Why ‘Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’ is the Best Spin-Off for Some Time

Plants

Fans are a fickle bunch. Fans of video games, infinitely more so. These guys aren’t above spittle-flying nerdly tirades on the Internet, so watch your darn step. If a series changes too much –or indeed too little– it’s like a minefield of abuse and/or poorly-spelled death threats via Twitter.

Which is, all told, not fun.

Spin-offs are also a controversial issue. How far can we take our favourite characters? Can we merrily plonk them into any genre we please, like the rebellious renegades we are? Sometimes we can, but only in rare cases can this be pulled off. Consider Mario, for instance.

Nintendo’s moustached hero has been everywhere. Sports games, puzzlers, even an ill-advised cameo in Dance Dance Revolution. Then there was the time he tried his hand at a kart racer, and the rest is history. But that’s Mario; as long as he’s keeping Japanese businessmen in fancy suits and sensible haircuts he can do whatever he darn well pleases.

His prolific career aside, this is partly due to the spin-offs’ great sense of familiarity. Because that inate Mushroom Kingdom-ness is brought so effectively to other titles, the world rarely feels out of place. It simply works. Which I think is the key to Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’s success.

The game was released for Xbox One, 360 and PC earlier this year, with a PlayStation release coming later this month. It’s a third-person shooter, a different beast entirely to the Plants Vs Zombies we’re all familiar with.

Plants-vs-Zombies-Garden-Warfare

It brings all the typical PopCap crazitude you’d expect, with character classes made up of familiar plants from the original. Peashooters, Cacti, the Chomper and more are here, all ready to be dressed up in silly hats and shades for your amusement. Meanwhile, you can outfit your zombies in huge ridiculous viking beards, and charming accessories like a pencil up each nostril.

So yes, tongues are firmly in cheeks here. Garden Warfare is the most toontastic and absurd shooter you’ll ever see. But this doesn’t mean it’s just a joke of a game. Beneath the surface are some rather solid shooter credentials.

The classes themselves adhere quite well to genre norms. The Cactus is the sniper, armed with the proximity mines (potato mines) you’ll commonly see on the scout class. The frontline assault guy (here the All-Star zombie) has a short-range explosive to flush entrenched opponents out of cover, only here it’s a tiny imp that is punted at them.

The game modes, too, are simply a Plants Vs Zombies spin on the familiar. Standard deathmatches, kill confirmed, objective capture, it’s all here. An hilarious title, there’s no denying, but it’s also rather a deep one. Fans of achieving little objectives to level up characters will find many, many hours of gameplay here.

This is the tentative balancing act I’d say Garden Warfare achieves so well. Fans of the tower defense gem (which is, dare I say it, rather more casual) won’t be too jarred by this foray into a more serious-gamer genre. The transition is a gentle one. By the same token, TPS and FPS fans who have dabbled in Plants Vs Zombies (perhaps in a sort of elite, complete-survival-mode-on-the-hardest-difficulty-with-my-eyes-closed-and-one-hand-behind-my-back sort of way) can also appreciate the game.

Much like Mario’s spin-offs, it’s firmly rooted –how’s that for a little wit-tastic straight to your delicate face– in the series’ universe, but it works.

The VgamerZ Monster Files: The Zombies (Plants vs Zombies)

Plants

Yes indeed. These moldy buggers have been de rigueur in games for some time now. Hardly worthy of a place in the hall of fame that is the VgamerZ Monster Files, you’d think. And you’d (generally) be right, if a little cynical. In this instance, though, we’re going to have to make an exception.

The undead of Plants vs Zombies are different. They’re adorably toontastic, they have a zombie yeti in their ranks, and some of them can bungee jump. Some of them wear some rather spangly suits, like the fashion gurus they are. In short, these guys are just far too cool. This is zombies as they should be done, right here.

Presumably, you’re familiar with the game. PopCap’s 2009 tower defense title was a real phenomenon, for dedicated gamers and dabblers alike. It all came from one brilliantly nutty concept: what’s the most ridiculous way to repel an encroaching horde of zombies? By throwing your angry anthropomorphic plants at them. Obviously.

These guys are you last line of defense, and the only thing that stands between the horde and your sweet, sweet juicy brain-juice. Fortuitously, they’re more than up to the job. You place plants of various sorts into any spare square on the lawn, and they’ll (generally) fire projectiles at the shamblers. It must have been a riot to come up with the 50+ type of vicious vegetable, which vaguely pertain to their real-life counterparts.

Plants vs Zombies 2

The squash, for instance, is a a chunky, grumpy looking dude, which will leap into the air and ‘squash’ opponents that blunder into its range. The peashooter, meanwhile, is a little turret that shoots peas. You get the idea.

