Plants vs. Zombies
PopCap Games have something of a Midas touch. Not content with rolling out some of the most popular puzzle games of the new millennium in Bejeweled and Peggle, they have now set their sites on the ever-burgeoning tower defence genre with Plants vs. Zombies; and have, unsurprisingly, created an incredibly compulsive and accessible entry in the genre.
Plants vs. Zombies is technically a very simple game; zombies approach your house from the right of the screen the player must lay their defences in form of various fauna to halt the brain-seeking undead menace. The style and presentation is extremely attractive, the difficulty curve is basically perfect and there is a fearsome amount of content. In terms of comparative value, few games offer more than this.
OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista
Memory: 512+ MB RAM
Processor: 1.2 GHz MHz or faster
The best weapons against the undead are sunflowers. Planting these will result in an intermittent reward of sunlight, and this is then used to purchase other plants. Balancing the arsenal before each level is the key to stopping the zombies, and will require adept use of the available resources; at its most simple, a line of peashooters is all that is needed, but just as you begin to get comfortable new zombies and conditions are introduced, such as those who can burrow under your defences, those who raise fellow dancing zombies from the grave and a concealing fog. What initially seems like a simple layout is soon near-overwhelming with its options and strategies.
The tactical element goes deeper than it first appears - although there is only a small selection of plants and zombies to begin with, dozens of each soon become involved, with a careful (and limited) selection of the former needed to effectively stem the latter. Similarly, the level design varies, with a swimming pool and angled rooftop soon becoming focal; both requiring differing priorities and tactics. Completed levels (and occasional defeated zombies) are rewarded with money, and there is a store (run by eccentric neighbour Crazy Dave) where additional goods can be purchased.
And should the main Adventure mode become exhausted (which alone will probably take eight hours across its 50-odd stages), there are a slew of mini-games in which to partake. Most of them are twists on the main game which can last just a couple of minutes - smash vases at random to unleash zombies and plants; defeat waves whilst laying defenses in a particular pattern; knocking down zombies in a ‘bowling alley’, and so on. There’s even a horticultural mini-game, which requires the care of plants and subsequently nets you more rewards for the main game. There is a staggering amount of content here, and - like the TimeSplitters series - it’s entirely possible these mini-games will see more play time than the main game itself.
The presentation of Plants vs. Zombies is wonderful. Admittedly, it doesn’t do anything a simple Flash title could not, but the visuals are really well animated, with loads of character (zombies wearing traffic cones as rudimentary protection are a particular highlight) and it has superb sound effects and music - there’s a particularly fun closing song once you’ve completed the Adventure mode. Menus are clear and accessible, and everything is designed with being as user-friendly and as logical as possible. Full marks to PopCap in this regard.
Plants vs. Zombies represents a perfect introduction to the tower defence genre, and it has sufficient depth, content and detail to appeal to the more experienced gamer. At £15 (or US $10 on Steam, at the time of writing), there is a mass of content here for a bargain price, and it will pretty much flawlessly run on any half-decent system from the last six or eight years. Fans of the genre should seek to pick this up immediately, and even those who don’t normally buy games like this should probably try the one hour free trial on the official site, because Plants vs. Zombies is so addictive, charming and entertaining that everyone could be converted to its cause.
Eight out of ten