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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.

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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.

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The Games Industry Really Has Become the WWE

Polygon’s Emily Gera wrote a brilliant post on her personal blog today about how the games industry has turned into a spectator sport akin to World Wrestling Entertainment. It’s a fantastic read, perhaps the most insightful post I’ve read about games this year. And it really hit home with how I’ve been feeling lately as a 39-year-old gamer who is just kind of sad about the state of the industry today.

First, go read the article on Emily’s blog.

I was actually having a conversation on Twitter with Co-Op contributor Dave Fetterman that directly relates to the sentiment expressed in Gera’s post. I was reflecting on the fact that as of late I find myself becoming part of the Nintendo Defense Force, feeling the need to reply to the constant negativity that seems to be aimed at the WiiU and Nintendo in general.

I’m a WiiU and 3DS owner and I have two kids, so for us Nintendo’s consoles are a constant source of fun and entertainment. I also have a Xbox 360, PS3 and a PC, so I play games wherever I can get them. In this last console generation, I’ve probably spent the most time on Xbox 360. Not that any of that matters, except to say that I don’t have a “console of choice” per se.

The thing that kills me is these narratives that are built up not just by the rabid fanbases of each console, but the games media as well. Over the past year, and into this holiday season, one of the biggest is that not only is the WiiU not a “next gen” console, but it’s already dead in the water. There is no reason to buy a WiiU, and there is no hope of it recovering from its slow start. Some are even calling for Nintendo to get out of consoles entirely, either moving exclusively to handhelds, or giving up hardware altogether and becoming the next SEGA.

Consider this: you can get a WiiU bundle for $299 right now that either comes with Wind Waker HD, Skylanders or two Super Mario games. Right now, the WiiU has a slew of great games to play: ZombiU, Pikmin 3, Nintendoland, Super Mario 3D World, Wonderful 101, Lego City Undercover and plenty more. And the console is backwards compatible, which means you have the entire Wii library as well. It’s a great value, especially as a family console. But that narrative is boring, right? Who wants to talk about what a fun experience the console can be when we can all hail its impending doom from the highest mountain, right?

When it comes to the PS4 and the XBox One, the ebb and flow of the narrative changes daily. The PS4 goes from being more powerful than the XBox One to having a worse launch lineup to being a better value to being inferior because it doesn’t let you control your living room in the same way XBox One does. On the flipside, XBox One had terrible party chat one day, a lack of free demos the next and then Kinect makes it better than the PS4 (despite the fact no one wanted it before launch and thought its addition was not worth the extra $100).

And this stuff isn’t just message board or comment section chatter. These are storylines that all of the major gaming news sites are feeding into daily. Much of the chatter from gamers is happening in response to these stories. The gaming news sites are just as much the creators of these narratives as the fans. The same goes for the publishers and hardware makers themselves, and you don’t have to look any further than this year’s E3, when the mudslinging between Microsoft and Sony was on stage for all the world to see. Microsoft ended up changing their whole strategy for the console based on the narrative that games journalists helped create when they took fan reactions and jabs from Sony and ran with them relentlessly. Microsoft was the bad guy–they didn’t get it. Sony came out of E3 as the “winner,” the company that really understood what gamers wanted from the next generation. Nintendo wasn’t even allowed to be part of the discussion, as the media took Nintendo’s lack of a spectacle presentation as a reason to marginalize them completely and just focus on the narrative that the upcoming generation was a two-horse race.

All of this is where the spectator sport of the games industry comes in, and where Emily Gera’s analogy is so brilliant. There has to be Good Guys (Babyfaces) and Bad Guys (Heels) in order for anyone to care. Those Good Guys and Bad Guys will switch places when it suits the overall narrative, but there will always be someone to root for and against, and those creating the narrative get to decide what roles the actors are assigned to.

This whole spectator sport aspect of the industry takes the focus off of the games, off of the fun, and off of the escape that games offer me. It also devalues the exact type of writing that Emily Gera displayed in her brilliant post. Because if gamers would rather read about how many PS4’s failed over launch weekend or how dismal WiiU’s sales were this week than a feature on the design of Resogun, that’s what Emily and those who work for other gaming sites will be writing about. And that just feeds into the spectacle our hobby has become.

The absolute saddest thing about the current state of the industry is that some of the best writers out there, people who earn a living writing about games, have to turn to their personal blogs in order to post ideas that are not part of the larger narratives, part of the spectacle. If you think I’m exaggerating, look at how many current and former games journos have their own side blogs and podcasts, and look at what they produce for content. For most of them, those side projects are where they get to actually celebrate games and talk about the things they love.

Now, the state of the industry isn’t going to change anytime soon, although I hope articles like Emily Gera’s will at least get people to do some self-reflection. I would love to see something like Upworthy come along for the games industry. Some sort of aggregator for games writing that celebrates the hobby, where features about people’s experiences with games and what they love about them are shared and promoted, as opposed to the gladiator arena that currently dominates games media.

I’m rambling now, so I’m going to wrap this post up. But you really need to go and check out Emily Gera’s post, because she is dead on.

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It’s Not You, PS4 and Xbox One–It’s Me

So, Microsoft had their Xbox Reveal event today and announced the XBox One. Similar in specs to the PS4, XBox One seems to be differentiating itself in terms of it’s commitment to being your one media box, with a focus on TV, web and Skype integration. There are a million articles about the new box, and Game Informer has a nice hub of info here.

Right now, I own an XBox 360, PS3, WiiU and 3DS in terms of gaming-centric devices. I also own a smartphone, an iPad 2 and a Kindle Fire HD. Yes, I have a bit of a tech-buying problem. Here’s the crazy thing, though–with all those devices, I currently spend less than five total hours a week playing games.

And that is really the big difference between now and when the last console generation started. When I first picked up an XBox 360, I had one less child, and a lot more free time. I spent an average of 15-20 hours a week gaming, sometimes more. Every weekend I was up until the wee hours on XBox Live with friends. I put hundreds of hours into Modern Warfare and the Left 4 Dead series, among others. I also spent a hefty amount of time with the PS3, much of it on RPGs that I pumped countless hours into as well. I’ve spent over 300 hours on the Souls series alone.

Over the past two years though, my gaming has decreased dramatically. Picking up the WiiU was probably a mistake–not because there’s not enough games for it, but because I have little time to actually play it. Don’t get me wrong, ZombiU was amazing and I’ve had a blast playing Lego City with my son, but the lesson I’ve learned here is that I just don’t have the time to be the gamer I used to be anymore.

Not to mention, as the “Year of B-Games” has reminded me, there are a ton of XBox 360, PS3 and Wii games that I still want to play. At my current gaming rate, these could last me years–literally.

Which may ultimately mean that I don’t end up grabbing either the Xbox One or the PS4 come this fall. My compulsion to buy new tech will surely be eating away at me, and I’m sure I’ll cave at some point. But I think there’s a very good chance that for me, the next console generation will be a one console generation. I’m going to have to pick one and go all-in, as I simply don’t have the time (or money) to justify being a multiple console owner anymore.

I’m still looking forward to E3, and I’m still excited about the future when it comes to games. But much like the other hobbies that have been marginalized over the years, my days of 24/7 gaming are over. I may be spectating for much of the next generation, as I’ll still be playing catch up on the games I have yet to experience from current consoles.