The original Plants Vs Zombies was, without any doubt, one of the greatest casual games ever made. When I heard there was going to be a sequel, I was thrilled, but when I carried on reading the press release and discovered that it was going to be a multiplayer shooter, I lost all interest.
Now, it's finally out in stores and, after spending the past month listening to other people going on about how great it is, I decided to give it a go after all. But how much can someone who doesn't really like shooters and who REALLY doesn't like going on Xbox Live enjoy the game?
After loading it up, the next thing I knew it was 3am and I was still sitting on the sofa with the controller clutched in my hands, wishing I had enough energy left for JUST ONE MORE GAME. So, I suppose the answer is: a lot.
The first stages of playing leave a lot to be desired. There's no real guide to the controls, no training levels for you to practice your moves and no guide to the different types of characters or maps. You're just presented with a menu and the next thing you know you're online and other people are trying to kill you. It really is a baptism of fire and could do with some fine tuning. But once I figured out the controls and what I was supposed to be doing I didn't look back.
There are basically three different gameplay modes – Garden Ops, a four-player co-op mode where you always play as the plants and have to defend your turf from 10 waves of increasingly tough zombies and then make it to the landing zone to escape. Then there's Gardens and Graveyards, where the plants have to defend 10 locations and the zombies have to take them over in a set amount of time. Finally, there's Team Vanquish, which is just all out warfare between the two teams, with whichever side gets to 50 kills first winning the round.
Everything you do that helps your team towards its goal will net you silver coins, whether that's reviving another player who's down for the count, attacking an enemy's property or vanquishing another player. You'll also get a completion bonus for finishing the round and extra points if you're on the winning team.
These coins can then be used in the Sticker Shop to buy randomised sticker packs which range in cost from 1,000 coins to 40,000. These can contain customization items for your characters, consumables to use in battle, gestures for your characters and pieces of different variations of characters that you'll unlock when you get the complete set. Warning! This is stupidly addictive.
Each side has four main character classes. For the plants, there's the Peashooter, the Sunflower, the Cactus and – my personal favourite – the Chomper. The zombies get the Foot Soldier, the Engineer, the Scientist and the All-Star. Some characters conform to regular character classes, for instance the Sunflower is pretty much a Healer by any other name, but most combine several abilities and you'll need to play through them all to find out which you prefer. As you level up by completing challenges, you will unlock new abilities for your character class and become tougher to kill.
The servers seem to be well populated, particularly in the evenings when most people will be playing, although there are still some annoying glitches – one evening in particular I seemed to keep losing the connection to them for no good reason, sometimes at the very end of long game, and being booted meant I didn't get the coins I was due which gave me The Rage. First world problems, huh?
I also wish there was an option to play without headsets – I personally don't use them because I don't want people to know I'm a girl and be subjected to all the inevitable torrent of shite that comes with that inconceivable revelation. I also have one of those brains that finds it quite difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at once – if I'm chatting with my buddy, then I'm not concentrating on my strategy and will probably let the side down.
In many of the games I played, at least one person would have their headset on for the entire game (some matches can last half an hour or more, so you can just imagine). On one I could hear heavy breathing throughout the entire game – I don't think it was deliberate, I think the guy just didn't actually know how to turn the damn thing off. In two others, two young school kids were constantly babbling to each other excitedly in what I think was Taiwanese. Then there was the wannabe smack talker who got WAY too excited about everything he did and really should have been playing Call of Duty or something (perhaps his Mum refused to buy it for him but told him he could have this game instead). I'm still confused as to how any of this is meant to contribute to my gaming experience.
Really, for £25.99, though, this game is a complete bargain and will provide hours and hours of silly fun. It's worth noting that buying an Xbox Live Gold membership is required to play, although the game does come with a two-day code.