But the real stars of the show are the zombies. When you see the flag zombie that leads the charge during the final waves, you KNOW something is about to hit the fan. There’s a great balance about the plants and zombies, with each new variant of opponent comes a warrior of your own to counter it. The miner zombie is immune to most of your attackers, as it tunnels beneath them first and eats its way through your ranks from behind. Just as he appears, though, you’re given access to a special mutant peashooter which can fire in both directions.

It’s precisely this aspect that makes the game’s undead so memorable. The guys in the football gear, the bobsleigh team, the dancing Michael Jackson-alike who was hastily changed to generic-disco-dude-with-afro… Best. Zombies. Ever.

Grand Theft Auto V on PC, PS4, Xbox One This Fall

Grand Theft Auto

During Sony’s E3 conference, they revealed that Grand Theft Auto V will be coming to the Playstation 4 this fall. They left out the part about the PC and Xbox One versions, but all three will be available for purchase. If you are one of the three people that missed out, or you simply want to see Los Santos in glorious next-gen, the following trailer should interest you.

I loved it when it launched, and it’s quite lovely to see Los Santos rendered at such high quality. However, I can’t help but feel as if there is too much of an emphasis on porting last-gen titles. That might just be my inner cynic showing .

How Scary Is… ‘Dead Space?’

Dead Space

Resident Evil 4, as franchise fans will know, was a true revolution. Its dramatic changes to the series’ DNA weren’t universally popular (a euphemism for still cause many to go on spittle-flying Internet tirades to this day), but they were certainly radical. They also begged the question: can survival horror really work in this pseudo-TPS, Dead Space actiontastic style? When you’ve got more ridiculous weaponry than Arnold Schwarzenegger, what do you have to fear?

Well, if you’re going to be pernickety, that’s two questions. Fortunately, though, here comes Dead Space to help us answer both of them.

The game was released in 2008, and followed a similar horror/shooter template. It’s set five hundred years in the future, and humanity have predictably advanced from screwing up their own planet to screwing up everybody else’s. Our resource-ravaging ways have taken the ultimate step with the creation of the planetcrackers. These are vast starships with the capacity to ‘drain’ orbiting planets of everything of use, which sounds just about right really.

This dystopian image of the future was the first thing I found ‘scary’ about Dead Space, a possibility that hit just a little too close to home. I was unnerved even before the throat-slashing death beasts OF DEATH made an appearance.

Our protagonist is one Isaac Clarke, part of a mining team sent to answer a distress call from the Planetcracker Ishimura. Whereupon, naturally, all hell breaks loose, and his companions are slaughtered in a blood-leaky manner by the Necromorphs that have infested the ship.

Where the hell did this guy come from?
Where the hell did this guy come from?

Much like Resident Evil 4‘s Ganados, these hideous buggers are a step above the shuffling, useless zombies of survival horror yore. Necromorphs are born from the insidious influence of the Marker, a mysterious alien artifact. It first drives those within its proximity insane, eventually driving them to murder. Then, it spreads a virus that corrupts the bodies of its victims and mutates them into these beasts.

Ghastly as it all is, another little innovation was added to the combat. The resilient Necromorphs have to be killed by a technique known as ‘strategic dismemberment,’ meaning that you must slice away their limbs to destroy them. Mmm, yummy.

On top of that, Isaac is an engineer, not a badass supersoldier with rippling pecs and so on. As such, he’s mostly armed with improvised weaponry, a rock-boring handheld laser for instance. This lends an oddly ‘vicious’ edge to encounters which isn’t always found in games.

Another thing Dead Space does very well is maintain that oppressive atmosphere. As TPS-y and bullets-flying-every-damn-where-y as it is, that’s tempered by a psychological aspect. Some genuinely creepy moments ensue with survivors of the incident (none of whom survive for long), in inaccesible areas you can only watch from.

Dead Space, I think, combines the immediate jump scares with a deeper sense of lingering dread, and it’s very effective. The developers aren’t named Visceral Games for nothing.

The VGamerZ Monster Files: Necromorphs (Dead Space)

Dead Space

The futuristic, dystopian survival horror of Dead Space broke new ground upon release in 2008. It followed in the wake of Resident Evil 4, which pretty well marked the moment that the series/genre went gung ho and actiontacular. Remember Alice doing her slow-mo Matrix jump and kicking that dog in the face in the movie? That’s what Resident Evil looks like now, for better or worse.

The very mention of the fifth or sixth game causes great tidal waves of bile and fury across the internet, for that very reason. But what Dead Space did was nothing short of miraculous: keeping that gun-totin’ spirit while still retaining enough of the good ol’ fashioned horror.

