Tag Archive: zombies


A bigger, blacker CoD

Call of Duty has come a long way over the years. Every subsequent release, though, has the ever-increasing challenge of upping the ante, especially as the fiction has crossed from the historical, to the modern, and, most recently, to the future. But just when you think there is nowhere left for it to go, Treyarch finds a way to push each mode to new heights and tie it all together in its most cohesive package yet with Black Ops III.

Set in 2065, Black Ops III’s world has actually taken a step backwards in some ways when it comes to how it wages war. Due to the setup of an air-defense grid after the attacks of Raul Menendez’s hacked drones 40 years earlier, warfare has once again gotten down and dirty, with foot soldiers serving as the difference makers in combat. But mixing with the blood, sweat, and tears out on the battlefield are the oil, rust, and frayed wires of robot soldiers and augmented humans looking for that extra edge in conflicts around the world.

It is here where Black Ops III begins, when your character is critically wounded on an op that goes sideways, and forced to replace several body parts in order to survive and continue operating for the United States government. As the story progresses through the eyes of your now-supersoldier, back in the field with robotic limbs and unfathomable abilities, you and your team uncover a secret that could turn the world on its head. Worse yet, you realize you weren’t the only ones to recently find out the truth.

Black Ops III’s campaign is easily the series’ most ambitious yet from a storytelling, gameplay, and design point of view. Each chapter is longer and larger than any we’ve seen in the past, with multiple paths to objectives available to players if they are willing to explore. These massive levels substantially lengthen the campaign, pushing my first playthrough to the 10-hour mark.

The wide maps and different routes are also ideal for the return of four-player campaign co-op. For the first time since World at War, you and some buddies can tackle the campaign together, with the difficulty ramping up dynamically depending on how many players have joined you. This also adds an element of potential planning and group tactics, as you can choose to be a team that moves as one, picking off enemies as you go, or branches off and tackles objectives from multiple angles. I personally found the multiple angles suited my team’s playstyle best, especially in the campaign’s handful of traditional boss fights—which were a surprising, but not necessarily unwelcome addition for a series known for its bombastic action filled set pieces.


The most significant addition to gameplay, though, is likely the new Cyber Cores. These are the different cybernetic abilities you can take out into the field with you. Grouped into three sets of six, each individual power can be upgraded as your character progresses.

Yes, one of the ways that Black Ops III more seamlessly brings the Call of Duty experience together is that progressing your character isn’t just limited to multiplayer. You can level up in all three modes of play, giving you specific unlocks in each one. In campaign, you not only customize your character’s armor, face, and guns, but their Cyber Cores, too.

This is done in-between levels, where you can visit a safe house that allows you to mess with your character depending on what chapter you’re going to tackle, while providing a nice respite from bullets whizzing by your ears. If you would like to be an offensive powerhouse, for example, you might want the Chaos Cyber Core that lets you shoot sonics out of your hands, debilitating all human enemies within range, or release nanobots that will swarm enemies and ignite them in flames. In the safe house you can also play a special simulation that acts as a Horde mode—which also features four-player co-op—within the campaign to test your loadouts before heading back into the story.

One of the most interesting aspects of the future setting, though, is that some of the levels are set in the virtual realm. While you can still die and have to restart from a checkpoint, these virtual levels make it so that nearly anything and everything are possible, like the inclusion of zombies for the first time in a main campaign, and even a return to Treyarch’s roots a bit with a World War II simulation that will blow your mind, all while still finding a way to progress the story.

That story, however, might be the one aspect of the campaign where things stumble a bit. Although the gameplay is phenomenal, and does a great job of really allowing you to play it however you want, Treyarch ran into the issue of having to essentially establish a brand-new world due to the 40-year jump in their continuity. Part of this takes place in the aforementioned safe houses, where people who want to dig deep into a small computer terminal will find fun articles ranging from fictional reports on major world events to fun little Easter eggs, like a failed military experiment that tried to weaponize cows.


The rest of the world-building begins in the middle of the narrative, derailing critical character development for the sake of establishing the backstory for your impending conflicts. One of the qualities that have made the Black Ops arc so great is that the conflict traditionally serves only as background noise for the characters that we get to know and love. David and Alex Mason, Woods, and Hudson were memorable characters that I adored. Black Ops III starts out similarly with this unfamiliar squad of undercover badasses, but then about a third of the way through, starts leading you down a rabbit hole around the conspiracy that you happen upon and forgets about making me want to care about any of the characters.

