Fieldrunners 2 has arrived into the crushing arms of its fans’ expectations.
Many reviews of tower defense games have several defining features. Much like the games they critique, they have become a homogeneous and routine entity. The critic must recognize that there is an ever-expanding mass of tower defense games on the iOS platform, and then decide whether or not the game is as rote as the majority of its brethren, or if it does something to ‘stand out from the crowd.’ Favorable reviews typically note that the game was enjoyable in spite of its genre. One day I’ll get around to standardizing a document that should be read prior to a tower defense review.
One part of that document would be an explanation of just what a tower defense game is. Players strategically drop towers in the pathway of enemies- who relentlessly dash from one end of the play field to the other. Some games place enemies on fixed paths, while others give players the ability to route enemies into paths created with their tower placements.
Fieldrunners 2 does both, and goes as far as to add puzzle and timed challenge modes. In general, Fieldrunners 2 makes a notable push to try and differentiate itself from the typical tower defense title, and it does so primarily through the addition of the aforementioned modes, special one-use items to be used during missions, and extra towers to unlock. Items and towers are unlocked with in-game currency, and in the most pleasant surprise I’ve had in ages, these coins are not purchasable with real world money.
Behind the pleasant visuals, added modes, and unlockable tools, the meat and potatoes of Fieldrunners 2 is standard tower defense action. Towers feel like they pack sufficient punch, and there is always satisfaction in watching your built-out network of towers mow down waves upon waves of persistent creeps. The same could be said about many tower defense games, though, and nothing in particular resonated with me about the moment to moment gameplay of Fieldrunners 2. Games with hero characters, most recently Kingdom Rush on iOS, add a dynamic unit to monitor and control during the slower moments of gameplay. A more active element for Fieldrunners 2 would have been welcome, and while the in-game items come close, the fact that they must be used sparingly means they are more escape hatches than weapons.
Pacing is an important part of the tower defense equation, and the game struggles with it. Some of the pacing issues tie back to the lack of player involvement, the common inclusion of a fast forward button in tower defense games means that even the designers anticipate gaps in player involvement. If I’ll need to fast forward through your game, why include those parts? Either it is interesting enough to watch without the player being directly involved, or it isn’t, and I’d rather not have to fast forward a mobile game only to pause it when things start to go bad. 60 waves and 20 minutes into an 80 wave level, it became evident that something needed to change with how long levels last in Fieldrunners 2. It isn’t as if the game doesn’t let you pause and exit, it does, but I want to feel as if I have progressed during the timeframe of a small play session.
Lengthy matches also discourage experimentation. Each new tower layout could result in disaster 50 waves down the line, and it is back to square one. The need for a feeling of progression in the complexity of your tower network, and the time it takes to build that network needs to be balanced. Also hindering experimentation is the price gap between different towers, something that also creates a false sense of expectations. One might assume that the oil tower that slows groups of enemies is more effective than the glue tower that slows a single enemy. However; the oil tower proves to be less useful in the long run. The slowing effect of the cheaper glue gun is more effective on the single heavy targets, and the slowing of weaker grouped targets is made unnecessary by towers like the flamethrower.
While not directly an issue with the game’s pacing, I found that Fieldrunners 2 on the iPhone 4 has considerable load times. Nothing is more discouraging than a lengthy restart time after botching the initial 40 waves of a level. The game isn’t too difficult, but I found myself having troubles stumbling across the most efficient tower setup for several levels, and the reload time was a hindrance to my progress.
Fieldrunners 2 does do a good job of telegraphing future waves with its early wave composition. Generally, the pattern of air vehicles is established with small waves of lighter helicopters before the game throws any serious airpower your way. I’d much rather be unprepared for two or three units, rather than be bombarded by a surprise aerial assualt from 20+ enemies, something that a surprising amount of games do. There is also a decent variety of tower types, even if some of them eventually end up feeling useless.
And so, like many a tower defense game, Fieldrunners 2 is a good representation of its genre. Not enough is added to the moment to moment gameplay to combat the game’s pacing problems, but I wouldn’t discourage fans of tower defense from enjoying this colorful, if typical, tower defense romp.
Fieldrunners 2 is available on the App Store for $2.99