Ever-present are both plants and zombies, only now framed squarely through the exploits of Crazy Dave and his sentient, time-travelling camper-van, presumably originally featuring a talking pie and was directed by Ron Howard. Taking seed packets and Miracle-Gro on your adventure, the task is fending off zombies in three locations: Ancient Egypt, somewhere piratey and the Wild West, each featuring its own tailored specimens. The curve of frenzy and difficulty is meticulously sanded and varnished, making the moment-to-moment zombicide on par with PvZ, but after shedding the skins and dropping the artifice, it only offers half a dozen additional crumbs.
But as is the nature with free, a shakedown and a spruce up should more than be enough to extend a series’ life beyond a solitary existence, that is, until the cold sweat of free-to-play takes hold, and starts bleeding into the gameplay. The incursions are subtle, but once observed, can never been unseen. It doesn’t so much rattle a tin in front of your face, but constructs a pyramid scheme and entices you in. Coins are a superfluous addition to be spent on bonus demi-god abilities, or plant feed, but coins can be gathered organically and the moves themselves almost seem to cheapen the fertile soil of tower defence.
The trickery and cunning lies in stars, an arbitrary collectible which holds the key to progression. Each area requires fifteen to proceed, but a first time dash through the levels garners a measly four. Bonus levels can be unlocked, but the bulk of star-collection comes in retracing familiar ground, repeating completed levels up to three times for maximum stardom, with several arbitrary caveats, such as not allowing certain plants to perish, or keeping the lawnmowers unused. Conjoined with the pre-existing bonus level mini-games, much of the game seems distracted and uninterested with straight up garden warfare, building an underlying frustration at a bogus lack of progression. These levels are notably harder too, so this minor angst creates this niggling feedback loop, which serves to encourage the player in paying to progress, and intentionally bypassing gameplay simply to prevent it from stagnating.
The jaunty soundtrack, beaming palette and superb tower defence is still very much alive, but surrounded by artifice, cynicism and subliminally encouraging the purchase of fabricated there’s a creeping sense Plants Versus Zombies 2 cares less about the player, and more the clinking in their coffers.