Although critical to the twist at the end of the campaign that will have players arguing on forums as much as Zombies enthusiasts do about that mode’s secrets, the campaign feels like it takes a break from the character development during that time to beat us over the head with themes like “Where do we draw the line with our dependence on technology” and “Americans messing with things they shouldn’t just creates more enemies.” This disrupted the narrative flow, and that became more evident just before the end when a romance subplot comes out of nowhere and the villain’s presence, predictably, is revealed to be with us since near the start of the story. I still enjoyed the campaign’s story as a whole, but I wish the conspiracy could’ve been better woven in with the characters so that the flow of everything didn’t feel so disjointed.

While on the subject of twists at the end of the campaign, the one that made me drop my controller was the reveal of a second campaign at the end of the first one. Dubbed “Nightmare,” this second campaign remixes the level order of the main campaign, but does so while providing a new protagonist, a new narrative, and new enemies.

The Nightmare campaign is a what-if version of the main campaign where all the enemies were zombies. You can’t personalize your loadout here, though. Instead, you have to rely on random magic boxes and drops from enemies in order to power up. The lack of control after having the keys to the customizable kingdom in the main campaign adds to an overall increase in difficulty considering how, even in the widest maps, the zombies will swarm you before you know what hit you. The Nightmare campaign provides a fun alternate narrative that might be stronger than the original and is also playable in four-player co-op.

But for all you Zombies fanatics out there, never fear. A more traditional Zombies experience called “Shadows of Evil”, themed on classic film noir, is also available. As that story goes, the four main characters, played by Ron Perlman, Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, and Neal McDonough, have each committed some horrible evil that is allowing zombies to enter their world. By working together, they’ll have to uncover the secret that supposedly somehow ties into previous Zombies entries and might save their damned souls.


Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as I’d normally like in Zombies, but I did get plenty of time to experiment with two major additions to the mode’s gameplay. The first is the new Gobblegum system. Each player can customize a set of five gumballs they want attributed to their person, with each gumball offering a different ability. When you find a Gobblegum machine, you can spend some of the cash you’d normally use on guns or other power-ups to get one of the five gumballs in your set at random. And just like in single-player, there is a progression here that will unlock better gumballs as you level up.

The second element is the purple flame, which can be found at different locations throughout Morg City. For a limited time, this turns players into a lightning quick plant monster with tentacles (think Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors) called “The Beast” that lets you open special doors, break boxes, and unlock the paths necessary to find all of Morg City’s secrets. There are few things more satisfying than finding new secrets and special narrative clues while killing the undead, so when combined with the hysterical dialogue that each character randomly spews, this year’s Zombies mode might be the best yet.

As great as Campaign and Zombies are, multiplayer is really Call of Duty’s bread-and-butter. Never to be outdone, the multiplayer has taken the futuristic ideas of the campaign and turned them into the slickest multiplayer suite yet.

Before you build your first loadout, though, you should check out Freerun. This short series of four time trials are a great way to teach you how best to use your wall-running abilities in multiplayer and get used to the idea of the maps’ new sense of verticality. Ramping up steadily, Freerun will show you moves you never thought possible, like running up columns or wall-jumping down narrow corridors, all while stoking your competitive fire by sticking a clock on you and daring you to get the best time.

Once your cybernetic legs are all warmed up, then you can jump into the largest selection of multiplayer modes yet. I was able to play on live servers pre-launch, and while there weren’t nearly as many people online as there will be on launch day, everything worked fine. You never know what might happen when the servers are flooded by millions of gamers, though. Multiplayer touts a bevy of returning favorites like Capture the Flag, Kill Confirmed, Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, and many more, but Black Ops III also touts a new mode called Safeguard.


Safeguard tasks you with defending a bomb strapped to a robot as it heads to a designated point on the map. The robot only moves when members of your team are near it, and the enemy team can slow the robot down by shooting it repeatedly. If time runs out before the robot reaches its destination, the defenders win, and if the robot makes it, the attackers win. I found the mode to be immensely difficult because standing next to the robot makes you a sitting duck, so it really requires one person to act as a direct escort, and the rest of your team to keep the enemies off your back. In that regard it has elements of CTF in it, and requires monumental amounts of teamwork whether you’re an attacker or defender.

The beauty of multiplayer now, though, centers on the chain-based fluid movement system. After a little practice, I was stringing together wall-running and double jumps so effortlessly I felt like I could single-handedly change any battle. With each map and mode having their own special nuances to cater to this movement style, surprising my opponent meant a lot more than flanking them. Knocking that sniper off the high ground wasn’t nearly as impossible anymore. And springing up out of water with assault rifle blazing added even more depth to what are some of the best-designed maps you’ll see in any Call of Duty.

The other major change we see in Black Ops III’s multiplayer is the Specialists. Sure, you can still customize and choose whatever guns or weapons you want to bring into battle, especially with the return of the beloved Pick 10 system offering another layer of balance that I feel the past two Call of Duty games have lacked. But the Specialist a player chooses gives them more of an identity online than in previous Call of Duty games, from who the player selects, to how they define their look, and finally which of their Specialist’s two special abilities they pick.

