Plants vs. Zombies Reader Review
Gaming addiction can be a veritable relationship killer. That’s what they tell me, anyway, because my success with women can be equated to News International’s success with honest investigative journalism. For those who know what they’re doing in the art of ensnaring members of the female gender group, however, the perils of juggling one’s gaming commitments with the needs of their estranged damsel quickly boil to the surface during the umpteenth hour spent raiding the plains of Azeroth at the expense of spending those precious moments of intimacy with a real person. Naturally, the said partner takes offence at being shoved aside by a meaningless visual combination of 1s and 0s, but she really needs to know her place in God’s great ladder of social hierarchy and just stop whinging. While she’s at it, she should make herself useful and get you some more pretzels. You can’t get through this dungeon on an empty stomach, damn it.
Things aren’t quite as innocent when the shoe’s on the other foot, though. Once in a while, there comes a time when games developers manage to release a product that manages to entice all but the most ardent and stubborn of female objectors to virtual interactivity, hence rendering them slaves to the corporate machine and upsetting the natural order of a male-dominated society. The perpetrators of such a heinous attack on humanity? Popcap, of course.
This time round, it’s Plants vs Zombies that fuels Popcap’s apparent desire to lull the entire world’s population into a state of docile entrancement, presumably so that they can finally wipe us out with that laser beam they’ve secretly been erecting in outer space. Previous Popcap titles have included such simplistic, yet quaintly charming and relentlessly addictive casual gems as Peggle, Bejeweled and Bookworm, and Plants vs Zombies is cut from the same cloth, presumably a cloth woven from within the derelict factory assembly line of Beelzebub himself. Once again, the formula is simple: take a basic, well established game mechanic; spice it up with some childish animations and whacky sound effects; sprinkle in a generous handful of minigames; take profits back to private yacht in the Bahamas.
In the case of PvZ, then, the tower defence genre gets the female-friendly makeover treatment. The execution of this well established setup is perfectly straightforward, with the player lumbered with the task of planting various forms of flora and fauna with the ultimate goal of preventing a horde of ravenous cartoon zombies from successfully traversing a garden and through the front door of a typical, run-of-the-mill bungalow. The clue, then, lies in the game’s title, something that clearly leaves very little to the imagination. At least the names “Peggle” and “Bejeweled” retained at least a modicum of mystery, but I suppose Popcap must have taken the good, old “stuff it” approach to subtle marketing and decided to pocket our cash without the need for a coherent sales pitch.
But I digress. To PvZ’s great credit, it does almost everything right in its attempt to secure a stranglehold on the casual gaming market. The first and most immediately evident firearm in its impressive arsenal is its gentle learning curve, allowing the introduction of each new plant-based defence mechanism and undead nuisance to be carried out in the most wonderfully user-friendly of manners. Complementing this sense of welcoming ease is a similarly basic control setup. Engaging in battle with the zombie riff-raff is merely a case of clicking on one’s desired plant and subsequently clicking on one’s desired location for said plant, before laughing maniacally as one’s foes are decapitated, burned to death, crushed by vegetables or run down by a lawnmower. Let’s hear it for casual violence, everyone.
Thankfully, the main campaign’s missions do become more challenging as new plants and more formidable zombies come into play, forcing the player to adopt a variety of alternative strategies and cunning ploys in order to fend off increasingly frantic waves of abominations of all shapes and sizes. However, any trace of difficulty takes a considerable amount of time to really kick in, by which point Mr. or Mrs. Casual have already taken to the experience like a priest to a juvenile prison, ensuring that they’re extremely well prepared for the eventual difficulty spike. And it’s also at this stage of the game at which the marital problems truly emerge. It’s bad enough that the resident macho gaming god can no longer get his regular fix of virtual masochism as his spouse now sees fit to hog the computer or games console in an incessant attempt to plough through Plants vs Zombie’s seemingly never-ending array of game modes and extra-curricular activities, but the crisis is made even worse by the fact that, in all likelihood, she’s much more adept at the game than he’ll ever be. And, so, there it is. Sexual and emotional neglect, coupled with a wounded sense of pride, all in one package.
When all is said and done, it’s still hard to criticise Plants vs Zombies for what it manages to achieve. It’s a fun little romp, a very fun one, in fact. It’s also yet another triumph of the oft-forgotten minimalistic approach to games design from a studio more in touch with modern popular cultural values than almost any other casual developer in existence. With that said, though, one can’t help but err on the side of caution with these sorts of things, particularly from a moral standpoint. Don’t let those puppy dog-eyes fool you; Popcap doesn’t really want to be friends with you. It wants your money, just like every other evil corporation out there. And you’re just going to hand it over, aren’t you, you weak-minded puppet? Well, congratulations. All you’re doing is supporting the commercial juggernaut that will ultimately give rise to social divisions and cultural injustice, bringing the entire world down to its proverbial knees.
That’s fine. I want no part in your acceptance of the impending bleakness that will envelop you forever more. And I’m not going to join the money-grabbing developers and rob you of your hard-earned cash, either. I’ll just stick to lurking outside local primary schools and taking the young children’s lunch money. Unlike you, I’m standing up for myself and sticking it to the man.