Plants vs Zombies celebrated its 10th birthday this year, and now it’s back with yet another magnificent title to add to the franchise. No one seems to have expected a new Plants vs Zombies game but out of nowhere Battle for Neighborville peeked over the horizon and now shines its brilliant rays on all of us.
Where the original Plants vs Zombies and its sequel were defense games made for mobile devices, Battle for Neighborville follows in the footsteps of Garden Warfare, as a tactical team shooter. Having never played Garden Warfare I can’t make a true comparison to its predecessor, but from what I can tell, Battle for Neighborville might as well have been called Garden Warfare 3.
The story in the Plants vs Zombies universe has always been rather vague. All we really knew is that we needed to defend our home against invading zombies who were hungry for brains.
Zombies are still looking for their fix of grey matter, but this time you have a single-player campaign that takes you through several quests and tiny storylines, however nonsensical. However, where previous Plants vs Zombies games focused mostly on plants, this time you’ll have a full campaign for the zombie faction as well, BWAINZZZ!
The game doesn’t tell a deep, thoughtful story as such, but I think the writers had oodles of fun writing the campaign. I’m pretty sure they had a sign on the wall which read, “Does this part of the story make sense?” If the answer is yes, it’s immediately scrapped from the game. It’s hilariously entertaining.
Plants vs Zombies Battle for Neighborville has two sides to it, the multiplayer PvP and the singleplayer PvE. In multiplayer it borrows several ideas from other team shooters, but none of its competitors offer much in terms of a singleplayer experience.
Battle for Neighborville changed the character lineup from its predecessor by increasing the number of playable characters to 20. It also removed the preset character option and replaced it with assignable upgrade cards which allows you to completely customize the traits of your favorite characters. These upgrades include increased XP generation, increased health when surrounded by multiple enemies, or extra movement speed when at low health, and many more. Leveling up your characters unlocks additional cards that are shared among the group.
Even without the upgrade options, every single character is worlds apart from the next in both aesthetics and abilities. They’ve even separated the characters into different classes like attack, defend, and support. Sound familiar? Regardless, Popcap will not be accused of creating generic characters and I enjoyed each one of them thoroughly, even though some were definitely less suited for my play style.
Loading the game threw me in the middle of Neighborville, a charming little town modeled to look like a carnival. Instead of a standard game menu, you walk around Neighborville and interact with the attractions as if they were menu selections. Want to change characters? Just walk up to the change booth and “get changed”. Want to unlock new cosmetics? Insert some coins into the Mr. Reward-O-Tron 9000 and claim your prize. Want to play some PvP? Jump into the black hole of doom. This method of interacting with the game felt somewhat tedious as I constantly found myself searching for the right option, but it’s one of many things that make this game unique and I’m sure the majority of players will love it.
You can choose whether you want to share Neighborville with the public by making your world multi or singleplayer. In multiplayer mode, you’ll come across other players in town whom you can interact with but choosing the singleplayer option allows you to play offline. Despite my world being set to singleplayer, I still could not pause when playing the campaign which was an annoyance.
The campaign presents you with several vast areas, Neighborville town center, Mount Steep, Weirding Woods, with more reportedly being added soon. Each one of these is beautifully designed and provides you with hours of quests where you’ll need to collect items, run through obstacles, kill enemies, the usual. This is where it becomes truly apparent that the demographic for Plants vs Zombies is aimed at a younger crowd because, while some quests were tricky enough to provide a challenge, they were all fairly simple and could feel somewhat repetitive.
As an added quest, you need to search for golden gnomes and treasure chests that are hidden all over these maps. You have the option of purchasing treasure maps to show you the location of these items if you don’t feel like wandering endlessly in search of them. Even then, completing the collection will take some time.
My biggest gripe with the campaign is that many of the characters are simply not suitable for this mode as they are just too specialized. Certain quests required a lot of agility while others needed more firepower. Playing the campaign as Captain Deadbeard, a sniper type unit, worked fine when battling minions but made boss battles near impossible. The support class units also felt completely out of place here since they’re designed to stand on the sideline while others take the brunt of the punishment. I don’t consider this to be a major problem but I would have liked to get a “best character” recommendation when starting a new quest, or maybe the ability to switch characters more easily.
Plants vs Zombies Battle for Neighborville is best experienced in its various multiplayer modes. While the servers were completely empty early in the mornings, I didn’t have a problem finding matches throughout the rest of the day.
The multiplayer game options are quite varied and once again will feel familiar but I don’t hold that against them as there’s a reason most tactical team shooters adopt the same game types. Here’s a rundown of the game types included so far.
Team Vanquish is a simple 8v8 team deathmatch. Duplicate characters can be selected and swapped out upon death, and the first team to 50 vanquishes wins.
Turf Takeover has one team defending map points while the other has to take over and allows up to 24 players to join which can feel a bit too chaotic for my taste.
In Mixture Mode the objectives vary between escorting a payload and capturing control points.
Garden and Graveyard Ops is a throwback to the original Plants vs Zombies game. Here your team needs to defend against waves of incoming AI-controlled units. Rando Ops offers the same mode but tweaks things slightly by selecting your character randomly.
Battle Arena is the last option here which has 2 teams of 4 facing off but doesn’t allow you to select duplicate characters and your chosen character is locked each round.
One thing I found slightly disappointing is the lack of cross-platform support. That said, I’m also rather surprised that Battle for Neighborville was released everywhere except on the Nintendo Switch, where I would have thought it would be most at home. There is an option for Split-Screen Co-Op, but only on PS4 and Xbox One. Since my review was done on PC, I was unable to test this.
My favorite aspect of Plants vs Zombies Battle for Neighborville is undoubtedly the visuals. Despite this game featuring very cartoony graphics throughout the series, the designers have done an incredible job with both the character and map designs. The level of detail that’s been added here is truly astounding while not being so graphically intensive that you need to dig into your kid’s college fund to afford a rig capable of playing it, I’m looking at you Call of Duty… Then there are the countless character customizations that are fantastically silly and will make sure your enemies remember who caused their downfall.
I wish I could give the same amount of praise to the audio department. While the sound effects in the game are decent enough, I had the occasional sense that they could have been a little more engaging. There was also an almost complete lack of in-game music which resulted in some eerie silences at some junctions.
Since this game is published by EA, and you have the option to purchase aesthetic upgrades as well as XP boosts for your characters, I was expecting to have to sit with my credit card in hand in order to feel even slightly competent against the countless teenagers I’ll be competing against. To my astonishment, I found no option for microtransactions anywhere. I know, I was just as shocked as you are. Perhaps it’ll be added later, or perhaps EA is finally tired of being everyone’s ultimate villain in the gaming industry. I won’t hold my breath on the latter though.
Plants vs Zombies Battle for Neighborville is no longer in early access but I still came across an unsettling number of bugs. These came mostly in the form of incorrect instructions given as to which keys to press. One quest had me entering a pie-eating contest where I was told to mash F repeatedly. After several tries where I was unsuccessful in eating a single bite, I consulted a forum and figured out that I needed to press C instead. I had another quest where I had to traverse a river of boiling cheese by jumping onto various floating platforms but these did not appear on my first attempt, leaving me confused and drowning in a pool of scorching cheddar. Only when retrying the quest did the platforms appear.