Knowing what each Specialist does and what situations their powers are best used in could turn the tide of a battle on their own, and offer yet another strategy for players to think for, and potentially plan against. For example, I played with Ruin a lot. His two abilities are Gravity Spikes, which allows him to kill everyone close to him with a shockwave when he slams the spikes into the ground, and a supercharged sprint called Overdrive. In TDM, racking up that kill count is critical so the spikes were great. But in something like CTF, grabbing the flag and then hitting Overdrive with that enhanced sprint means I can get a point for my team a lot more easily, covering half the map in a fraction of the time I used to. Considering there are nine Specialists to play around with (four to start, with others unlocked via progression), I can only imagine the strategies players will come up with.

It’s never easy to continually one-up yourself, but Treyarch seems just fine rising up to the challenge each time its turn comes up to put out a Call of Duty game. By adding progression and co-op to each mode, players have new reasons to go back and play each one more, while also providing a common thread through each part to help pull it all together. Multiplayer and Zombies are more robust than ever, and although Campaign’s story might not have been the strongest we’ve seen from series, it’s still a high-quality thrill a minute ride with a twist that will keep players talking until the series’ next installment. Simply put, Black Ops III is the deepest experience the franchise has seen thus far.


Developer: Treyarch • Publisher: Activision • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.06.15
Black Ops III is the deepest Call of Duty experience to date. With not one, but two campaigns, new multiplayer modes and more robust customization, and a Zombies mode that will suck in even the most casual of players, Treyarch has once again found a way to raise the bar.
The Good More quality content than ever before crammed into a Call of Duty game.
The Bad Character development in campaign has a sharp drop off.
The Ugly Why hasn’t Activision announced a Call of Duty starring Jeff Goldblum yet?
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Activision provided travel to and accommodation at a review event for the benefit of this review.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was nothing short of a surprise hit. Turning the ever-popular Plants vs Zombies into a third-person shooter was risky at best, and downright insane at worst. But the folks at PopCap take pride in their willingness to push their supremely popular franchise in different directions and see what will take root with their growing fanbase. So, when it came time to decide what to do next, they decided to turn things on their ear again and make the Plants the bad guys.

That’s right, in Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, the Zombies are on the defensive. After the events of the first Garden Warfare, the Zombies have successfully conquered Suburbia, renamed it Zomburbia, and set about making it a perfect little paradise where they can munch on brains all day long. The Plants may be down, but they are far from out, so they’ve enlisted the aid of new allies to take the fight back to the Zombies and reclaim their beloved home soil.

While this may not change much about modes such as Team Vanquish (PvZ’s version of Team Deathmatch), it completely reverses modes like Gardens and Graveyards. With Zombies on the defensive and trying to protect capture points, you’ll need to figure out new strategies with your favorite classes from the last game to be effective as a Plant or a Zombie. Also, because you play this four-player co-op version of Horde mode from the perspective of the Zombies versus AI-controlled Plants, Garden Ops has been renamed Graveyard Ops.

Besides the change in viewpoints, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is bigger than its predecessor in every way imaginable. The game will ship with more maps at launch, all of which are brand new. Zomboss has tried his best to mold Suburbia in his own image, changing the entire world’s landscape. In our short time with the game, the we played a multi-tiered level that featured Zomboss Zombie’s making a factory, a clear tactical target for the Plants to attack.

The game also offers new classes, including some inspired by the time-traveling aspects of the mobile Plants vs Zombies 2. Plants from the future have come back to quell the threat of Zombie-piloted mech suits, and Zombie pirate captains enter the fray as surprisingly effective snipers. A Zombie superhero specializes in melee and shooting laser beams from his eyes.

So, if you were a fan of the first Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, its sequel looks ready to deliver a deeper, over-the-top experience in the same vein that has made Plants vs Zombies such a huge hit.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will launch in the spring of 2016 for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.

Will the new Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 feature a stand-alone Zombies story mode? Will old friends (and foes) from previous Call of Duty games reappear as the undead? Could this be the first step towards a stand-alone zombies franchise? Watch the video for the latest info!

A surprising theme for this year’s DICE Summit 2015 has been about how a company’s employees, and not IP and bottom lines, are the most important thing in the gaming industry right now.

To help support this argument, Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia took the stage to tell the story of how the developer’s now beloved Zombies co-op mode for Call of Duty almost hit the cutting room floor.

Lamia reminisced about how the studio, their release date for World at War fast approaching, was behind in development and extremely stressed following up Infinity Ward’s record-setting Modern Warfare with a game that returned to the World War II setting.