Central to this was the creation of the Necromorphs. Hold on to your undercrackers, we’re going to meet them.

These hideous buggers are a step above your standard zombies in the ‘ew’ stakes. There are, granted, reanimated human corpses, but it’s a little deeper than that. They are born through exposure to the Markers, mysterious alien artifacts which spread a sort of infection to those with whom they come into contact. This causes a ghastly kind of mutation, in which claws grow from unusual places, skin turns inside out and even grandma doesn’t love you any more. A grisly fate indeed.

GAH!
GAH!

With their transformation complete, these beasts’ only thought is to spread the enigmatic ‘infection’ and create as many dead bodies as possible for this purpose. By, unsurprisingly, killing everybody and anybody right in the face. With death.

The bog standard Necromorph foot soldier is the Slasher, with its ghastly scythe-arms and tiny mutant hands growing from its stomach and such. These guys aside, they come in all kind of ghastly flavours. They range from horrific tumour-things which fire acid at you from shadowy corners to exploding baby-bombs. It’s all kinds of nasty.

Just to add to the fun, Dead Space introduced the ‘strategic dismemberment’ system. This meant you must blast off limbs to deal any real significant damage to some opponents. Couple with the improvised-mining-tools nature of your weaponry, it’s a brutal experience.

How Scary Is… ‘Daylight?’

Daylight

Jared Gerritzen of Zombie Studios is a self-proclaimed aficionado of Japanese horror. He is also the proud owner of perhaps the most brilliantly craptacular beard I’ve ever seen. The latter fact has very little bearing on this article, but it was worthy of mention anyway, because damn.

Anywho, on to those Japanese sensibilities, and how they influence the studio’s latest title, Daylight.

The game’s focus is upon ‘psychological horror,’ a notion more typical of the East. The idea is that what may be lurking in the shadows is infinitely more worrisome than anything that currently is chewing on your butt. This approach, when handled well, can keep us on tenterhooks through much of a movie or game. It really depends upon the individual’s ideas of what ‘defines’ horror: direct and brutal knife-slashy violence and gore, or a slow burning unsettling atmosphere.

Not that the two can’t coexist, of course, but Daylight almost entirely eschews the former. There are jump scares and creepy floating undead witch-things, granted, but they’ll kill you horribly off-screen. All you get is something like Resident Evil’s dramatic YOU’RE DEAD screens, minus any sort of blood.

"And what time do you call this? Your dinner's ruined!" "...sorry, dear."
“And what time do you call this? Your dinner’s ruined!”
“…sorry, dear.”

This enigmatic tale stars a woman known only as Sarah, who awakens in a dingy hospital clueless as to how she got there. She is armed only with a cell phone, which functions as both a flashlight and a map of the area. Needless to say, the hospital is of the pitch-black abandoned asylum variety, and there are rumours of… things lurking about its halls.

Your are guided by a sinister voice, which crackles through your phone at regular intervals. This old dude has some relation to the hospital, and to you, but it’d be spoilerific to delve into that. Suffice it to say that the game is divided into brief ‘chapters,’ each of which contains several Remnants you must collect to proceed. These are small notebook-y files, which provide fleeting insight into what has happened/is happening at the hospital.

It’s a game of exploration, not of combat. The only ‘weaponry’ you’ll find are glowsticks and flares, which have different helpful functions. The first will place an eerie glow over points of interest in the environments, such as desks and drawers which contain Remnants. Meanwhile,the flares are your only means of escaping the Shadows (except simply running in the opposite direction in an underpants-on-fire hurry).

Lighting one will cause any of these witch-beasts in the vicinity to burst into flame and die/melt/whatever the hell happens to them. Which is, y’know, pretty darn handy. Naturally, both are in equally scant supply, and you’ll have to be thrifty.

It's the ACTUAL LAW that a horror game must include a creepy doll.
It’s the ACTUAL LAW that a horror game must include a creepy doll.

So just how scary is Daylight? Again, that’s up to the personal experience of the player. It’s full of all the typical tropes you’d expect of the genre: the distant ghostly wails, the disembodied footsteps, the thing-falls-from-the-ceiling-as-you-pass-in-an-attempt-to-make-you-foul-yourself… it’s very much business as usual. Attacks from the witch-things are rather rare, but their unpredictable nature ensures that they’ll get a jump or two out of you, and you will find wandering flare-less unnerving.

What the game does have on its side is a very oppressive atmosphere. The hospital reminded me somewhat of tromping through Dead Space 2‘s nursery, though without Isacc Clarke’s weapons of mass destruction for protection. The creepiness of the Remnants ramps up slowly and very effectively too. The first files you receive tell of the charming new doctor and his hopes for this fancy establishment. As you proceed further into the hospital/game, increasingly sinister facts begin to come to light. I found this to be a fascinating hook.

