Review: Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville

Ten years ago, PopCap Games kicked off the phenomenon known as Plants vs. Zombies. Released as a mobile title, that tower defense original went on to become the foundation for the popular IP millions of fans know and love. In 2014, PopCap Games and EA expanded that franchise into the shooter genre with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. A unique blend of third-person shooting and the PvZ IP, the mix worked perfectly, spawning a sequel two years later. Now, PopCap Games is back with Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. Does this latest take on the Plants vs. Zombies IP offer up enough delicious goodness or should the zombies have been left out to rot?

Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville details the latest efforts by Dr. Zomboss to take over the world and the plants that oppose him. Players can align themselves with both factions at any time to complete quests, collect valuable loot, compete in activities and take down powerful bosses. Battle for Neighborville’s story isn’t so much a story, but a collection of fun-themed quests that take players across three unique open-world areas. Both Plants and Zombies clash at the Neighborville Town Center, with Zombies attacking the trees of Weirding Woods and Plants uncovering the secrets of Mount Steep after. There’s nothing deep or special about the story, but it does provide enough humorous scenarios to keep players of all ages engaged.

Battle for Neighborville may drop the Garden Warfare moniker, but it’s essentially Garden Warfare 3. The same mechanics, game modes, and characters that made up the previous games are back in action. If you loved the assault action of Kernel Corn and the Foot Soldier or the crazy antics of Super Brainz and Citron, you’re going to feel right at home. Thankfully, the Variant system from Garden Warfare 2 doesn’t return. Instead, players can now customize upgrades for their characters and unlock various cosmetics that can vastly alter the appearance of their characters.

Joining the ranks are three new characters per side; Night Cap, Snapdragon and Oak & Acorn for the Plants, and 80s Action Hero, Electric Slide and Space Cadet for the Zombies. Each character provides new strategies for players to master and is fun in their way. For example, as a sneaky assassin, Night Cap can briefly go invisible and ambush enemies. Meanwhile, 80s Action Hero goes all Rambo with his bow, homing rockets and ridable missiles. Playing like an action shooter, each character has three abilities that players can utilize when active. Split into offensive, defensive and support, the twenty characters are all unlocked at the outset begging for players to experiment with different strategies. Luckily, Battle for Neighborville provides plenty of opportunities to try out these characters.

PvP multiplayer returns with few alterations from Garden Warfare 2. All the modes you’ve come to expect are here. Team Vanquish, Turf Takedown, Vanquish Confirmed, Gnome Bomb and Suburbination all return. New is Battle Arena, a 4v4 elimination mode set in the Funderdome arena. It’s your typical multiplayer suite, but instead of blood and swearing, there’s color and hilarity. There’s not much new with the PvP, though balancing this time around should be less of an issue. Without the inclusion of variants, all twenty characters come with the same stock three abilities and no boosters. Players won’t be left wondering if they just lost a firefight because someone got lucky and pulled a stronger variant from the RNG system.

PopCap’s effort with Battle for Neighborville went into crafting a wide-ranging PvE experience meant to hook players for hours on end. In that sense, PopCap Games has mostly succeeded in creating open worlds that are fun to explore and packing them with enough activities and rewards to keep players going. Battle for Neighborville’s PvE is split between three open areas. Plants and Zombies can explore the Town Center, which contains suburban environments, a town and pier settings. Meanwhile, Plants exclusively get to explore Mount Steep, a rocky, mountainous region with a Wild West setting. Zombies get Weirding Woods, a former camping ground that also houses an old factory. Each of the three areas is a delight to explore and comes with main and side missions, collectibles, rewards and fun boss battles.

Players can play solo or team up with up to four friends online to tackle all the PvE challenges. PS4 and Xbox One players get the bonus of a two-player split-screen. The only real wrinkle with Battle for Neighborville’s activities is that the game always requires you to be online, even when playing solo. It’s a fact that makes no sense considering that, when playing in the open areas, there are no other players. Thankfully, the servers have been holding steady, but the online requirement feels completely unnecessary.

Bookending the three areas are the two social hubs, Dave Manor for Plans and Zomboss HQ for Zombies. Here players can participate in mini-games, customize their characters, earn cosmetic rewards and meet up with friends. These are neat little areas, though the layout can be a bit confusing for newcomers. This is especially true of the Zomboss HQ, which doesn’t feature a guided tutorial-like over at Dave Manor.

Battle for Neighborville hits a wall when it comes to its progression system or lack there-of. Despite having leveling, prestige ranks and upgrades, there’s little for players to earn as they rank up their characters. That’s because most of the cosmetics are tied to the game’s RNG system, Capsules. Players acquire capsules by paying 30,000 coins, which then proceed to drop a single item. It’s a ludicrous amount to ask for a single, random item. The game currently doesn’t have microtransactions, but they are coming in a later update. Some cosmetics are purchasable via in-game currency from the open areas for fairer prices. Still, with nothing tangible to unlock while working on your characters, there’s not much incentive to try them all out.

Battle for Neighborville employs the same colorful, cartoony art style of the previous entries. The game is gorgeous to look at thanks to its vibrant lighting and impressive effects. Acorn & Oak and Space Cadet are especially remarkable thanks to their detailed transformation sequences, teamwork capabilities and ability to unleash plenty of mayhem. It’s also worth noting that, for the most part, Battle for Neighborville runs well at launch. Despite Frostbite’s recent history (i.e., Anthem and Battlefield V), PopCap appear to have a solid grasp on the engine and deliver a mostly stable game. There are a few bugs and glitches, and some of the hitboxes are inconsistent, but overall, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville runs as well as it looks.

Closing Comments:

The Plants vs. Zombies franchise continues to grow in exciting and entertaining ways. While the previous Garden Warfare titles focused heavily on crafting multiplayer experiences, Battle for Neighborville set its sights on delivering a substantial PvE experience. The three open areas are fun to explore, with plenty of engaging content for all ages. The six new characters are a blast to try out, and the removal of variants eliminates many of the previous game’s balancing problems. Those characters are fun to play with, but with all cosmetics locked behind an obtrusive RNG system, there’s little incentive to rank them all up. The social areas are worth checking out, but the game never justifies the need for a forced online connection for those who just want to play solo or co-op via split-screen. Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville may have a few technical hiccups and design missteps, but it remains a fun, cheerful shooter that’s engaging for players of all ages.