Without his knowledge, a rogue team within Treyarch began working on a side project that featured Nazi zombies. Word quickly spread throughout the studio of this fun prototype that was being passed around and worked on during off-hours, and finally it got back to Lamia.

Initially, right then and there, Lamia thought of pulling the plug on this project due to the extreme crunch Treyarch was in. But instead, he decided to actually play the prototype and wait to pass judgment until afterwards. Luckily for all us fans of zombies, Lamia was pleasantly surprised that it was actually more fun than the co-op mode they already had in the game.

The approval from Lamia gave the development team a much-needed second wind, as he allowed them to continue to polish the mode in their spare time and stretch their creative wings a bit, rewarding them for their dedication and extra effort.

After a bit of time, Lamia himself then championed the mode to the higher ups at Activision, with the consensus indeed being that the prototype was immensely fun. But PR and marketing chimed in saying it would have been confusing and too far off brand to just promote outright. This is why World at War originally featured Zombies mode as an Easter egg reward for hardcore fans who beat the main campaign (it later became so popular it was unlocked from the beginning via a patch).

Somewhat surprisingly, the fans then that took the next steps with the mode. Writing fan fiction through message boards and forums, a story began to form around Zombies and why you had to fend off this horde of Nazi undead in a bunker. This led to Black Ops’ Zombies mode forgoing any sort of PR campaign as well, as it allowed the fans to continue to build the lore themselves, with Treyarch employees adding more special Easter eggs and callbacks in subsequent games and DLC to continue fanning the flames. Even during Lamia’s presentation, Treyarch game design director David Vonderhaar continued to play with fans via social media about what could be next for the mode.

Zombies mode now serves as Treyarch’s signature whenever it’s their turn in the development rotation of Call of Duty. And since they’re up to bat for this year’s Call of Duty, we’d be more than a little shocked if Zombies didn’t find a way to rear its head once more.

Don’t rage against the dying of the light—just let it happen

I was a fan of the original Dead Island. I didn’t think it was the end-all, be-all of zombie games—and the open-world undead action-adventure has come so far in such a short time—but I thought developer Techland had laid a wonderful foundation of gameplay mechanics, and I was excited to see what they’d do next. Then they gave us Dead Island: Riptide, practically a carbon copy of their first game that did little to further the gameplay or lore of the world. It left a sour taste in the mouths of many, myself included.

The announcement of Dying Light gave me hope that maybe Techland had merely hit a sophomore slump with this genre and that a new franchise would be just what they needed to get back on track. Dying Light would offer the developer a fresh start, with a new open world to craft, new characters to explore, and new gameplay mechanics to tinker with. Unfortunately, it just serves as the latest failure to enthrall the zombie-enthused masses.

Techland’s biggest blunder comes with the story. Dying Light stars Kyle Crane, possibly the most incompetent special forces agent in the history of video games. In the opening cutscene alone, Kyle botches his insertion into Harran (the fictional city that serves as the setting of this latest zombie outbreak), gets himself infected, and allows the guy who saved him to be killed. As the game progresses, Kyle’s stupidity begins to feel like a running joke, more sad than funny (I mean, I think I murmur more intelligent things in my sleep than this guy said over the course of the entire game).

Kyle is only the start of the story’s problems, unfortunately. Dying Light is full of one-note characters like the primary antagonist, Rais, a man reminiscent of a cheesy B-movie villain who kills hapless henchman on a whim and angrily pontificates about order versus chaos. There’s also the strong independent woman/potential love interest, Jade, who’s pretty and nice to you—and, therefore, you must care about her and her plights.

At times, though, Dying Light does seem to stumble onto some potential emotional gravitas. On more than one occasion, Kyle’s ineptitude gets friends killed, usually as a result of unwittingly leading Rais’ men to where survivors are hiding out. Despite Techland dragging me around by the nose like Curly in a Three Stooges short, I still grew to care about some of these survivors. Techland mercilessly stomped on those moments by quickly moving into prolonged action sequences, however, instead of allowing me to feel the full weight of their deaths.

Whereas the story completely failed in its endeavor to entertain me, at least Dying Light’s gameplay remains as a bastion of sorts from the loophole-laden cutscenes and dialogue that haphazardly forces the story forward. Take the day/night cycle, for example. During the day, the zombies, while still hostile, are far more manageable than at night, where the horde has larger numbers, moves faster, react more intelligently, hit stronger, and several new types of purely nocturnal zombies come out—some of which can deliver one-hit kills.

Daring to go out at night in these worsened conditions rewards the player with double experience—and even an XP bonus if you survive until sunrise. This provides an enjoyable risk/reward system, and adds some much-needed tension to the story’s scripted nighttime sequences.

