Saturday, May 9, 2009

Plants vs. Zombies Review

So I've been playing PopCap's new game Plants vs. Zombies. When I heard they were coming out with a new game called Plants vs. Zombies, I thought that sounded pretty cool. When I found out it was a real-time tower defense game, I was less enthused. I'm not a huge fan of the genre. But I downloaded the demo and liked it enough to purchase the full version. I'm pretty starved for new games since most new ones won't run on my old, creaky machine.

I'm glad I did. The game is pretty fun, and is chock full of variety. There are a ton of plant units: daytime flowers and nighttime mushrooms, units that fire in a line, others that catapult, others that boost firepower, etc., etc. There are lots of different types of zombies as well: armored, bungee-jumping, tunneling, etc.

The plot is loosely based on the idea that you're one of the last survivors of a zombie plague, protecting your house from waves of zombies. There are three main environments: your front lawn, your back yard (which has a pool), and your roof (which is slanted, so you need to use catapulting plants). The main campaign is pretty short, but there are gobs of mini-games and puzzles to offer replay value. Some are pretty banal (zombie whack-a-mole), but others are neat, such as the one where you actually play from the zombie side and eat all the target brains.

One feature that I initially thought was really cool but have become less enthused about is the Zen Garden, which allows you to grow money-producing plants which allow you to buy more upgrades. At first I thought once you tended the plants to a certain size and bought the garden-tending snail that collected coins for you that you could basically leave the garden up as a type of screen saver and generate money while you were away from your PC. But this isn't the case, or at least it's fairly limited. The snail falls asleep if you don't regularly poke him. You can feed him chocolate, which keeps him active for an hour, but that's not quite as cool as a feature that let's you build resources either overnight or while you're at work or school.

It has jogged my brain about including such a feature in a game of my own design, though. World of Warcraft famously had many player using bots to farm for gold and materials while they were away from their PCs. Players were banned and I'm sure Blizzard spent lots of time and resources trying to regulate such practices. But why not just integrate them into the gameplay? The idea of being able to generate resources while you're doing other things is inherently great. If you can make it into a screen-saver type of mini-function of a game, all the better. A garden or factory that produces materials for questing in a passive way seems really appealing. You put it on at night or during the day while you're away, and when you're ready to sit down and play, your inventory is full of materials to brew potions or craft weapons and armor.

Anyway, back to Plants vs. Zombies. The production values are up to PopCap's usual standards. It's a fun game, to be sure. I got it for $20 through their website, but I've heard it's half price through Steam. If they follow their usual pattern, they'll probably lower the price in a few months anyway. I'd recommend it if you're a fan of casual real-time play.

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