The focus on a world map and missions with vastly different level design has added a much needed sense of variation and progression to the Fieldrunners series, and for my money, has helped craft one of the best tower defense game currently available on the iOS market.
Although you can still choose to defend against endless waves of opponents in a similar fashion to the original game, Fieldrunners 2 is designed around the idea that players will work their way through a series of missions. These missions involve layouts and objectives that won’t necessarily allow or benefit from the building of a traditional tower maze. Instead you’ll need to accommodate for trenches, ramps that separate the route into different levels, and objectives that emphasize speed rather than caution.
I grew tired with the original Fieldrunners quite early on, replaying the same handful of scenarios over and over. In contrast, I appreciated the different maps, missions and towers which were unlocked as I played through its sequel and I found Fieldrunners 2 to be a more engrossing game as a result. My playtime was rewarded with more than just high scores, and as I worked my way through the map, I was discovering more challenging missions and also adding to the list of towers that I could use to tackle them.
Starting with a few basic option, you will continue to unlock more advanced towers as you complete missions, with an added bonus for tackling higher difficulties. You will then need to select which of these towers are taken into each map, as well as a limited number of consumable items that range from mines, to time reversal (which isn’t quite as exciting as it sounds, but allows you to backtrack three rounds). Selecting a personalized load-out grants an additional level of replayability as you return to earlier missions with a different setup and attempt the ‘tough’ or ‘heroic’ difficulty settings.
After unlocking the Pyro Tower, in particular, I found that a number of past missions really suited its high damage, close range, area attack and I could build my defense around its inclusion. Completing these earlier levels on harder difficulties helped to unlock more towers, which were then in turn, well-suited to other specific missions – and so the cycle continued. I soon found myself becoming a perfectionist and aiming for three stars (the reward for completing a mission on heroic difficulty) on each and every map, before inevitably losing my mind.
As with the original Fieldrunners, you will usually rely upon the Gatling gun tower when starting a defense — it does very little damage (even when upgraded), but can handle the first few waves and, more importantly, allows you to direct the path that the fieldrunners will take. Adding towers that hinder the enemy’s movement is your next priority and then it really becomes a matter of preference. Depending on the towers that you’ve unlocked and selected as part of your load out, you may try and bunch up the enemy forces and make use of towers that do damage to an area, or build a defense that focuses on individual units, which may prove more effective against the tougher fieldrunners with large amounts of health. With 20 towers to choose from and only 6 possible load-out slots, I quite enjoyed taking my time before a mission to evaluate my tower selection and deciding which would be best suited to the situation at hand.
There’s also a surprising amount of variation when it come to the types of enemies you’ll encounter. You’ll start with the standard fieldrunner, with his red jacket and oversized helmet — the physical embodiment of the term ‘cannon fodder.’ Then you’ll encounter the larger troopers who have considerably more health, but at the cost of movement speed, and before you know it they’re using motorbikes, tanks, jeeps that carry four fieldrunners at a time while wearing armor that prevents them from being slowed by your towers, or bringing medics that heal nearby troops. You’ll start to concentrate on certain types of towers depending on which of these units show up and then suddenly it’s an air-based round. Helicopters and blimps fly straight over your carefully-constructed maze and you’ll have to take them out quickly, slow them down sufficiently, or lose a bunch of lives. Adapting to these different units is the key to success and prevents players from sticking with a single strategy throughout.
Thanks to the new game engine that Subatomic Studios have created, the units themselves move and behave differently than you may remember from the original Fieldrunners. The developers call it the ‘swarming mechanic’ and it essentially means that each individual fieldrunner is aware of his surroundings as he makes his way through your tower-filled death trap. If you slow a unit that is running at the head of a group, the other units will run around him and not through him, as they would have in the first game. This gives a more lifelike quality to the fieldrunners and it also leads to some changes in the way that you position your defense. For example, if you can force the fieldrunners to run through a narrow corridor and manage to slow the units in front, this will hold up the entire group who cannot find a way to get past their over-encumbered companions. This new mechanic means that the game can throw much larger groups of enemies at your defense in big, hectic waves and it also means the units themselves are more interesting to observe. When you have a few moments to spare, you’ll find yourself zooming in to see how the little guys are managing to navigate your creation, or pausing the game to view the newly added path marker that shows the expected route that they’ll take.
The tower defense genre, in general, is designed to be a time-sink and the strategy elements involved are usually quite basic. Fieldrunners 2 doesn’t do too much different in that regard, with missions that will at times, require you to defend a map for 70+ rounds — which can feel tedious if you play for any kind of extended period. A lapse of concentration after 20 minutes of working your way through a mission can feel especially frustrating, but that annoyance will likely be directed at yourself, rather than the game. However when it comes to the strategy itself, Fieldrunners 2 stands ahead of its competition. With an emphasis on selecting load-outs and adapting to quite different map layouts, even the more experienced tower defender will have to pause from time to time and think about their next move.
I found that I enjoyed the game the most when I had half an hour to spare and could play a level or two before moving on. The time investment required for each mission meant that if I tried to sit down and play for hours at a time, then I would eventually start to lose interest. Thankfully Fieldrunners 2 supports a more flexible approach and will save any progress that you make, if you need to close the application and come back to it at a later time. Despite the 25 levels that are available, let’s not forget that Fieldrunners 2 is a game meant for handheld devices. It’s a game that you can pick up and play as you board the train to work and almost miss your stop as a result. That’s exactly what I want from a handheld tower defense game and that’s exactly what Fieldrunners 2 offers.
Subatomic Studios claim that the game offers around 20 hours of playtime, although that really depends on whether or not you have the patience to complete each level on ‘heroic’ difficulty. Either way, Fieldrunners 2 offers a tremendous amount of content for your buck and it’ll make a great addition to your iOS library. If you found the first game lacking in direction, this sequel should be more to your taste and if you’re a big fan of the original, there’s plenty of new towers, unit types and levels that can still be played endlessly, even if you’re not quite as keen about the world map or mission progression. As it stands, if you’re after a tower defense game for your iPhone or iPod Touch, then Fieldrunners 2 should be at the very top of your list.
A note on iPad support: Although this version can be played on an iPad, the game doesn’t make use of the entirety of the screen. A native iPad version is currently in the works according to Subatomic Studios.
Chris Canfield Video Interview
Fieldrunners 2 is available on the iPhone and iPod Touch for $2.99, with plans for a release on other platforms in the near future.