Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is the Perfect Blend of Class-Based Shooters

Last generation, the game that evangelized more than any other was Dark Souls. It was a game I felt a lot of people overlooked and made a lot of assumptions about.

In this brand new console generation, I have found the first game I feel strongly enough about to evangelize. That game is Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

Forget what you think this game is. Forget that you’re mad PopCap decided to make a shooter out of Plants vs. Zombies. Forget that it looks like it’s aimed at younger audiences. Forget that you think it will just be laden with microtransactions. Forget all of that, and play this game.

Garden Warfare takes the best of Team Fortress 2, Battlefield and the versus mode in Left 4 Dead 2 and combines them. Each faction has classes that will be familiar to shooter fans–there are soldiers, healers, engineers and heavies. But the way those classes are implemented makes each type of character play very differently. The heavy on the zombie side is a lumbering hulk with a chain gun, while the heavy on the plant side basically Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. Each class has abilities that you unlock by completing challenges, and a fully unlocked character has a nice variety of options to head into battle with.

There is a card system in the game that allows players to purchase card packs with in-game currency. These packs contain customization items (like hats and outfits for your characters), weapon upgrades (including elemental damage), new characters to unlock and consumables that you can use, like deployable health stations, turrets, summonable characters, etc. The card packs range in price and so far I feel like the currency I’m earning is an appropriate ratio to the cost of the packs. There is also an element of randomization to the card packs that ensures there is a reason to keep earning currency to buy new ones. All of the currency is earned by playing the game and completing challenges.

While I think there are some balance issues to still be worked out, there is fun to be had in all of the game’s modes. Team Vanquish (Deathmatch) is a “first to 50 kills” type of game, and most of the matched I’ve been in have been decided by 5 kills or less. There’s also a rush-style mode called Gardens and Graveyards, where you are either defending or trying to take control points. This mode needs some balancing, but it’s still a blast to play.

There’s also a four-player co-op horde-style mode which I haven’t checked out yet, as I’m the only one of my friends who has the game so far.

And therein lies my biggest concern for Garden Warfare, and the reason I’m evangelizing it–it’s an online-only multiplayer game, and I’m afraid it may not have a big enough player base on XBox One to keep it going for the long haul. That would be a real shame, as this is a game, much like Team Fortress 2, that you can keep replaying and keep having fun with for a long time to come.

So please, if you have an XBox One (or an XBox 360), do not overlook this game if you’re a shooter fan. Garden Warfare looks great, plays great and is a ton of fun. It’s also one of the only shooters that’s accessible to kids without being inappropriate for them.


Now Playing–Assassin’s Creed IV (Pushing My Luck)

I streamed a bit of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag this morning on WiiU, and it was pretty much a clinic in how not to play the game. What you’ll see in the video below is sort of a microcosm of how the entire 45-minute play session went.

Basically, I tried to assault a naval fort that was way out of my league. You’ll see my try to attack the fort from afar with mortars, only to attract the attention of several enemy ships. I actually dispatch the ships and manage to repair some of the damage done to mine. BUT, instead to counting my blessings and getting out of there until I could upgrade my ship, I went back at assaulting the fort, and things quickly went bad.

The great thing about AC IV is that there are forts and enemy ships all over the pace for you to engage or not, as you see fit. Many of them are much more powerful than you, and you should make sure to upgrade your ship’s offensive and defensive capabilities before engaging them. Sometimes you’ll get lucky when attacking a more powerful ship or fort, and sometimes you end up like me int he video below.

Such is the life of a pirate.

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Xbox One Layaway Program Is a Big Deal

I don’t think it can be overstated how much the $100 price difference is contributing to The PlayStation 4’s dominance over the Xbox One in sales so far.

Keep in mind, most parents who are buying this console for their kids are not paying attention to the major game news sites. They could give a crap that Sony has done a better job of courting indie developers, or that Microsoft flip-flopped with their online strategy. That stuff we care about, but most consumers don’t even know about. In fact, you would be amazed at what most consumers don’t know.

