The tragic story of an underrated trilogy of games

I was a cranky kid. My friends today remember playing shooters like Halo or Titanfall 2 when they were younger, but my gaming habits have always been a little different. To be honest, I’ve never been involved with games like this, except for one particular franchise, and you’d better not doubt it. This series was practically my only exposure to shooters for quite some time, and it’s a series that has sadly faded from feel to relic – not coming out with a bang, but a whimper.

I’m talking about Garden Warfare.

Once king of casual gaming, Garden Warfare from Plants vs. Zombies is a trio of third-person shooters that let you play as plants and zombies from across the series in a variety of multiplayer modes. This is probably the best thing to take away from EA’s take on PvZ – and the massive success of the first two entries suggests I’m not alone in thinking that. However, the contrasting shift with the third game in the trilogy led to its downfall entirely. Support for its content was soon discontinued despite its planned live service period. From inception to obscurity, these shooters have followed the path of the general rise and fall of PvZ. Now going into the hands of shrinking player bases, I think it’s worth shedding light on just how good all of these games are – and still are.

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The first Garden Warfare game was released in 2014 and has picked up quite a bit of content over time, with the game now featuring a huge variety of modes, cosmetics, and characters. Both factions have four classes each with a variety of variants (68 characters in total!). Plants are equipped for defense, with the only true sniper class in the form of cacti, more area control abilities, and AI plant towers that can be bought and potted. Meanwhile, zombies have better offensive abilities, such as AI zombie summons or engineering teleporters to put other players back into action after respawning. This is because in the main Gardens and Graveyards mode in this first game, where zombies travel across a map capturing targets, only zombies can attack and only plants can defend. This system has been carried over to the plant-exclusive Garden Ops mode, where you and up to four friends battle waves of AI zombies.

It’s the many things about Garden Warfare that set the series up for success: the massive amount of variables that keep each class fresh, the powerful fireworks, the excellent presentation, the pinging noise after the kill (uh, literally the sweet sound of my childhood). However, the best part of Mel is the sheer chaos. During the few minutes a zombie has to capture a target, said blob will ebb and flow with clouds of purple smoke, bean bombs, and corn air strikes as defenses are chipped away. It may take more time, at which point the stampede becomes even more desperate – the zombies are just trying to keep one of their numbers on target while the plants do everything they can to prevent the undead from winning at the last second. Potato mines explode in bursts, healing plants are placed to keep the hold on hold, and snipers are quick to help numbers at the point – every character has something outrageous to do, and each has the potential to add to this disastrous melting pot.

2016’s Garden Warfare 2 expands on this perfectly. Set in a future where zombies have taken hold, both factions are now given tools to attack and defend – with a whole host of new characters joining the ranks. Each side got three new classes along with new variants of the existing classes. The new plant characters really helped make plants feel more fun to me, as zombies were always my favorite team in the first game due to their specialization in dealing offense. Kernel Corn offers creative mirrors to the zombie soldier’s abilities, while Citron’s ability to roll into a ball provides perhaps the best mobility in the game. Superbrainz in zombie team is one of my favorite add-ons, sporting lasers for long range and up close touches. Add all of this to a hub world full of content, a new Graveyard Ops mode that lets zombies take a turn fighting AI plants, timed events, and customizable special matches, and you might have got my favorite sequel ever.

The game was just as inevitable a hit as its predecessor was – which cannot be said about the third entry in the series. Battle For Neighborville dropped at the same time as its trailer in 2019 and dropped the Garden Warfare name… plus a lot more. The core gameplay is the same, but everything’s got a massive makeover – from old favorite gameplay to art style; Something that makes Citron look like a coin-sensitive thing from the alien Cryptoland cartoon. Streaming finally added (thanks Machine) but removing variables dramatically narrows the pool of characters and the motivation to keep playing. It reduces the potential for chaos and replayability. Add in a bunch of balancing issues and it’s easy to understand why this game’s fan base has largely rejected it.

However, I actually like this game.

Battle For Neighborville is a much less polished multiplayer experience than its sister games, and it shows. The other two still have active player bases while any lobby in the last game is mostly an AI backfill. However, it really shines with its single player content. Each faction has several open worlds to visit, all with a short plot to fulfill and many secrets to find. Each one of these comes with boss fights that go beyond the mini-bosses of the previous games – with large health bars and nifty mechanics. My favorite is probably Olds Cool, a disco zombie driving a disco volleyball, which made me feel downright squeamish at times. Bosses are powerful and more than memorable agents, populating worlds with replayability lacking in the base game. I just wish the multiplayer was good.

Unfortunately, I am very alone in wanting this last entry. A combination of contradictory changes, balancing issues, and a mid-level direct service trend soon saw the announcement that no new content was being added to the game. This short indicated that we likely wouldn’t get Garden Warfare 4, which is a real shame. It’s the end of an era for me, but if you’re interested in anything I’ve talked about here, I recommend a trip to the park. All three games are available on Gamepass, and I can’t recommend each one enough. It provides an unparalleled shooter experience.

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