Plants vs Zombies 2: It's About Time is the sequel to PopCap's hugely popular tower defence game that debut on the PC back in May 2009. The subtitle "it's about time" is rather apt because, although the original PvZ was ported over to every system known to man, fans have had to wait an agonising four years for a fully-fledged follow-up to be released. In the interim PopCap has been acquired by the video game Satan that is Electronic Arts, so it should come as no surprise that the Plant vs Zombies 2 garden has been infested with in-app purchase weeds. Does EA's money grubbing antics soil (no pun intended) the game? Let's find out.
The game's story sees the unintelligible Crazy Dave celebrate his victory over the zombie masses by feasting on a spicy taco. Dave enjoyed the Mexican snack so much that he decides to travel to the past so he can devour the same taco once again, but alas something goes wrong (aye caramba!) A glitch strikes Dave's RV time machine hurtling him to the distant past (that's what you get for fashioning a time travel device in a form other than that of a telephone box.) In order to return to the present our bearded hero, who uses pots for headgear, will have to trek through Ancient Egypt, Pirate Times (yarrr) and the Wild West. It won't be an easy journey though as it appears that zombie infestations were prevalent during the course of human history.
Game play wise Plants vs Zombies 2 doesn't deviate from the strategic formula that hooked many a player to its predecessor. No surprises there given that it would be foolish to "uproot" the charming level designs that enamoured both casual and hard-core gamers alike. The aim of the game is to halt the swarms of zombies on the right of the screen from reaching your safe haven located on the left hand side of the iPad display. Most stages have you ceasing the waves of undead by planting sunflowers that generate solar energy, which in turn is used to grow an assortment of defensive flora.
Like its predecessor, battlefield gardeners can temporarily delay the advance of the walking dead by summoning wall-nuts that act as barriers, which the shambling corpses need to munch their way through. To destroy the smelly invaders you can call upon peashooters that pelt their targets with green projectiles or plant potato mines that detonate in spud-tacular fashion whenever they get trod on. Intermixed with those familiar plants are new seedlings such as the ice lettuce that freezes foes (what a "cool" ability), the leafy Bonk Choy who will literally knock your block off with its rapid-fire fists and Lightning Reeds that can zap pesky cadavers from a distance. Despite not doing much damage I was "shocked" by how effective the reeds are in large numbers.
As an obese glutton it should come as no surprise that the addition of food is my favourite new feature introduced to the game. Whenever a glowing zombie is killed... erm I mean defeated (they are already dead after all) it is possible to acquire plant food that can be sprinkled on your flowers to activate a powerful special move. I also enjoyed how each of the levels has a distinct feel thanks to the time travel theme. The Wild West stages for example have mine carts that can be moved to reposition any plant you have sitting atop them, the Pirate zone has watery sections were you can make zombies walk the plank to a soggy doom whilst the Egyptian segments include a memorization mini-game were you have to match hieroglyphic symbols.
It's not all good though thanks to the introduction of in-game purchases. Levels are selectable on a Mario World style map, which sadly include blocked paths that can only be accessed by collecting a certain number of keys (why you need multiple keys to open a solitary door makes no sense, but whatever.) The keys needed to unlock these obstacles randomly drop from vanquished zombies forcing the player to repeat levels in order to farm sufficient keys or purchase them at the store (boo.) It's a similar story with the game's difficulty. Completing the required number of levels to progress the story isn't always easy as this sequel is considerably tougher than the original. There's nothing wrong with a good challenge, but one cannot help but think that the only reason the game is harder is to coerce players into spending money on the overpowered store plants or on coins that allow you to instantly destroy zombies with a quick flick of your finger.
Don't get me wrong, I understand how business works. PopCap need to monetize their product, but I would rather spend a few quid on a complete game over downloading the software for free only to then get bullied into purchasing optional goodies that amount to more than the average retail price for a standard app. I have refused to buy anything from the game's store on principal and still managed to complete the three levels on offer, but who knows what the future holds. Upon completing the last level a fourth zone is teased, which has yet to be released. Will we be expected to fork out cash to unlock it? We shall have to wait and see, as most of us don't have a Crazy Dave time machine that can transport us to the future.
My stinginess aside, Plants vs Zombies 2 is an excellent game with many hours of content to enjoy. It's not quite as casual friendly as the original, due to the increased difficulty, but you have nothing to lose in giving it a go given that the app itself costs nowt. At the time of writing the game has been reportedly downloaded an outstanding twenty five million times, so if you are reading this it's likely that you have already played the game and formed your own opinions on it. For what it's worth I think Plants vs Zombies 2 is good fun, but the free-mium model they have gone with "leafs" a bitter taste in the mouth.