One example: I was in a GameStop the other day, and a father and son were in line behind me. The father was asking his son what the difference was between the PlayStation 4 and the XBox One, and why the XBox One was more expensive. The kids reply: “The Xbox One does more. You can go online with it.” The implication was that the PS4 has less features and no online functionality.

Most consumers are walking into a retail store and comparing the two consoles. And when you see two boxes that basically do the same thing, have many of the same games, but have a $100 price difference, that’s the deciding factor.

So I find it very interesting that GameStop just started a layaway program for XBox One, that allows you to pay for the console over an indefinite period, with no additional fees. You can put $25 down, and then add to it whenever you can. You can also cancel at any time, which basically makes this a risk-free proposition for consumers.

I think this program is going to significantly increase the sales of XBox One consoles, as it essentially erases the $100 advantage PS4 has. That’s only a deciding factor when you are paying for the console in one lump sum. And by allowing people to put the console on layaway, you’re locking them in as XBox gamers before they can go somewhere else.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that I was planning on getting a PS4, not an XBox One. I don’t have the cash to just go out and grab one of these consoles, and I don’t have the ability to just sock money away until I do (between kids and bills and whatever, it just goes). But, when I have an extra $20 or $30, I can go throw it on my XBox One layaway until it’s paid off. And I won’t be charged interest or additional fees. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

Unfortunately, it’s a deal that’s only being offered for the XBox One. And that’s why I may end of up getting an XBox One instead of a PS4. So even for me, a lifelong gamer who stays up on all the news and follows all the consoles, the ultimate factor ends up being cost, and in this case, the ability to spread that cost out over a period of time.

I’ll be very interested to see how this progresses.


Now Playing–Metro: Last Light

I started Metro: Last Light this week and decided to stream a couple sections of the game. In the video below, Artyom gets separated from his newfound friend Pavel when Pavel gets captured. Artyom is trying to find Pavel before his captors kill him.

The video came out pretty dark, as the game is dark and the stream is always a bit muddy. I think you’ll get the gist of what the game play is like, though. Good mixture of stealth and shooting. Feel free to fast forward through the five minutes or so I end up standing in the dark when the guards sound the alarm.

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Co-Op Critics Podcast–The Bioshock Series and the WiiU’s Woes

In this episode of Co-Op Critics, Brian is joined by Kim Wong and Dave Fetterman as they discuss the WiiU’s woes and the Bioshock trilogy.

Listen to the episode here in the embedded player to the right, or download it here.

You can follow Brian on Twitter ( and check out his blog at You can find Kim Wong ( and Dave Fetterman ( on Twitter as well.

Post your comments below or reach out on Twitter with feedback and suggestions about future episodes. Thanks for listening!


Now Playing: Bioshock 2

I recorded my first PS3 streaming session the other night, which includes pretty much the entirety of the Pauper’s Drop section of Bioshock 2. The total run time for the video is about and hour and a half. I’m pretty happy with the quality of the video. I origianlly streamed this on, and the video was archived right afterward.

I still want to get some live commentary going, but even if that proves too troublesome, I will be streaming a lot more on Twitch. Even with the workaround I had to use to get my Roxio streaming, it’s not that difficult to get it up and running.

Anyway, enjoy the video, and look for some WiiU streaming in the near future!

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Adventures in Streaming #1–Painful Beginnings

Well, that was a lot more complicated than I had hoped.

As I mentioned in my recent post, I have wanted to do some game streaming for a quite a while now, and after doing some research, I picked up the Roxio GameCap HD Pro. When I got the device and tried to hook it up the other day, I ended up learning a few things that really took the shine off the Roxio for me.

One of the bummers is that without buying extra splitters and using a workaround, you can’t do live commentary very easily. Sure, I could plug a mic or headset into my PC and record commentary as I play, but then I can’t use my gaming headset, and the lag between the audio that comes from the source and when it gets recorded is very noticeable. So, unless I want to play games with delayed audio, live commentary is pretty much out. I may still try a set up where I have a desktop mic to record my voice and still use my regular gaming headset, but I haven’t had the chance yet.

