A Shooter for Kids: Plant vs Zombies Garden Warfare
Posted on August 18, 2014
If younger players want to play some of the more mature military shooter-type games (think Call of Duty), it’s good to offer an alternative that is a bit more appropriate for their age and stage. Common Sense Media recommends an age limit of 11, but of course his should always be adapted to circumstances.
You think you know Plants vs. Zombies: the classic tower defense game, where you grow plants to defend your house and garden from hordes of slow-moving zombies, using varieties of plant to block, shoot, and chomp your enemies. Electronic Arts has now released PvZ: Garden Warfare, a third-person shooter version of the undead vs botanicals conflict. There are a number of aspects of the game design that may bring stylised action to a younger gamers’ repertoire whilst circumventing some of the more mature aspects of military shooters. To begin with, PvZ: Garden Warfare carries on the classic art style of the franchise. This include insufferably cute plants with big doe-like eyes and pouty expressions, and goofy, brain-dead zombies whose shuffling gait is more comic than threatening. The environments are suburban or carnivalesque, and evoke an atmosphere of sideshow fun rather than fear or tension. There are simple substitutions: instead of ‘killing’, you ‘vanquish’ enemies, and while some character classes encourage shooting and offence, there is also a lot of space (and rewards given) for supportive team gameplay, like healing and aerial support. It’s therefore possible to do well in the game without ‘vanquishing’ any foes at all. ‘Third person’ means that your own character is visible on the screen and you play ‘over their shoulder’ as it were. While this has been used in much more mature shooters (Gears of War comes to mind), here it serves to reduce the immersion in all the action and explosions. It also encourages more identification with the player-character avatar, putting a step between the player and the on-screen action, all of which dilutes the impact of the onscreen action. A multiplayer option called ‘boss mode’ allows for the kind of asynchronous gameplay characteristic of the new generation of consoles. This means that a second player (potentially a younger player) can use any device equipped with the Smartglass app, combined with an Xbox One to contribute to the team’s objectives with a fairly simple point-and-click (or -press) mechanic. This has the potential for players to become involved even if they are not so engaged with the high-action gameplay. Finally, the game comes in at a very reasonable price: around $50RRP.
Unfortunately, it has been designed to be multiplayer-only and must be always-online, although there are good options for muting microphones and other players’ voice. There is a cooperative mode available on split screen, but even this won’t work if you aren’t logged into Xbox LIVE (and this requires the costly Gold status). This seems to be a missed opportunity to provide a ‘couch coop’ experience where players can have a purely face-to-face experience. Ultimately it means that the only way to play this game is with more-or-less random strangers online, which might not be ideal for some kids without supervision. But hey, that seems to be the future of gaming: you can’t escape The Matrix.