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Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville review
by Foxotic

By Christopher Campbell:
This is a WIP Review, Journal Entry, & Analysis:
Updated July 2, 2021.
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Background:
PVZ:BfN is the third installment of PopCap’s tactical third-person 3D shooter games. It is a continued iteration of the worlds first created for the mobile game, Plants Vs. Zombies and has taken elements from the tower defense game to be overhauled as both a single-player “free-roaming” world experience as well as a multiplayer battle arena.

Mechanics/Features:
There are more mechanics and features that can be accounted for within a single diary entry, but the game overall focuses on Character Swapping, Upgrading, and Leveling. In PVZ:BfN, players can fight for both sides, with unique playstyles between all characters and classes, including:
 • Player Avatar: Plants/Zombies
> Both teams can swap between different characters of the same type (Plant or Zombie) when outside of battle or are respawning. o Players gain more XP as they vanquish opponents.
> XP levels up their characters to have increased damage / misc. character-related stats.
> Players can purchase character addons/upgrades with the in-game free currency that can be earned by playing. (Vanquishing opponents, defeating bosses, clearing missions, etc.)
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>> Example: Players gain Upgrade Points as they level up. They can choose up to three stat upgrades that can increase their speed, reduce cooldown times, or healing times based on their playstyle.

Dynamics:
Shooter games come in a variety of playstyles. On a general level, games like this involve different fighting classes with specialized abilities:
• Plants/Zombies:
> Attack (Moderate HP, Moderate Damage, High DPS)
> Defend (High HP, High Damage, Low DPS)
> Support (Low HP, Low Damage/DPS, Can Heal Others)
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Attack Focused Players love to get into the heat of the battle. While their health is low, they can deliver a lot of damage to the opponent at various distances depending on the character they choose. These can include players that prefer rapid-fire weapons, melee, and sniper-based attacks. EG. The plants have a Pea Shooter character that will fire peas at a medium pace but can lock into one spot to switch to a machine gun. Lots of damage but must be cautious. Their characters are usually a jack of all trades.

Defensively Focused Players are the backbone behind their team. Uniquely in PVZ:BfN, these character types are available in the single-player campaign as well. The player can choose to help defend teams of NPC plants that aid them in battle but can also fight solo with the advantage of having high damage and HP at the cost of movement speed/reload times. Some of these mechanics can be alternated between different characters.
- EG. The Oak & Acorn can swap between a fast-moving damage-based acorn to a slow, lobbing tree.

Support Focused Players help keep their team moving forward. While their abilities typically will not deal the most damage, they can heal themselves and others as well as provide additional stat buffs to characters and debuffs to opponents.
- EG. The Rose can increase the team’s movement speed & transform enemies into passive goats.

Personal Insights

1. My initial reactions to this game had me pleasantly surprised. For the PopCap team and Publishers at EA, it can immediately be noted the Plants Vs. Zombies series is a passion project. These developers/game artists have gone through great lengths to make the world immersive, with tons of details added to both sides of the teams.

2. This is one of a few select games that have recently played with a “free-roaming” concept for single-player campaigns. The game is essentially open world, but there are hotspot locations marked on the map, with linear elements required for the story to progress. There are different areas to explore, bosses to defeat, and random battle raids occurring all the time outside of the main quests.

3. PVZ’S 3D franchise has a unique mechanic I’ve not seen in other games – combining tower defense with real-time combat; while some games include base building, barriers, and weapon posts,2,4,5 This game lets the player “Plant” passive mobs that help their team deal additional damage, defense, and healing at a smaller degree.

4. The single-player experience does have a story, but it seems to be purely situationally based on current events in the world. The goal for the Plants is to “reclaim Neighborville” from the hoards of Zombies, but it is structured to be exploratory, introducing the player to different locations with unique enemies and bosses over a more lore-centric theme.

5. PVZ:BfN is a great example of how to properly execute level progression. Leveling does not give an unfair advantage to players online. The character leveling is solely focused on increasing PVE stats. Character addons can be earned to customize their character’s playstyle and can be earned through playing the game. They are minor stat increases that help the player have controls that fit more closely with their desired experience above anything else.

Similar Games

Call Of Duty Series – Combines single-player and multiplayer experiences distinct from each other. Albeit single-player campaigns are on the decline, devs are continuing the effort.

New Super Lucky’s Tale – Style, Music, and Boss Introductions are very reminiscent of this game.

Fortnite – Character Customization, Battle Royale game mode, Stylistic Choices

World of WarCraft – Open lobby, free to explore the universe online with others. Can battle, play mini-games, and roleplay. (Would love to see more RP elements in the future!)

Design Ideas

Although the single-player experience is great, it’s always a challenge to develop the “free-roaming” concept and still allow for a consistent experience that doesn’t leave the player not sure where to go next at times. For games like these, I would hope to implement a timeline that keeps track of quests in a UI that suits the world. For example, I feel it would be very fitting for missions to be posted on a clipboard, with a photo of the character needed to be met next paper-clipped underneath a note from them, hinting to the player where they should go next. The maps are small, but these games make it always feel like a chore to walk to and from each area. Fast traveling is definitely a must.

[This analysis is written on a first-impression basis, and will be updated with a conclusion after completing the single-player campaign.]
«Sit back and relax»
«Underrated»
«OST on repeat»

Other reviews2

A step down from the previous one, imo.