My biggest pet peeve about the Roxio though is the fact that it cannot stream to Twitch as advertised. The device was created before the Twitch/ split, and the software has not been updated recently. So, two things happen when you try to stream. First, you get kicked to instead of Twitch, and then you get no picture despite your channel stating you are streaming live. Worse, signing into Twitch from the Roxio software actually somehow tied my Twitch account to, and I ended up having to delete it entirely. I created a new account for Twitch ( that is okay now, but that was a bummer.

Roxio’s lack of a software update has also made it somewhat incompatible with software like XSplit and Open Broadcaster Software, which were previously used to make streaming with the Roxio very easy. Now, there is a workaround for OBS that I was able to get running yesterday, but it was far from ideal and I went through many YouTube tutorials figuring out how to get things running. The live commentary on Twitch will still be a problem, for the same reasons I mentioned above.

So, what does the Roxio actually do well? For starters, it is very easy to hook up to either the PS3 or the WiiU (or presumably Xbox 360). It’s also very easy to capture video with the included software, and I can add commentary later and edit the video within the software as well. Video editing is tedious, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be doing that, but the Roxio handles all of that just fine.

It’s really the streaming functionality that does not work well at all out of the box with the Roxio, and that’s a shame, as they advertise that functionality right on the box. Apparently, I did not dig deep enough in my research, because if I had, I would have went with a different device. I may actually return the Roxio if the workarounds prove to be too much of a pain.

So for now, I will be capturing and streaming video without commentary, at least until I can get a decent external mic setup going. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but I’m still surprised at how crippled the Roxio is out of the box. I would recommend going with the Elgato, as that was the other device I was looking at, and it seems to have none of the problems of the Roxio.


First Impressions–Bioshock: Infinite

Bioshock Infinite, recipient of multiple Game of the Year Awards, is now free to play for PS Plus subscribers. Having absolutely no excuse not to play this game now, I fired it up over the weekend and played through the first couple of hours. What I’ve found so far is a wonderfully imaginative and detailed world, a mystery that I’m interested in solving, and the familiar gameplay of the Bioshock games that allowed me to pick this game up and get right into it. I’ve also found some dated design and a lack of interactivity that reminds me the foundation of this game was built in 2007.

Let’s start with the world, though. The flying city of Columbia is at once a sister and a start contrast to Rapture, the underwater city of the previous games. The biggest contrast is how bright and colorful Columbia is compared to the dark and dank feel of Rapture. Especially when you’re first introduced to Columbia, the city initially feels like a shinier version of Liberty Square in Disney World, just a pristine version of American exceptionalism. And unlike Rapture, you’re not arriving at a city that’s falling apart, after some big event has happened. You are kind of the tipping point for the the big event that happens–you’re the reason things start really falling apart.

There are so many things I love about the design of Bioshock Infinite’s world. In Rapture, there were little touches like cracks in the outer walls where water was leaking in, constantly reminding you that this was a submerged city, and things were falling apart. In Infinite, the gentle bobbing up and down of building, the sky rail cars pass by overhead, and the clouds themselves that obscure parts of the foundation are all reminders of the fact that you’re in a floating city. For me, this is so much more immersive than when a game like Mass Effect puts you on a space station, but other than stars outside there’s nothing to remind you or make you feel like you’re in space. The Bioshock team is just so good at creating a sense of place.

I kind of feel like the game’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness, though. A world like Columbia begs to be explored, but there is almost no level of interactivity in the game, and I’m constantly disappointed by it. Other than picking up collectibles, it feels like you’re just walking around a set. The design in very linear, and other than some branching paths in the combat arenas, you are funneled through the game from the outset. The great part of that is you are seeing what the devs want you to see, but the flipside is you never feel completely in control or free to explore.

