I love post-apocalyptic stories: movies, television shows, books, you name it. If it takes place after a worldwide flu epidemic or there are zombies roaming around, I’m in. So when I got Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare to play with my kids, I was excited. Confused, but excited.
The idea behind the game is odd because pitting plants against zombies seems like a foolish choice. In the PVZ world, however, these plants fire guns and set off bombs, so they’re more evenly matched than you’d think. Also strange is that zombies want brains and plants don’t have brains, so I’m not sure what they’re surviving on. There don’t appear to be any people around except for “Crazy Dave,” the unkempt idiot king of vegetation who occasionally offers you tips at the top of the screen and flies in at the end to whisk your team away in his Winnebago. This is a world where the last man alive is insane and wearing a sauce pot on his head, and his army consists of Venus fly traps, pea plants, sunflowers, and cacti. Fantastic. I love this plan.
As always, the most important part of any game is picking your character. Beyond the four types of plants listed above, there are also variations of each one, many of which are so very wonderful that it is hard to pick. I almost chose the first one I saw, which was a cactus wearing oven mitts, but in the end my heart was stolen by Bandit Cactus, who looks like a wild-west pickle ready for a shoot out.
All right, my gun-toting cactus pickle. Let’s do this!
What is “this,” exactly? That’s what I asked my 7-year-old son Ben, who was tasked with coaching me through the game. He said the goal was, “Don’t let the zombies get your garden.” Cool. It seems like during the zombie apocalypse we’d want to go bigger picture than that, but one step at a time, I guess.
Before you start playing, you have to wait for other players to join your team. That means that random people from around the world are put together on a team as the plants of their choice to work together against the zombies. As a child of the ’80s, I’m not particularly comfortable with this kind of group play with strangers. I don’t like hanging out with strangers, even if I’m there as a cactus. It’s very important, therefore, that you turn your speakers off at this point, or you will hear 8-year-olds in Czechoslovakia yelling at you because of the piss-poor job you’re doing. I was already humiliating myself in front my own child. I didn’t need to hear about it from Honza and Krystof, too.
Once my muted team of foreign children was assembled, my son handed me the controller to our PlayStation 4 and wished me luck. That controller and I quickly developed a hate (because I hated it)—neutral (because it’s a machine) relationship. The actual button presses are pretty straightforward: the triggers are for firing, and the round sticks on the top are for moving around. However, while the left round stick is for moving left and right, forward and backward, the right round stick is for changing where you’re looking. That means that, if you’re me, you are running around looking for zombies and then with one slight nudge of your right thumb you are suddenly staring at your running little cactus feet. That happened a lot. A whole lot.
For the game that I played, my team and I were battling different waves of zombies on a pirate ship set in the middle of a wasteland. A countdown appeared on the screen telling us when the next wave of zombies was going to hit, and when the clock struck zero, it was time to run in circles shooting at walls. At least, that was how I played the game. My poor son was bewildered by my inability to move straight and shoot. I’d be running all over the place, usually looking up at the sky or behind me, and he would say, “Mom. All you have to do is look at the zombie and shoot it.”
And I would say, “I am looking at it! And I’m shooting! How much more looking at it and shooting it can I possibly be?!”
There are arrows and icons on the screen that tell you, supposedly, where the zombies are, but I’ll be damned if I could ever find one in any way other than “accidentally.” And usually that was because they were standing behind me, killing me. I spent most of this game with my character staring at the ceiling while a zombie dressed as a plumber or as a screen door murdered me.
This brings me to the best parts of the game: the zombies and the celebration dances. They have zombies from all walks of life in this game: electricians, soldiers, welders, hockey players, etc. It took the sting out of being killed when the zombie eating you was a plumber with his butt crack hanging out.
My other favorite and most-abused-by-me part of the game was the celebrations. My son taught me that by pressing the arrow buttons, you can make your character do celebration dances. They can boogie, they can cheer, and they can put their hand on their waist and circle their hips while saying, “Oh la la!” I might have done that last one more than was necessary.
All in all, this game went very poorly for me. I won’t be playing Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare again any time soon, but my kids love it, and that’s the important part. I did somehow end up getting a decent score, although, as my son said, I got, “A really bad number of coins. I mean, really really bad.” As always, I have no clue what that means, but I appreciate the honesty.