The best part of Dying Light’s gameplay, though, is its world-traversal system. I’m hesitant to refer to it as “parkour,” because you’re rarely ever truly parkouring—and even if you are, because of the first-person camera, you really can’t tell. But being able to actively climb on almost anything in the world, grabbing onto nearly every ledge, and quickly conquering the world’s verticality is an invigorating feeling.

The parkour makes traversing Harran more enjoyable, and it also gives you the option to run away from a fight if the zombies ever become too much to handle—you simply scramble up the nearest scaffolding or building façade. This helps keep the repetitive hack-n-slash melee action seen in the game—also an issue in Dead Island—feeling a bit more fresh.  

Not everything borrowed from Dead Island becomes less humdrum here, however. Dying Light uses a similar crafting and weapon degradation system, encouraging you to tediously look through or lockpick nearly every crate you find. Sidequests are also the same—unexciting fetch quests I’ve become far too accustomed to at this point. Some, infuriatingly, require multiple stops before you get the little bit of cash, XP, or item the questgiver will award you. Plus, the two distinctive areas of Harran don’t change or improve if you complete these quests. They just feel like a cheap way to lengthen the experience dramatically, since there seem to be about three sidequests to every story objective.

I did appreciate how different Harran’s two areas felt—they even forced me to change how I played. The game begins in the Slums, and about 60 percent of the story takes place here. The Slums have a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor to them, and although the area isn’t as graphically vivid as I’d like, the world feels crafted to take advantage of the traversal gameplay with plenty of ledges and easily crossable gaps between shacks.

Old Town, meanwhile, is the exact opposite, with grandiose buildings and towers that have a Western European feel. Bright colors and exotic signs are everywhere, and the area’s not nearly as scarred by the outbreak as the Slums. Old Town offers much wider streets, however, making it more difficult to traverse safely across the rooftops without the aid of a zipline. I found the differences between the two areas enjoyable, even if I’d rather play in the Slums.

Like with most of Techland’s work, I see the potential in Dying Light. But it comes across as yet another project where the developer can’t seem to get out of their own way. The parkour and risk/reward systems of the day/night cycle are nice aspects, but whether it’s in the writing or the game design, Dying Light tries too often to offer something for everyone—and instead offers nothing of real note to anyone because it never digs past the surface of its characters or mechanics.

Maybe one day, Techland will be able to put it all together and make that grand zombie epic they’ve been dreaming about. Given Dying Light’s boring, repetitive quests and complete mess of a story, though, we should just let it quietly fade to black.

Developer: Techland • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 01.27.15
The parkour and risk/reward of the day/night cycle are nice features, but they aren’t enough to overcome the abysmal writing or the boring, repetitive fetch quests that unnecessarily bloat this game.
The Good Risk/reward system of the day/night cycle; parkour is surprisingly competent.
The Bad Abysmal writing; the entire game is one long monotonous fetch quest.
The Ugly We’re starting to scrape the bottom of the zombie-naming barrel with descriptions such as “Biters” and “Volatiles.”
Dying Light is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

There are worse monsters than zombies…

After the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead set such a high bar, the beginning of Season Two was really nothing short of a letdown. This became particularly evident after Episode 2, since the first two episodes would’ve made a lot more sense as one longer setup.

On top of this, thus far, Season Two hasn’t seen the stellar pacing and the drama of the first season, and the void of the Lee/Clementine dynamic still hasn’t been replaced. Fortunately, Season Two: Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way gets the narrative back on track and captures a lot of the magic that put Season One in everyone’s 2012 Game of the Year discussions.

After the cliffhanger ending of Episode 2, which saw the group forced to confront Carver before being dragged back to his compound, Clementine knows if they want to survive being in this madman’s clutches, they need to get out—and fast. She’ll need to make some new allies, and lean heavily on old ones, before Carver dooms them all.

In Harm’s Way features many more decisions with the potential to divide the group, leading to some fun dialogue choices that could emphasize and solidify the kind of character your particular Clem may be turning into. With the way I play, this had the added benefit of leading to Kenny and Luke starting to fill the hole of Lee’s absence, both as Clem’s protectors and as people she could look to for guidance.

This doesn’t mean that Clem becomes completely helpless, though, because she’s also always the first to volunteer to diffuse every dangerous situation—and often leads the charge to rebel against Carver. Unfortunately, like in much of the current season, this results in less puzzle-solving and exploration, but the tense and frantic action that replaces it is more than enough to take solace in.