That said though, I do like the way Infinite presents the character of Booker DeWitt and gives you just enough knowledge to keep you, moving forward. There’s so much about the city and the events that have transpired that you need to discover, and right from the outset, Booker is questioning his purpose there, who he’s really working for, and who he can trust. These questions have me thinking about the game when I’m not playing it, and that’s the best compliment I can pay it.

So, a couple of hours in, and I’m hooked on Bioshock Infinite. The lack of interactivity makes things feel a little dated, but the overall world design and the intriguing story more than make up for that shortcoming. I can’t wait to spend more time with it.


There Will Be Streaming

Since I will not be getting a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One anytime soon, I’ve decided that I want to start streaming some of my PS3 and WiiU gaming on Twitch, and posting some videos to YouTube. This is basically as a warm up for when Dark Souls II arrives in March, as I plan on doing some videos and podcasts of the billion hours I plan on spending with that game. I’m also killing two birds with one stone, as I’ve been unable to pull the crew together for Co-Op Critics podcasts as often as I’d like, and this will provide some additional content to be shared here.

After doing some research, I decided to go with the Roxio Game Capture HD. There are some who prefer the Elgato Game Capture HD, but the Roxio was a bit cheaper and got solid reviews, particularly when it came to the editing software included with the device.

I’ll probably record a bit of Minecraft, Dark Souls and Bioshock Infinite streaming on PS3, and on the WiiU, probably some NES Remix and maybe some older games. Again, I’ll likely skip around, as I want to get used to using the device and the editing software. At some point I’m sure I’ll do an actual playthrough, but I’m not ready for that level of commitment yet.

Is there a particular game that people would like to see me play, hit me up on Twitter @SeeBrianWrite, or leave a comment below.


The Minecraft Effect

I first picked up Minecraft when it was released on Xbox 360 in 2012, and for a few months, it became an obsession. Whether in co-op or alone, I would often lose hours at time to the timeless nature of the game, where sessions are not measured by minutes in our world, but by the day/night cycle of the world you become immersed in.

For me, Minecraft is equal parts LEGO and Dungeons & Dragons. Creating a base of operations, equipping my character and then venturing out into the world to hunt monsters hearkens back to my tabletop roleplaying game days, and it’s easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole whenever I fire up the game.

What has consistently surprised me though, is how easily causal and non-gamers are drawn into Minecraft. In the past two weeks alone, my 7-year old son, my ten-year old daughter, my 15 year-old nephew and my thirty-something brother-in-law have all been captivated by Minecraft.

For my son, the simplicity of the basic mechanics and the similarities to LEGO building (which is his favorite pastime) hooked him immediately. While the crafting menus can get a little complex, the core concepts are really clear, so the learning curve for him wasn’t steep. Not to mention, the ability to turn off the appearance of monsters in the game allowed him to build without worry, and then begin adventuring when he had a good feel for the game. My daughter also liked the building aspects, but what really drew her in was the notion that you can just keep digging deeper into the world, and you never knew what you’ll find behind that next block.

This past weekend, my brother-in-law and nephew watched my son play, and then jumped in themselves. My nephew bought the game on his Macbook and literally sat next to his father playing on his laptop while my brother-in-law played the XBox 360 version. For my nephew, it was the crafting that hooked him, while my brother-in-law found the game reminded him of Zelda, the one series he’s really gotten into despite not being a frequent gamer. When the two left our house at the end of the weekend, they promptly went home and bought the game for XBox 360.

My son and daughter have both now gotten Minecraft on their iPods, and it’s been a blast watching them explore and build. What I love the most about Minecraft is that despite their being some monsters in the game, it’s completely appropriate for kids of almost any age. Heck, even my wife enjoys watching the kids play, and she hasn’t been into games since Pandemonium on the original PlayStation.

The game really reinforces all of the things I love about games, and I can just let my kids dive in and play. Seeing them enjoy it so much has actually rekindled my love for the game, and I just picked it up for PlayStation 3, so I expect I’ll be writing about it more in the coming months.