Others will disagree, and it’s certainly valid to do so. Daylight is a game in which much of the scariest subject matter is strictly implied, or rather vaguely hinted at. For this reason, some players have simply scoffed that ‘nothing happens,’ which is a fair enough conclusion on a certain level. If you’re looking for the more actiontastic horror of Outlast or perhaps Resident Evil 4, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

If you crave a more methodical experience, you might find that Daylight will –as Mr. Sinister Cell Phone Voice promises– consume you. It’s available now, for PS4 and PC.

The VgamerZ Monster Files: The Bile Demon (Dungeon Keeper)

Bile Demon

You see this thing’s name? Its malevolent, I-eat-your-face appearance? You’ve probably already made your snap judgments from that, and they’re unlikely to be flattering. Does the Bile Demon look like the kind of guy who volunteers at a soup kitchen? Or has a sensitive side, writing poetry and sobbing at girly movies like The Notebook? No, it doesn’t, and no it doesn’t.

Not that I support judging a book by its cover –grandma told me not to do that, after all– but you’d be exactly right. That’s really all you need to know, but in the interests of more word-typery, I’ll continue anyway.

This sentient tumour hails from cult classic Dungeon Keeper. In this 1997 PC release, you were tasked with building your own evil empire beneath the ground, and defending it from the goodly Heroes who invade to end your reign of terror. To do so, of course, you needed an army of your own.

By means of portals, you could attract all manner of ghastly beasts. If your food stocks were high enough, the portly horror that is the Bile Demon would join your ranks, shuffling about on its leg-arms and farting and generally being unpleasant. And while it may be a bad house guest (you don’t want to use the bathroom after this guy), it’s certainly something you’d want on your side in a battle.

Bile-Demon-2

In combat, it’s a fearsome foe. As its appearance also suggests, it’s quite resilient, and takes a lot of punishment. It’s a powerful attacker too, with those bizarre twin dangly mace-things it has. But the Demon’s best trick is its use of poison, by way of farts. These can be fired as a projectile or unleashed the old-fashioned way, which creates a sort of AOE health sapping effect when enemies draw near the cloud.

Like all huge red disgusting blob monsters, the Bile Demon is also a dab hand at manufacturing. In the workshop, they can forge traps and doors to bolster your dungeon’s defenses. Not many creatures perform that function, so there’s another bonus for this guy.

In summation, this hideous beast isn’t one of gaming’s finest creations. For some of us, though, it’s quite an icon. Who could forget the sight of Ol’ Biley giving you the finger when you slapped him? Nobody, that’s who.

Whatever Happened To… The Alien Hominid?

Alien Hominid

Ah, this little dude. Many tedious school periods were spent in his company, stealthily knifing and blasting my way through an hour that would otherwise be dedicated to the foreign policy of Louis XIV or some such. In those days, finding a game site that wasn’t blocked at school made you feel like a futuristic space-prophet genius from the year 5000.

Yes indeed, Alien Hominid began life as a humble Newgrounds flash game. A deeply simplistic, utterly uncompromising arcade beat ‘em up, which cast you as the adorable extraterrestrial with an insatiable hunger for blood.

The premise is essentially E.T gone horribly, horribly wrong. When this yellow fellow crash lands on Earth, he doesn’t make friends with a boy called Elliot and cruise about with him on a flying bicycle. Not even slightly. Instead, the FBI swiftly locate the wreakage, confiscate him ship and leave him for dead. Is the Alien Hominid amused by this? He is not.

Your objective is to fight your way to the FBI’s base and recover your craft, which calls for a crop of side-scrolling, deeply violent levels. Think Streets of Rage with suits-and-sunglasses special agents in place of the unwashed punks, and you’re kinda sorta there.

Alien Hominid 2

By beat ‘em up, I really meant more of a shoot-n’-slash ‘em up (because that’s a thing). Both you and your opponents –generally– are killed in a single hit, which you can administer via your ray gun or a close range knife attack. You can also, if you’re feeling theatrical, leap on opponents’ shoulders and bite their heads off. It’s all very Itchy and Scratchy.

The game was a hit for its gleeful, toontastic violence, and its unconventional sense of humour. In the snowbound level, riding a vast yeti through hordes of FBI guys and watching as it barrels through and/or eats them was hilarious. There was great potential to take this concept all kinds of places, and the recent resurgence of games with magnificent 2d art would have appreciated more from the Alien Hominid.

The little guy warranted a console release a few years later, and a port for the Game Boy Advance. Beyond an HD re-release of same in 2007, though, this face-biting fiend hasn’t been seen since. The world needs more hideous, yeti-based violence.