Tom Armitage

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This weekend, I will mostly be playing Popcap’s excellent new Plants vs Zombies.

That’s not what I’m planning to play. What I’m planning is: ploughing on through the excellent Chronicles of Riddick; having just acquired a Wii after all this time, I’m hoping to dive back into Metroid Prime 3 and the sublime Super Mario Galaxy; and checking out Tale of Tales’ The Path, now that a Mac port is available (as previously reported on Offworld).

Things won’t go according to plan, though: the siren song of zombies, clamouring for brains, will lure me back to my garden.

It’s hard not to have escaped the casual-games juggernaut that is Popcap, following the success of their previous titles, such as Bejeweled, Zuma, and Peggle. Plants Vs Zombies continues their tradition of making finely crafted, perfectly balanced, and maddeningly addictive games.

Plants Vs Zombies is Popcap’s take on Tower Defence. I am not the greatest fan of Tower Defence games – even the delightful Fieldrunners. They’re fiddly, require a great deal of information to be processed at once, and demand increasingly precise interactions as the playing field fills with tiny turrets. For something that is supposedly strategic, they seem to descend into motor-control tests all too quickly.

Popcap take all that and throw it away, reducing the genre to a skeleton: defending a house against zombie attackers, with limited resources and limited space on your lawn. No building mazes of little turrets here; there are up to five “rows’ for enemies to walk down and you to build on. The play-field clears after every level. There’s only one resource — sunlight — and it has to be gathered by hand. The various plants at your disposal are, like all the game’s graphics, large, clear, and beautifully drawn. There’s no “upgrading” of turrets; each plant has a unique function to perform, and all have strengths and weaknesses, which usually come down to balancing power against the cost to build and the time it takes before you can build another.

New plants and capabilities are added very slowly – one per level at most. You’re never overwhelmed with choice. Even once your repertoire of plants is bulging, the game keeps that in check by limiting you to taking six different types of seeds to battle. And then, just when you think you’ve got the whole thing sussed… it throws night levels into the mix, where there’s no sunlight to restock your supplies, but where fungi come into their own (as they don’t have any need for sunlight). There’s a lot more depth to Plants Vs Zombies than you might expect from a casual game, but that depth is meted out slowly and carefully. It has to be, given how useful the help screen is:


Popcap are well-known for their attention to their craft; Plants Vs Zombies has been in the pipeline for quite a while, but it’s clearly not been released until it’s absolutely ready, and the Popcap attention to detail shows. Plants Vs Zombies is really, really good. Like all Tower Defence games, it can get repetitive, but it’s not designed for long periods of play. It’s much better suited to frequent short bursts, and the charming character design and inventive array of zombies ensures that it’s never long after a play-session before you’re double-clicking on it again.

Plants Vs Zombies is available now for PC and Mac as direct download from Popcap, as well as on Steam and other services; it’s currently only $9.99 on Steam, which is a steal. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be stumping up the second the hour-long free trial is up. And then not playing very much else. Whatever you choose to play, have a fun weekend, Offworlders; what’s in your gaming future for the next two days?

Plants Vs Zombies [PopCap]

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