While much of the episode did everything I wanted to renew my faith in the series, one nagging issue is the poor payoff from 400 Days. Although Carver’s compound and Bonnie, one of the five characters around which 400 Days revolved, are indeed focal points for this episode, the other characters from that narrative who joined Carver have nothing but throwaway cameos and maybe a single line of dialogue. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t feel like anything was missing by not having Wyatt or Shel (there courtesy of my personal results from 400 Days) as integral parts of the action, but I still would’ve enjoyed a couple of lengthy conversations with them to make those final decisions in 400 Days feel worth it.

Despite this lackluster payoff from a previous episode, In Harm’s Way gets the series back on track. It returns to the first-season trademark of ending on a note that makes sense but leaves you with plenty of questions that have you begging for more. It also reminds you that no one is safe—this episode hammered that point home again. The group and its relationship dynamic can be turned on its head in an instant with just one or two poor decisions, which now will hopefully play out in spectacular fashion in Episode 4.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.14.14
Although the repercussions from decisions in 400 Days don’t prove as critical as Telltale promised, In Harm’s Way still gets Season Two back on track after it appeared to be losing itself in the first two episodes.
The Good A return to storytelling form.
The Bad Not as much payoff for 400 Days as anticipated.
The Ugly Clem accepting the fact that she’ll have to do everything herself.
The Walking Dead: Season Two: Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Telltale for the benefit of this review.

Sowing the seeds of fun

Whenever someone decides to do a spin-off—whether in movies, TV, or videogames—it’s a huge risk, since it’s rare to end up with a good one, and even rarer for it to actually be successful. So, when PopCap revealed that they had a small band of developers at the studio working on a title called Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, most of us were intrigued, but we worried if this tower-defense franchise could survive the sudden transition into the world of third-person shooters.

Taking elements from both Battlefield and Call of Duty, Garden Warfare mixes in some strategy gameplay and PopCap’s own brand of offbeat humor to create a wholly unique experience that’s wildly fun to play. Eight total classes (four plants, four zombies) playable across seven different modes provided me probably as much, if not more, enjoyment as I get from the shooters this game takes its inspiration from.

The element that grabbed me right from the get-go? Garden Warfare has the most interesting customizable classes I’ve seen in quite some time. Though you only start with four on each side, each class also has six unlockabale options that do more than just provide a new skin. This means there’s over 50 playable characters, each with their own degrees of originality. For example, the Peashooter has a Commando alternative that does less damage per shot but has a higher rate of fire.

Their use on the battlefield isn’t where this uniqueness ends, though, as each gradation is fully customizable. Garden Warfare offers hundreds of different items to unlock to give your plants and zombies their own distinct look and style. Whether it’s sunflowers with top hats, Chompers with zebra stripes, or All-Star Zombies with 3D glasses, there’s no reason everyone’s characters should look the same.

And, thankfully—for once—you don’t have to worry about microtransations when it comes to getting items. Instead, you unlock them via a free, in-game card system. You get cards from packs you buy with silver coins, the traditional Plants vs. Zombies currency. You can earn coins by completing matches and doing well, or you can perform certain challenges in a match (revive three allies, kill two Sunflowers with one shot, and so on). It may be a bit of a grind, but it won’t cost you anything extra on top of the money you’re already paying, a welcome change away from the policy of most EA games.

The combination and balance of characters is also intriguing and requires a lot more to master than you might expect. The Zombie Scientist is both the healer and shotgunner class for the zombies, while the Cactus is both the sniper and the explosives expert for the plants. Having a balanced team when you go into battle is critical and requires pinpoint communication between everyone on your team, especially in more tactics-driven modes like Gardens & Gravestones (think Capture the Point). A nice touch is being able to change classes mid-battle, in case strategies need to change on the fly.

Not everything about Garden Warfare is sunshine and rainbows, however. Even though the game has the lowered price tag of $40 ($30 on Xbox 360) to make up for the absence of any single-player, I still found it lacking the content you’d expect from a multiplayer-exclusive experience at launch. While the game lists seven modes, there’s really only Garden Warfare’s take on three: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Point, and Horde Mode.

Team Deathmatch serves as the basis for three modes by itself with Team Vanquish (straight-up Team Deathmatch), Classic Team Vanquish (any customization features are wiped away), and Welcome Mat (beginner’s mode). Capture the Point is seen in Gardens & Gravestones, which also has a Classic variant. In Gardens & Gravestones, the zombies must try to capture six to seven different points in succession. If the plants stop the zombies just once, the match ends. Finally, there’s Garden Ops—which, obviously, is Call of Duty’s Spec Ops, which originally was their take on Horde Mode. This is the only mode to feature a local and online option (exclusive to the Xbox One version) and sees up to four players taking on the role of plants and facing off against 10 waves of increasingly difficult zombies.

