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Written by  :  Alex Z (1916)
Written on  :  Feb 13, 2012
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  2.75 Stars2.75 Stars2.75 Stars2.75 Stars2.75 Stars

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Supreme in its mediocrity

The Good

Plant vs Zombies (PvZ) indeed stands out among other tower-defense games. The concept behind it is a very nice stab at the zombie pandemic that sweeps across the entire modern industry. Better than that, PvZ injects humor into every facet of the game: Funny descriptions, amusing letters left by the zombies, crazy ramblings of your neighbor and the very design and sounds of both defenders and attackers all merge well to produce a lighthearted experience. While there are many tower-defense games, none have as much humor.

However, humor is not the only thing that keeps this game apart from the rest. PvZ is perhaps the only tower-defense produced by a major company. In a field littered with badly made sprites, PvZ stands tall with proper graphics and animations. Every detail is lovably portrayed - from a newsletter-reading zombie's rage when he loses his paper to the single heroic tear that hangs at the corners of a walnut's eye as it being chewed up by zombies.

Better still are the numerous addition mini-games that are opened up during your adventure, the best of which is arguably the one (I, Zombie) where you use limited resources to deploy your own zombies against a field of deadly plants. This is one of the few true strategic parts of the game as it has no random factor and relies on your ability to correctly understand the weaknesses and strengths of both zombies and plants. Many varieties of mini-games (such as one where all zombies have plant heads with the same abilities that your plants have) add much flavor to the tower-defense concept, making this a lovely casual game...

The Bad

... but a horrible tower-defense! Anyone who has ever played any true tower-defense would be insulted by the kindergarten-level difficulty and almost a complete lack of anything close to a strategy. There are only three possible levels in the adventure game mode with five or six straight lanes, each with only a handful of squares for positioning your photosynthetic defenders. This results in every level being exactly the same as the previous one, with the exception of new zombies that appear every several levels. Presumably, new zombies are supposed to make you reexamine your strategy, forcing a test of intellect against the game developers and their undead horde. In reality this means changing one plant from your defender list. If you're really advanced you might even change two, but even that isn't necessary because all too often new powerful zombies will be very few and far between, making them an easy pray for your cherry-bomb, or another similarly destructive plant. The difficulty increases after finishing the adventure mode, but it is still so low that the only way to lose a level is to fall asleep from boredom.

Speaking of which, did you know that almost all tower-defenses have speed settings? Neither did PvZ developers! Their idea of fun is a game in which every level starts with a couple of minutes of slow gathering of sunshine (your currency for planting most plants) and watching with glazed eyes as the first slow moving zombies are slowly shot down by your slow initial defenders. If the above sentence isn't clear enough, let me say that this all happens very slowly. Excruciatingly, even. I understand that I can't expect feats of swiftness from a game centered around corpses and phototrophs, but the end result is just ridiculous.

Even the strengths of this game fade to nothingness after enough time. The novelty of the concept is quickly depleted and after several dozen levels you'll see nothing remotely amusing or clever in a pole vaulting zombie. Graphics too become nothing more than bearable. Mini-games are the best part of PvZ but even they get old eventually (I nearly wrote fast, but nothing happens fast in PvZ - those mini-games have to be unlocked by grinding the boring levels of adventure mode).

I think the best example of this game failures is its Zen Garden mini-game(?). Basically, it's a virtual pet (or plant) game that does nothing but require you to occasionally tend to the plants and watch them grow (OK, so the process of acquiring new plants for the garden isn't that simple, but at the end it's all the same). It isn't mandatory. It isn't intrusive. And it isn't fun. What it is, is just a massive time drain that would feel at home among semi-free Facebook games, but not among games you actually purchase to play. In a sense this describes all of PvZ. Look at outstanding tower-defenses such as Defender's Quest, Kingdom Rush and Protector. Now back at PvZ. See the difference? See the intense gameplay? The ever-changing maps? The need to constantly readjust your strategy and adapt to new challenges? Those are tower-defenses - a strategical endeavor that requires good planning, calculation and sometimes reflexes. PvZ has nothing of the sort - it does have prettier graphics and good marketing, if that's what you're into.

The Bottom Line

Casual gamers: You'll find this game very friendly and a good first step into the tower-defense genre.

Tower defenders: These are not the zombies you were looking for.