Plants vs Zombies returns in Battle for Neighborville, which takes the basic formula of Battle for Neighborville and adds a new co-op adventure mode.
In the endless war between the plants and the zombies, the greatest battle begins. Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville updates the formula from the Garden Warfare series and adds a compelling PvE element and a boatload of the series' signature brand of humor. It has its shortcomings, including some technical hiccups and a convoluted economy, but Battle for Neighborville's wealth of gameplay options add up to a delightful and family-friendly alternative to the likes of Call of Duty and EA's own Battlefield.
The Plants vs Zombies series has come a long way from its roots as a mobile tower defense game, with the Garden Warfare sub-series arguably eclipsing the main titles in popularity in recent years. Though the title is different, make no mistake: Battle for Neighborville is essentially Garden Warfare 3, and builds off the foundation laid by the previous titles.
Pretty much everything from Garden Warfare 2 is present and accounted for in Battle for Neighborville, from the core meat and potatoes shooting to the surprising complexity of the class-based team dynamics. The PvP action is functionally very similar to GW2, but with some quality-of-life improvements like the ability to sprint. This comes in handy in the game's big new addition, a PvE co-op adventure mode.
Battle for Neighborville's adventure mode sees players tackle a series of missions as either the plants or the zombies in three large maps. The first map has campaigns for both factions, while the other two maps are each exclusive to one faction or the other. Even with the new sprint function, some classes like the Chomper and the Electric Slide are nearly unplayable in this mode since their movement speed is so painfully slow, but it's still a great option for playing around with classes and experimenting with different play styles in a relatively low-stakes combat scenario.
While the adventure gameplay wears its Destiny influence on its sleeve, each map is instanced to the player, so solo players will be stuck alone with AI against the horde. Thus, some classes are significantly less useful than others in solo play. Fortunately, the entire game can be played in two-player split screen or four player co-op, which truly opens up the experience and allows for coordinated teams to utterly dominate the battlefield. Non-stop co-op action also helps make up for the repetitive mission structure in the sandbox mode, which usually consist of "go here, shoot thing, get item," repeated ad nauseum. Boss battles are a major highlight of this mode, and they're much more manageable with a friend or three by your side; when faced one-on-one, they can be a bit too bullet spongy.
The central hub of Battle for Neighborville is Giddy Park, an online social hub clearly based on Destiny's Tower. Unfortunately, Giddy Park is arguably the weakest element of the game, filled with an overwhelming amount of currencies and shops. This is one case where it may have been better handled through a series of mundane menus. There are cosmetic loot rolls that can be purchased for coins, but with 20 classes across both factions, plus a ton of useless items like emojis and text bubbles thrown in, it's virtually impossible to get anything remotely useful from the "Mr. Reward-O-Tron 9000" capsule machine. Even worse, the classes all begin with almost no customization options at all, so players are going to have to invest for several hours before they even have a chance at beginning to have a degree of ownership over their characters. There are some cosmetics that are given out over the course of the game, especially in the open-world adventure mode, but it's still a shame so much content is locked behind a literal gacha mechanic, even if no microtransactions are involved (though they will be implemented after launch, natch).
Of course, any criticism of Giddy Park and shady economies fades away once the actual battles begin. Battle for Neighborville is as rewarding as the best in the genre with its mix of team-based action, class-based character selection, and visually spectacular shootouts. As mentioned before, each faction has ten classes, and they all manage to feel different from one another, even across party lines. The Foot Soldier Zombie and the Peashooter Plant are theoretically the basic class of their respective team, but they have completely distinct skills and weapons. Every match in PvP feels asymmetrical but still somehow balanced. While there are some similar classes here and there, Plants vs Zombies deserves acclaim for creating an online multiplayer shooter with 20 different character archetypes. An early favorite so far is the Acorn, who can transform into a towering oak that doubles as an armored troop transport for other acorns.
Whether in the 4v4 mode reminiscent of Counter Strike, traditional 8v8 Team Vanquish, or the Battlefield-esque Turf Takeover mode, battles in Plants vs Zombies are fast, tactical, and volatile. Just because there's no blood or traditional guns doesn't mean it's not a hardcore experience for shooter fans of all skill levels.Colorful explosions fill the screen with shiny particle effects that are just as satisfying as the damage they dole out to enemy fighters. Even when on a crippling losing streak, it's hard to stay mad at a game as adorably goofy as PvZ. Every character is full of personality and the gibberish dialogue they spout is pretty adorable, though it can wear thin over extended play sessions. The series' signature humor carries over into the adventure mode, as well. Though none of it is voiced (safe for some gibberish here and there), the dialogue boxes are full of silly jokes, almost like a family-friendly Borderlands. Whether or not it sticks the landing will depend on the tastes of each individual player, but we found the comedy in PvZ to be harmless at worse, and genuinely funny at its best.
On one hand, Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is a mild upgrade from Garden Warfare 2. On the other, it adds a whole new adventure mode which is a ton of fun with a friend in local co-op or online with a group. Don't let the cute presentation and jolly vibes fool you: Battle for Neighborville is just as intricate and intense as any of the more "mature" games on the market.
Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided a PlayStation 4 digital copy. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.