Garden Warfare 2 has a cool trick to disperse the red mist of an online death: its cast of heroes are so dumb-looking, that you can’t stay angry. Ever tried flinging an f-bomb at a sunflower? How about insulting the parents of an undead construction worker? It can’t be done. Spite cannot survive in the face of such silliness.
What do you expect from the world’s friendliest third-person shooter? Enemies aren’t killed, but ‘vanquished’. Your own fallen body is shown to be concussed, with eyes dopily swivelling in the sockets. Even the killcam jollies up an impersonal war by keeping tally of your killcount (sorry, vanquish count) against every attacker. Discovering that an undead pirate is 3-0 up on your rose witch lets you enjoy a head-to-head grudge match amidst the chaos. This isn’t to say the game is without urgency — you’ll fight as hard to protect a giant comedy tombstone as you would a Battlefield control point — but the losses don’t smart quite as much.
It’s a game that prefers heroic victory to the aggressive domination preached by most shooters. Success is met with a burst of cheery energy, whether it’s setting off fireworks by holding all capture points in Surburbination mode, or the spray of treasure from a flagpole when you repel a wave of enemies. Even individual kills are celebratory, marked with a comedy ‘pop!’ sound effect. Get a spree going and it resembles microwave popcorn; doubly so when it’s living corn cobs you’re frazzling. My favourite touch is the jaunty whistling as plants seize a control point — a spot of Colonel Bogey March-like motivation to push you over the finish line.
Much of this goes for the original, so is there enough to justify a return to the juice (bodily and citric) splattered trenches? For starters, GW2 arrives with a spread of modes it took several DLC packs for GW1 to amass. It also doubles up by offering the zombies’ version of events. So Garden Ops’ Horde-like mode is matched in Graveyard Ops, and Garden and Graves, PvZ’s answer to Battlefield’s Rush, is mirrored in Herbal Assault. Forcing a zombie retreat may not sound mechanically revolutionary, but it’s fun to play attacker with the usually put-upon plants and to see zombies put those much hungered-for brains to a tactical defense.
Fighting earns coins, coins buy stickers granting support items, cosmetic goods and new heroes. Good news: real money isn’t involved and coins flow freely – you can buy a new hero every 90 minutes. The downside is tying consumable AI soldiers and turrets to stickers – both add greatly to match complexity, so it’s a shame they run out so quickly.