It’s been 10 years since Plants vs Zombies made it to our mobile devices as a tower defense game, and since then the series has evolved into something quite different in the form of a hero style 3rd person multiplayer shooter. It’s also still surprisingly popular, which is a good thing because the most recent iteration, Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is a pretty decent game.
Welcome to Neighborvi.. erm, Ground Zero
The game is set in a fictional town called Neighborville, where Plants are trying to defend the remaining humans who are all trapped in their houses from the invading Zombies. It all sounds rather silly, and to be perfectly honest, it is. But is works. The gameplay of the series since it’s gone the 3rd person shooter route has always centred around Player vs Player multiplayer with tactical tower defense thrown in there for good measure, but it seems that developer Popcap has now gone in a bit different direction.
Battle for Neighborville is still an online game, but it now has a Player vs Environment element in it, which you can choose to play on your own or go mess around with your friends. Each of the factions, (Plants and Zombies in case you didn’t realise) has their own base or hub, which looks very similar, just with a different coat of paint. From there you can go to different locations to do a mission, collect some stuff and shoot an endless stream of cannon fodder. Each of the levels are semi open world with enough variety to keep it interesting and have a decently designed boss at the end.
To get to the boss, you need to do the same mission, which is essentially the same thing for each of the levels, which comprises fetching three things, doing things to earn some of the things, taking the three things to a location, opening the boss door and then fighting said boss. It is very repetitive, and a bit more thought could have gone into these missions, but it works well and will do for now. The semi open worlds and the way you can explore them and also lead up to a boss fight has a bit of a Destiny vibe to it, which I found very interesting. It’s also an interesting way for you to experiment and learn the different classes for both the Plants and the Zombies and also find your favourite.
PvZ is still where’s it’s at
The PvE aspect of the game was quite a welcome surprise, and it screams live service game, which means there’s a lot of room for more content. Exactly how that content will be made available remains to be seen, as I didn’t see one bit of evidence of microtransactions in this game.
That said, Battle of Neighborville still boils down to the PvP multiplayer side of it, and it still holds up pretty well. There are 10 characters on either side, which are split up between Attack, Defend and Support. You have the ability to level up and promote each of the characters by simply playing as them, or spend the Gold coins you earn in the game to buy levels, which leads to promotions. The more promotions you get, the more perks become available to you, which allows you to create a build that suits your playstyle. Almost everything gets unlocked through the gold coins, including the cosmetics you can use you deck out your characters, which I will admit I didn’t care too much for, but still, it is there.
Playing online you have access to the usual modes such as Garden Warfare, Turf Takeover, Battle Arena, Team Vanquish, Garden & Grave Ops and a sort of Mixed Mode. All of the modes have their unique flavour to them, with some being more tactical, but it mostly boils down to the same thing, which is shoot and kill the enemy. I found Battle Arena the most enjoyable, which was ironic since the matchmaking took the longest, but it was the most engaging. It involves you choosing a character in elimination-style rounds and not being able to use that character again. It brings in a bit of planning and strategy, and playing in a squad with a mic can be very advantageous. The most popular mode was Team Vanquish, which is just another word for Team Deathmatch. The matchmaking is quick and teams seemed well balanced, with nobody running away with it.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville so much.
Selecting the correct class does make a difference, but not to such an extent that if everyone on your team runs around as a support character that it will hamper the experience. Playing the multiplayer and PvP side of it feels accessible, and everyone will be able to enjoy it, regardless of your skill level.
The most fun I had in terms of PvP was the added free-for-all park, which is connected to the respective hubs of the Plants and the Zombies. You can simply just jump into the carnival style map and go crazy, doing all kinds of stuff with and against each other. Nothing here counts to a PvP score or anything, but it is a fun way to screw around, learn the game and get better at it.
A very pleasant surprise
On a technical level, the games runs incredibly well and looks very good. The character models are well done with the cartoony aesthetics and they all have a unique personality and charm to them. The only issues I did experience was one freeze during a PvE session, and I failed to load into the initial game from the home screen a couple of times. Once I reset the game, all worked fine. Hopefully this can be addressed in future patches.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville so much. I’ve played the previous titles but never really gotten into it. I believe there’s a little gem here, and playing with friends can give it a bit of longevity. Exactly what Popcap and EA has in store for the game going forward, I am not sure, but if monetisation remains at a minimum, and the game gets proper support, I believe there’s a lot of potential here.