Besides the lack of modes, the game also has a paltry list of maps to fight on. Some modes only have one map, while others have a maximum of five (some of these being day/night variants of a map), and although it’s great to see them all done in the same bright and cheery art style of the main series, it gets repetitive when you’re cycling through the same areas again and again. At the very least, though, the maps fit the modes. Team Vanquish only supports smaller maps to up the encounter rates, while Gardens & Gravestones has large, expanded maps to allow for more strategic maneuvering when looking to capture points.

Now, don’t get me wrong—even though there’s not really a lot here, the game is still tremendously fun, especially when you’ve got a full room playing 12-on-12. The gameplay’s fast and frantic, and each mode brings nuance to the tried-and-true formulas. Garden Ops allows you to grow friendly plants that were all featured in Plants vs. Zombies 2 to provide extra defenses, while Gardens & Gravestones actually makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something when you capture different areas and push the front lines forward. I just wish there were more modes to try, and while content packs are coming down the line, I can’t judge what doesn’t yet exist.

Even though there’s a bit of a bare-bones quality, content-wise, to Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, it’s definitely one of the good spin-offs. No matter what genre they tackle, the developers at PopCap really care about this franchise, and they clearly put forth a great effort. From the deep class system to the solid controls to the tiny details like zombie-movie references in the graffiti scattered around the levels (my personal favorite was “You’ve got red on you” from Shaun of the Dead), there sure is a lot here to love.

Developer: PopCap Games • Publisher: EA • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 02.25.14

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a polished, tremendously fun time even without all the options or content of its multiplayer contemporaries.

The Good A surprising amount of depth and customization in the character classes.
The Bad A lack of maps and modes at launch.
The Ugly Here’s hoping the port-a-potty with a zombie inside was clean before the Chomper swallowed it whole.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, and is coming to PC at a later date. Primary version reviewed was an Xbox One retail copy provided by EA.

Lee walks a lonely road

We play a lot of games here at EGM. So many, that as much as we may enjoy a game, fall in love with its characters, or gush about its premise, it’s difficult for us to find the time to ever get back to a game after we beat it that initial time through for review, unless we make a concentrated effort. After playing just the third of five episodes to be released by Telltale in their The Walking Dead series though, I swear I will make that effort and find time to play this through from the beginning once all five episodes are out. Episode Three, The Long Road Ahead, sealed the deal because the story is just that damn good and I don’t just want, but need to play through it all again to see how some of the critical, and even no so critical, choices I’ve made so far have affected my game play experience.

And that’s the beauty of what Telltale has crafted here. The replayability for this game is through the roof because they successfully found a way to consistently make you care about these characters via every decision you make, because you don’t want to end up regretting something. And this is mostly because the zombie apocalypse, much like in Kirkman’s original Walking Dead comics, is just a setting as this franchise has always really been more about the human condition and how people react in crisis. And this episode is no exception. There were literally moments that had me laughing out loud followed up immediately by moments that shocked me so much I dropped my controller. There are few other stories in gaming that have ever sucked me in and wowed me like this series has with its brilliant plot development.

Speaking of plot, this episode starts about three months after since Lee and Clementine had their fateful meet-up outside her tree house and the Motel has all but run its course in terms of usefulness. Lilly and Kenny are still at each other’s throats, with the events of Episode Two having only driven them further and further apart, culminating in Lilly refusing to leave and Kenny ready to just barrel out of there in his RV with just his family. The title, The Long Road Ahead, kind of hints at what happens, but I can’t in good conscience tell you more about the story. Not to mention, I’m sure that depending on the decisions that you make in the first two episodes, your story might set up completely different from mine beyond that.

The pacing of the episode was a lot quicker this time around and transitioned better, a major problem I had with the more leisurely paced Episode Two, and so in that regard The Long Road Ahead took a nice step forward as I was constantly progressing it seemed by doing even the most menial tasks.

There was one minor annoyance this time around though and it came in the form of a shooting gallery mini-game where Lee was wielding a sniper rifle. I understand Lee may not be the best shot in the world, but I felt like I could never line up my shot just right because of the lack of proper crosshairs and the controls’ sensitivity. This can be somewhat forgiven though since, after all, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is more of a point and click style adventure game and not some Call of Duty-like shooter.

Once again though, the key for me was seeing the evolution of the characters over just one episode, and how the group dynamic shifted as the roster of characters changed once again, sometimes very rapidly. If you care about The Walking Dead, zombie games, or just spectacular storytelling, The Long Road Ahead will hook you to this series if you weren’t already. And if you were hooked to begin with, then you’re like me probably, begging Telltale to get on it and release the next episode already.

SUMMARY: Somehow, Telltale finds a way to keep working in emotionally powerful moments with this series that range from humorous to heart wrenching. Either way, these moments make only one thought come to mind…that we can’t wait for the next episode!

