Friday, March 19, 2010

Tech: Plants vs. Zombies review

"Plants vs. Zombies" is a tower defense game available for the PC, Mac OS X, and the iPhone. It's the brainchild of George Fan, who designed Insaniquarium and helped to program the AI for Diablo III. In the game, you're tasked with defending your lawn from hordes of rampaging zombies. Thankfully, you're an able gardener, and you have an array of helpful plants to push back those shambling corpses.

The plant arsenal in PvZ is sort of like a giant bag of party favors. While the game doesn't have the depth of a true RTS like "Starcraft," each plant is cleverly designed and packs a ton of personality. There's something viscerally thrilling about incinerating a bunch of enemies with a Jalapeno, or watching a zombie step on a Potato Mine (SPUDDOW!). The first time through the Adventure mode is a journey of discovery, with a cool new plant introduced on almost every level.

And the imagination isn't limited to the plants, either. You'll run up against some crazy undead opposition, including a "Thriller"-inspired Michael Jackson zombie (complete with zombie back-up dancers), a zombie dolphin rider, and even the dreaded Zomboni. And don't despair, zombie fans: in the puzzle modes available after you play the main game, you switch sides and deploy the zombies against a grid of plants.

PvZ is a PopCap game, so the graphics and sound aren't impressive technically. Like "Bookworm Adventures" and "Bejeweled," PvZ's sprite animation is on par with a really well-done Flash game. On the positive side, the game has a cute art style (when zombie limbs and heads fall off due to damage, it's adorable rather than disgusting), and the low screen resolution makes PvZ amenable to almost any computer.

The only real criticism I have with the game is that the plant-zombie interaction is rather shallow. That is, there are some things that you must plant in order for you to succeed against certain zombie types. Other than that, the game is as difficult or as easy as you want it to be: stick with a few powerful strategies, or experiment with different plant types and formations. Overall, it's a charming title that's well worth the $10 asking price off of Valve's Steam download service.

Rating: 88/100


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