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September 8, 2010 • Gaming, Reviews

PC/Mac Game Review: Plants vs. Zombies Game of the Year

While I might be the main ‘gaming person’ here at Gear Diary, let’s be clear about one thing – Plants vs. Zombies is a shared addiction / love affair / necessity of life for MOST of the staff. Earlier this year I reviewed the iPhone version of the game, and while all of us with iPads also love THAT version there just wasn’t enough new stuff to merit a new look. But now the combined Mac & PC ‘Game of the Year’ version has been released on Steam, and therefore I couldn’t resist playing it some more … let’s see how it works!

The Hype:
Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense-style game available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Get ready to soil your plants in an all-new action-strategy game from PopCap. A mob of fun-loving zombies is about to invade your home, and your only defense is an arsenal of 49 zombie-zapping plants. Use peashooters, wall-nuts, cherry bombs and more to mulchify 26 types of zombies before they can reach your front door. Each zombie has its own special skills, so you’ll need to think fast and plant faster to combat them all. But be careful how you use your limited supply of greens and seeds& as you battle the fun-dead, obstacles like a setting sun, creeping fog and a swimming pool add to the challenge. And with five game modes to dig into, the fun never ends.

* Conquer all 50 levels of Adventure mode -through day, night and fog, in a swimming pool and on the rooftop
* Battle 26 types of zombies including pole-vaulters, snorkelers and “Zomboni” drivers
* Earn 49 powerful perennials and collect coins to buy a pet snail, power-ups and more!
* Design your own Zombie with the Zombatar

The Reality:

I was totally amazed at the transformation of the TD (Tower Defense) genre over the last few years – we started with some basic browser-based Flash games and quickly evolved. I did a review of Defense Grid: The Awakening in 2008, and the DS gem Lock’s Quest in 2009. It seems like a genre that fits perfectly into the ‘casual game craze’ while also offering developers an opportunity to add plenty of depth and individualization. Of course, there are still too many Flash-type web-based TD games that are generic sci-fi fluff, and the popularity of teh genre has led a shift from Flash games to Apps, but every now and then a gem comes along. Like Plants vs. Zombies!

Once again I’m in a place where I feel like the old woman in the shoe – only I now have so many copies of Plants vs. Zombies I just don’t know what to do! I got the Mac version from Popcap when it launched, then the PC version on Steam, then the iPhone version, then the iPad version, and now that the Game of the Year version is out I have the Mac version on Steam!

Oh, by the way … Plants vs. Zombies comes out in January 2011 for the Nintendo DS. Sadly I can’t pre-order it yet. But I will …. oh, yes I will!

The majority of the game is the same as I had played elsewhere early in 2009, so let me step back through the review I did then: I remember explaining it to my wife – there is your house, there is your yard, and there are a bunch of zombies out in the road; all you have to do it stop the zombies from reaching your house. After the blank look remained on her face, I said ‘let me show you’. A few minutes later she was sold – she STILL hasn’t played yet, but loves when the four of us crown around my Macbook Pro yelling at the screen while one of us takes control.

Aside from thoroughly enjoying the adventure mode, there are also Mini-games, Puzzle, and Survival modes. These are unlocked gradually as you progress through the adventure and offer even more fun ways to assault or defend your house. Mini-games are unveiled one at a time and are singular events, such as Wall-Nut Bowling, where you get to roll Wall-Nuts (large stones that block the path of zombies until destroyed) into the onslaught of zombies. The Wall-Nut will strike a zombie, doing a certain amount of damage and then take off at an angle, allowing you to hit multiple zombies with a single Wall-Nut.

Puzzle Mode unlocks a specific type of challenge, and by completing that challenge you can unlock further levels of that challenge. Of course each level is harder than the last – but it isn’t just more difficult because of more or tougher zombies. Each level of a puzzle offers a different twist on the same core gameplay idea, forcing you to adapt to something new and use some alternate strategies in order to make it through. Survival mode is about, well surviving an onslaught of zombies for as long as possible. There are multiple waves, and you get to select different plants between levels, with the plants already in place remaining.

Then there is the Zen Garden. This is something you gain access to after completing Adventure Mode – there are no zombies, no battles, nothing but growing plants to gain more money to buy more upgrades and equipment for your further adventures. It is like a whole different world – the very feeling is completely different from the main game. Yet it is no less addictive – you will go there even when you no longer need the money.

One thing I will say is that there was no skimping on the extras – if you love the adventure mode there is loads of replayability there; the mini-games and puzzles get increasingly more challenging each time you replay them; Survival takes the core game and drops you into it with a no-holds-barred attitude; and the Zen Garden is the perfect complement to all the frantic zombie-mania. None of these modes feel tacked-on; each offers a unique style and approach within the context of the theme of ‘plants vs. zombies’. It would have been easy for the developers to cut back on any of these modes, but instead we get an amazingly full and rich experience.

