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32 Reviews

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Xbox One

The salad days are over

I've seen things you peapods wouldn't believe. Parsnips on fire over a bed of caramelised onion. I saw green beans glimmer in the dark near a home-made irrigation system - but enough with the movie references already. This is War, not one of your silly Hollywood fables. Garden War. There are two kinds of vegetable in this godforsaken world, ladies and gentlemen: hardy perennials and (hawk, spit) biennials. Which are you? Tell me: do you love the smell of phosphate fertiliser in the morning?

Nobody really asked for Garden Warfare, a whimsical yet savage shooter modelled on PopCap's iconic tower defenders for PC, but most players should love it to pieces nonetheless. Among those who probably won't enjoy the ride are diehard fans of single player - the solo options are limited to a variation on Horde for one to four players, in which the Plants seed a garden and defend it against 10 random waves of green-fingered corpses.

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There are no 'bots to round out player-deficient parties, which makes the mode incredibly difficult to complete with ranged or support-oriented character classes, though you can plant defences such as goop-spitting mushrooms or sunflowers that shed healing stars in pots around each map. Undead adversaries run the gamut from shambling, expendable browncoats through zombies clad in sturdy coffin armour to bosses like the nimble Disco Zombie or the Yeti-Zombie, whose claw swipes freeze plants to statues. You'll also encounter AI-controlled zombie classes from the competitive multiplayer, which is where the concept of a vegetable-on-cadaver punch-up really takes off.

For a game I'd have no reservations about handing to an eight year old, Plants vs Zombies can be startlingly bloodthirsty. Chlorophyll-thirsty, if you will. That's particularly apparent during Gardens vs Graveyards, a mode ripped straight from Battlefield: Bad Company's dried-out husk, in which the zombies must conquer a series of sun-bathed allotments before the clock runs down. Raise a tombstone over all of them, and you'll be able to mount an assault on the Plants' heavily fortified main base, contending with sweetcorn artillery and giant rolling Tallnuts.

Where the action can feel a bit spread-out in regular deathmatch, the mode's structure ensures that all 24 participants are seldom further than a few dozen metres from one another, and the result is basically the Normandy landings scene from Saving Private Ryan - as reimagined by the Jolly Green Giant.

The aesthetic and audio design strike a wonderful, flabbergasting balance between grisly and cute. Sunflowers yelp ecstatically as they're shredded by machinegun fire; Chompers waddle complacently back to cover after swallowing a zombie whole. Tubby cyclopean Garlic Drones spit threads of red death at undead Soldiers, who promptly toss purple gas grenades to cover their advance. Every few seconds there's the shriek of a thermonuclear Chilli Bean, cue geyser of ragdolling corpses, or the daze-inducing "BRAINZ!" of a loudspeaker grenade.

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If it all looks and sounds chaotic, there's actually a fair bit of calculation bubbling away beneath the surface, thanks to some nicely nuanced class and ability balancing. Each side gets four to pick from - the Chomper, Sunflower, Pea Shooter and Cactus versus the All-Star, Soldier, Engineer and Scientist. The most exotic Plant on the battlefield is the Chomper, which can tunnel for a short time in order to one-hit a zombie from below, or spit gloop to paralyse zombie abilities. Its undead counterpart is the Engineer, which is inedible while speeding around aboard its powerdrill.

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