There’s always something to do in Neighborville, the suburban wonderland that serves as the setting for the latest game in Popcap’s Plants Vs. Zombies third-person shooter spinoff. No matter which side of the conflict I choose, or what sort of competitive, co-op, or solo battle I dive into, the game never fails to put a smile on my face.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One following a four-week preview period for purchasers of the “founder’s pack.” It’s the third family-friendly third-person shooter from EA and developer Popcap Games. Neighborville abandons the punny “Garden Warfare” name of its two predecessors, which is good, as this is no Call of Duty parody.
It’s a cartoony shooter with a focus on community and good-natured fun. The social hub, where plant and zombie players can fight and fool around between battles, is a literal carnival, with rides and everything. At the moment it’s Halloween themed. Who decorated it? I try not to think about it.
The competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes are standard shooter fare with lush, vibrant Plants Vs. Zombies flair. I can fight for my life against other players. I can capture points and escort the payload. I can join a team of plants or zombies and fight against waves of computer-controlled enemies. It’s stuff I can do in other shooters, only instead of dark and gritty, it’s bright and fluffy. The silly setting and colourful combatants transform traditional third-person battles into ridiculous spectacles. Googly-eyed undead are pelted by corn kernels, peas, and seeds. Vibrant plant soldiers are mowed down by crackling electricity, hastily cobbled-together turrets, and other weapons of weird science.
There’s a solid third-person shooter under these layers of absurdity. Firing weapons is tactile and satisfying. Each of the ten characters on either side of the conflict has their own unique playstyle based on their special abilities and classification—attack, defend, or support. When the Sunflower is healing, the tank-like Citron is defending, and a couple of Peashooters are laying down heavy fire during a major multiplayer confrontation, it’s a beautiful, ridiculous thing. Plus it’s hard to get angry when your foes are so goofy.
The colourful cartoon maps are the ultimate 3D realisation of the PVZ style established back in 2009 with the original 2D tower defence game. Each stage oozes goofy character, hand-waving (or frond-waving) that distracts from the grim idea that the plants and zombies are fighting on battlefields abandoned by humans following some sort of undead apocalypse.
I love this wacky animated fantasy world, which is why my favourite modes in Battle for Neighborville are the ones that let me relax and explore at my own pace. The social region, Giddy Park, is a place where players can meet up, spend in-game coins on cosmetic rewards, promote their characters when they reach new levels, or jump into the park proper for informal skirmishes with the enemy team. It would be the perfect place to advertise microtransactions, what with the giant “Mr. Reward-O-Tron 9000” gachapon machine front-and-centre, but Battle for Neighborville doesn’t have any microtransactions. It’s not that kind of game. Rewards are bought with in-game currency, which can only be earned in-game. Sorry, big spenders.
It is the kind of online shooter that also makes sure solo players have plenty to do. Both factions have two adventure zones, where solo players can play through a quest-based storyline or explore freely. Enemy encounters randomly occur as players explore, keeping the tension mildly high, but as every character in Neighborville enjoys unlimited sprinting, escape is always only a button away.
These adventure zones are where I go to chill. More importantly, they are where I send my children when they get the urge to play. My eight-year-old son Archer can wander about the Western-themed Mount Steep for hours, dying and respawning, jumping off cliffs and giggling. Basically all the things he does when he logs into my Overwatch account on the Xbox One, only without doing horrible things like ruining my profile by goofing around or playing as Hanzo.
Even better, should we ever have two Xbox One controllers not under the couch at the same time, the entire game can be played in local or online splitscreen on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. What the world needs now is sweet, sweet couch co-op.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Welcome to Neighborville is literally fun for my entire family. I love to play. My kids love to play. My wife loves to … well, watch us play because she gets motion sickness from third and first-person shooters. She at least thinks the plants and zombies are super-cute, as do I. It’s the sort of game that makes me happy every time I boot it up.