I recall playing Survival Mode during last year’s basketball playoff games, and for a minute I just stopped and looked at the screen … I had a back row of three-shooters and a front row of Gatling guns with fire-barrels in front of those and during the final onslaught there was just an amazing amount of pea-fireballs screaming across the screen! It was completely insane and a total blast. Yet as you say, it started the same as every other wave – I establish my ‘resource builders’, create some early offensive and defensive units, continue to build my resource capacity alongside offense and defense until … victory.

I can understand how you would feel that might feel repetitive – whereas most strategy games have battles that last longer and most tower defense games have more interlude space, this one just dumps you from battle to battle to battle. For me it was interesting to see how I’d have to twist those strategies as the levels got harder and as the setting changed from day to night and from front yard to back yard to roof.

One more note on replayability – when you complete Adventure Mode and restart again, Crazy Dave starts making some of your plant choices! So instead of just rehashing the same levels at a higher difficulty, you get your whole inventory but three of your slots are already filled. This can drastically alter the approach you take.

It has been well over a year since I first planted a pea shooter to protect my yard, so it was interesting going back again. Since I already owned the game in Steam it simply changed from ‘Plants vs. Zombies’ to ‘Plants vs. Zombies GOTY Edition’ – but now I can install the game on my Mac version of Steam as well as the PC. So I did!

The promise of Steamworks integration for Mac & PC games means that games saved on one platform are playable from that save point on any other computer attached to that account. Of course, if you have multiple new games on different systems sometimes – even with Valve games like Portal – that gets messy. But for Plants vs. Zombies it has been simple – I started a new PC game, then picked up later on Mac, and then back to PC and so on. All of my mini-games, Zen Garden, and other settings were saved without complaint.

But I do have one complaint, the removal of the dancing zombie … okay, I’ll just call him the Michael Jackson zombie since that is how everyone knows him! From PopCap:

“The Estate of Michael Jackson objected to our use of the ‘dancing zombie’ in Plants vs. Zombies based on its view that the zombie too closely resembled Michael Jackson”

What resemblance? I don’t begin to … um, well, yeah, so it IS pretty obvious WHY they had to remove it – but it is sad nonetheless, as it was the single best enemy in the game. So what did they do?

“After receiving this objection, PopCap made a business decision to retire the original ‘dancing zombie’ and replace it with a different ‘dancing zombie’ character for future builds of Plants vs. Zombies on all platforms. The phase-out and replacement process is underway.”

Which works fine … but is a disappointment. And my only complaint about this game. Here is an image showing the new ‘dancing zombie’.

The final new addition is the Zombatar, a utility that allows you to construct your own Zombie heads. You can customize your zombie with several different styles for hair, beards, clothes, and other decorations. You can then take that avatar to web forums, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. The feature has been available on Popcap’s site for a while, but new to the Game of the Year edition you can customize your own zombie and it will be put in your game as a ‘Flag Zombie’. Flag Zombies are the ones who lead the massive waves of zombies

In an era of a constant stream of $60 games that last four hours and offer me-too multiplayer, Plants vs. Zombies offers an amazing value: hours of core gameplay, loads of added content, tons of reasons to keep coming back for more, and Crazy Dave! I liken this to Portal … but better! Not that the core game is necessarily better than Portal, but because it offers a wonderfully addictive experience that won’t be over in a few short hours.

Where to Buy: Steam

Price: $9.99

What I Like:
+ Loads of content and replayability
+ Lots of plant types to experiment with and hilarious zombie types to thwart
+ Effectively streamlines the standard tower defense formula
+ Extremely addictive gameplay
+ Extras are fully developed, not cheap add-ons
+ Bursting with charm and humor
+ Zen Garden

What Needs Improvement:
– Every wave tends to start the same way
– I miss the ‘Michael Jackson’ zombie!
– Eventually, if you don’t eat, you will die

Source: Personal Copy

4 Responses to " PC/Mac Game Review: Plants vs. Zombies Game of the Year "

  1. dino says:

    RT @GearDiarySite: PC/Mac Game Review: Plants vs. Zombies Game of the Year http://goo.gl/fb/7IePZ

  2. Susanne Ford says:

    PC/Mac Game Review: Plants vs. Zombies Game of the Year | Gear Diary: Earlier this year I reviewed the iPhone vers… http://bit.ly/c6vX8W

  3. Gear Games Deal: Plants Vs. Zombies DS for $12.99 | New Gear Daily says:

    […] vs. Zombies has long been a favorite here at Gear Diary, and I have reviewed the PC/Mac and iOS versions. I never got around to grabbing the DS version … but THAT changes […]

  4. NGD Deal: Plants Vs. Zombies DS for $12.99 | NewGearDaily says:

    […] vs. Zombies has long been a favorite here at Gear Diary, and I have reviewed the PC/Mac and iOS versions. I never got around to grabbing the DS version … but THAT changes […]

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