Plants vs Zombies Hands-On Preview
Posted 08:13am 13/05/09 by: Joaby
While the hardcore publishers like EA and Activision Blizzard push further into the casual market with the likes of the Guitar Hero series and EA's Wii line-up, PopCap Games is swimming against the current. Having already conquered the casual world with the Bejeweled series and Peggle, PopCap's newest title Plants vs Zombies is an interesting combination of casual and hardcore elements.
While Bejeweled and Peggle both have very simple goals - finish a level or get a high score - Plants vs Zombies adds a story and progression method to this casual style objective based gameplay. Popcap have done something similar to this before with the very fun, very ridiculous Bookworm Adventures Deluxe. Bookworm Adventures Deluxe was basically Bookworm Deluxe with a ridiculous story and adventure gaming elements tacked on - PvZ builds on this concept to a degree comparable with other, more traditional titles. As you play further and further in the game you unlock more plants, can buy upgrades or new plants and encounter a number of different settings for your plants - each providing different hurdles to overcome.
We're really talking about a Tower Defence game here - as zombies bear down on your house intent on eating your 'brainz' you strategically place plants on your lawn to stop them undead in their tracks. There are resource management elements, instant burst power attacks to weigh against long term, weaker destruction and the variety of zombies means you'll find yourself seriously contemplating your choices.
The basics are pretty simple - you choose which plant seeds you are armed with for a level before the battle begins. Once started there's no going back - you've got whatever is in your seed slots. As the zombies develop better defences and different attacks the plant choices you make will become more and more crucial - balancing your own counter-attack and defence will wind up being all that keeps your 'brainz' intact.
You're spoiled for choice, with over 40 different plants. Your resource gathering plant is the 'Sunflower'. She can't attack or defend but she generates the sun you need to create more plants. Other stand outs include the "Peashooter" and the "Wall-nut" - the basic offensive ranged plant and a defensive wall plant respectively. The sense of humour seen in these plant names persists through the rest of the game - all the plants and zombies have humourous back stories, and the zombies will send you friendly notes to warn you of their incoming attacks.
Zombies attack from the right, you defend from the left.
There were some slight balancing issues towards the end of the game where I found certain combinations of plants to be effective in every situation - essentially eliminating the need for variety - but I'm not really sure if the team at PopCap are truly concerned about players min-maxing their plant combinations. It might not be something they've really come across before given how different PvZ to their other titles. The issues come so late in the game that it's not exactly going to ruin the experience anyway, but I'll be interested to see if it changes at all.
The real concern for Plants vs Zombies is the push towards a slightly more hardcore focus. Peggle and Bejeweled are series' anyone can pick up and play - "Hit all the orange pegs" or "Match three of a kind" are five word learning curves. PvZ on the other hand can take a couple of levels before the basics of the game are all laid out, and while your average gamer will appreciate the new complexity (although the game isn't all that complex) PopCap's traditional market might shy away.
If PopCap succeeds with PvZ however it may encourage their traditional audience to branch out to other story-driven games - effectively broadening the range of "gamers" even more. Or it might not. At this point though, it's damned good fun and I can't wait to see the finished product. Finally a good game which will run on the terrible computer I use at work. Plants vs Zombies comes out May 5th - we'll throw up some screenshots as soon as possible.
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While the hardcore publishers like EA and Activision Blizzard push further into the casual market with the likes of the Guitar Hero series and EA's Wii line-up, PopCap Games is swimming against the current. Having already conquered the casual world with the Bejeweled series and Peggle, PopCap's newest title Plants vs Zombies is an interesting combination of casual and hardcore elements...
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