  • THE GOOD: Finds a way to yet again amp up the emotion and consequences for your actions
  • THE BAD: A couple of rough/out of place shooting sequences
  • THE UGLY: The human condition

SCORE: 9.0

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 – The Long Road Ahead is available on XBLA (Xbox 360), PSN (PS3), and PC. Primary version reviewed was for XBLA.

Zombies aren’t always the biggest concern…

Continuing the five-part series based on Robert Kirkman’s celebrated comic book, Telltale’s second episode of The Walking Dead will leave you horrified, disgusted, and inexplicably craving more by the time you’re done.

Subtitled Starved for Help, this tale takes place three months after the end of the first episode and sees Lee, Clementine, and the rest of the survivors from the first chapter bunkering down in an abandoned motel. Running low on supplies and even lower on food, the group starts to turn on each other, with Kenny and Lilly vying the most to assert themselves as the alpha dogs. All seems lost, but other survivors suddenly approach the gate and offer a trade that seems too good to be true: food for fuel.

It turns out these survivors happen to own a dairy farm up the road, so Lee and the rest of the gang set out to explore the grounds in order to see whether a change in venue might give the group a better chance of surviving. But along the way, they run across bandits—and, when it seems like these aren’t just any ordinary old dairy farmers, Lee realizes that the zombies aren’t the only monsters out there in the world…

If you enjoyed the first episode of The Walking Dead, then Starved for Help definitely won’t disappoint. The continued character development of the core group—with the introduction of several new members to your ragtag band of survivors—constantly intrigues. All decisions and non-decisions are even more critical this time around, and I loved the fact that the zombie invasion really serves as more of a simple backdrop for this episode—the whole motif surrounding humanity’s dark side will make you rethink a lot of your decisions as the game unfolds. And all I can say is that I can’t wait until more of my friends play so that we can discuss certain scenarios and explore how we all handled them differently. Personally, I was in the minority for some and the majority for others; the stat tracker that illustrates how other Walking Dead players approached the game is a highlight of the experience.

That’s not to say that this episode is without its flaws, though. Lee’s walking pace is dreadful, and though this understandably builds suspense at times, it just feels like a drag most of the time—it takes forever to walk from one end of the farm to the other. I just wish that, in certain scenarios, the player could hold down a button, and he’d break out into a light jog. There’s a zombie apocalypse going on, man—show some hustle! I also love how, no matter how big an item Lee may add to his inventory, it magically disappears when he places it behind himself—like he’s got a wormhole in his butt that he uses to dispose of all large items.

If you love The Walking Dead and enjoy point-and-click adventures, though, this series may well be Telltale’s crowning achievement when all is said and done. Until then, we’ll all just have to endure the painful wait until the next episode, Long Road Ahead, finally becomes available later this year.

SUMMARY: The second episode in this five-part series cranks the twisted-ness up to 11—and may push you in directions you never even thought possible. 

  • THE GOOD: A twisted story chapter that shows zombies may not be the only monsters out there…
  • THE BAD: Lee’s lackluster walking pace needlessly extends the experience.
  • THE UGLY: Human-flavored beef.

SCORE: 9.0

The Walking Dead: Episode 2—Starved for Help is available on XBLA, PSN, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for XBLA. 

THE BUZZ: Hollywood director/screenwriter James Gunn walked the red carpet at the 2011 Spike TV VGAs and talked to EGM Associate Editor and Resident Supernerd Ray Carsillo about his experience co-directing/writing Lollipop Chainsaw with Suda51. He also let slip a little new information about the highly anticipated game in regards to Nick, Juliet’s decapitated head of a boyfriend, and his part in the game.

Gunn says in the interview (which you can watch the video of below) that an ability that Nick possesses is that if Juliet beheads certain zombies, she can place Nick’s head in place of the zombie’s head and have Nick pilot the zombie’s body and fight along side her for when the odds really get tough.

EGM’S TAKE: Well, we figured Juliet wasn’t just carrying Nick’s head around for sentimental reasons and this new ability reveal definitely should add an interesting new dynamic to the game play along with the rainbows, hearts, and, of course, Juliet’s chainsaw and pole dancing related abilities. The big question we will have to wait to find the answer to now though is how good is the friendly A.I. and how much of an effect will it really have in combat?

Unfortunately, due to the rapid nature of the red carpet, we couldn’t talk more in depth with James Gunn about the game at that moment, but it was also nice to see his enthusiasm for the project come off rather clearly and has me looking forward to this game even more.

What do you folks think? Are you pumped for Lollipop Chainsaw? What do you think about this new ability? How about the rest of Juliet’s zombie bashing repertoire? Let us know your thoughts with comments below!