGO series of games and movies, with fun and inventive takes on popular tropes. A good example is a zombie that spoofs the explosion-heavy movies of the 80s or one that is more sci-fi inspired.
Despite being a more family-friendly affair, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville features plenty of game modes that were inspired by its more “adult” brethren. A lot of those can be found in the game’s competitive multiplayer modes, which include classics like deathmatch and a ‘last man standing’ type of mode, but where the game really shines is in cooperative play – something that will have tons of lasting appeal as well since PVE doesn’t rely as much on the online community as PVP does.
This mode is also where the game feels most like a Plants vs Zombies game, with its wave-based levels where you have to fend off ever-stronger attackers. Working together is encouraged, and unique abilities allow teammates to complement each other when you go. Some have more stealth-oriented skills, whereas others rely on firepower. The differences aren’t subtle, but this helps in making Battle for Neighborville an accessible experience and it fits the cartoon-like visuals of the game as well. And despite the large differences between characters, everything feels nicely balanced between them.
If you ever felt like you needed way more time that you had to spare to learn the nuances of an online team-based shooter, then this is exactly what you want. It’s something that translates to local co-op play as well, since Battle for Neighborville supports local split-screen gameplay for two players so you can help a younger player learn the ropes while also feeling confident they’re not playing with content that’s not appropriate to their age group. For some reason the game insists on staying online even when playing locally against bots (either solo or through split screen), but that’s a minor (though strange) oversight.
This reliance on online also seeps through in the more objective-based quests in the game, through which you meet a lot of additional characters as well. While I don’t see much need to stay online for most of it, it’s a great piece of world building which really presents the Plants vs Zombies universe as a lighthearted, fun-filled environment filled with lots of humor and wordplay. Combine that with colorful, vibrant visuals that look great with tons of detail and this is a charming online shooter indeed – not a description that can be tied to a lot of other games in the genre.
I think that Garden Warfare 3 would have worked pretty well as a name for the game, since it’s not the game-changer that the first Garden Warfare was and feels more like an evolution of the last two games. The inclusion of local multiplayer is absolutely great and should make this a blast to play for parents with their kids, though I’m a bit worried about the ‘always online’ demand that the game has. Not from a technical point of view, but because I could see cosmetic DLC being added and I assume parents will want to be careful about their kids going on a virtual shopping spree. Ignore that, however, and you’re looking at a fun follow-up to Garden Warfare 2 that should make console owners especially happy – PC players aren’t getting local multiplayer.