iPad Game Review: Fieldrunners 2 HD for iPad Review
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Fieldrunners 2 HD is Subatomic Studios' follow-up to the great granddaddy of tower defense games from the early days of iOS gaming. It was a long time coming, but that extra time has resulted in a game that has been polished to a high sheen, and is a worthy successor to the original.
Fieldrunners 2 HD is a tower defense game, although that really doesn't do it justice. To many, Fieldrunners (and now Fieldrunners 2) is THE tower defense game on iOS and, for the most part, I agree. As with all games of this genre, gameplay revolves around cleverly placing defenses so as to kill your enemies before they have a chance to escape off the edge of the screen. Sometimes you will be given a fixed path with limited tower placement options and sometimes you will be given an open arena where you must craft your own maze in order to force the enemy through a punishing, convoluted kill-box.
Planning and efficiency are key in these types of maps as they are balanced with efficiency in mind. This means that even if you craft the most efficient maze possible, you will never have enough money to buy everything you want. Logically, therefore, if you build haphazardly, you won't even come close to being successful on anything but the casual setting. Oh, did I mention that there is an actual casual setting? Well, there is. While it is entirely appropriate for tower defense games to be extremely challenging on higher difficulty levels, there seems to be a trend lately to make sure that they are downright punishing even at the lower levels. The most likely reason for this is to squeeze cash out of gamers by balancing their games in such a way that IAPs are downright necessary for all but the most talented or patient gamers. I'm pleased to report that Fieldrunners 2 HD does NOT suffer from this malady. While the highest setting is indeed unforgiving, the casual setting is completely accessible to even the most inexperienced gamer. This broad level of accessibility should be held up as a model for the developer community.
As you progress through the game, increasingly powerful towers will become available to you, all of which can be upgraded. The sheer variety of towers is excellent (25 total!) and while some of them are more useful than others, all of them fulfill a necessary role. Some do massive damage to individual units, some attack groups of enemies, some slow enemies, etc., etc. If you ever become confused as to what a particular tower does, and how effective it really is, simply open up the almanac and take a look at the stats. One last little touch that I found to be both enjoyable and useful are the Developer Commentaries. When you enable one of these, you will hear the developers discussing the design of the map you are currently playing, and even effective strategies. Each commentary only lasts a few minutes, but they're both entertaining and useful. These commentaries are exclusive to the iPad version, as are some specialized towers such as the Cannonball Tower, Zap Tower, Sonic Tower, Slow-Link Tower, and the Machine Gun Tower. While I always prefer Universal Apps, there seems to be enough extra content here to justify separate Apps. Fieldrunners 2 HD supports Cloud Sync, and Game Center (Leaderboards and Achievements) so obsessive tendencies are a plus.
As good as Fieldrunners 2 HD is, I do have a few complaints. First of all, I sorely miss the cooperative multiplayer mode in the original Fieldrunners HD. My son and I spent quite a bit of time together playing coop maps, and I am more than a little disappointed that it was left out of this iteration. Second, the load times for Fieldrunners 2 HD (at least on an iPad 3) are painfully long. This by itself wouldn't be a huge problem, but I have also experienced more than a few crash bugs. These two issues by themselves would be bad enough, but combined, they have been a source of significant teeth-grinding for me over the last week. These issues may be related to the enormous graphical assets this game contains (it is iPad retina-enabled) so I'd be interested to hear if iPad 2 owners are having the same problem.
While the gameplay of the Fieldrunners franchise has always been excellent, it's the game's graphics that have really set it apart from the competition. I'm pleased to say that Fieldrunners 2 HD does not disappoint in this department. This is the part where I would normally try to find the proper adjectives to describe exactly how good they are, but nothing I can come up with can really convey the level of exquisite detail and polish this game exudes. On a 3rd generation iPad, in particular, the screen looks almost wet due to the vibrant colors and lack of discernable pixels. Everything is animated with such smoothness and precision that you may find yourself getting distracted from your game in order to watch a new unit type barrel across the screen.
The music of Fieldrunners 2 HD is very good, but the stars of the show are the sound effects. Towers crackle, buzz, spurt, and blast, and the fieldrunners themselves all die dramatic and spectacular (yet blood-free) deaths. The audio portion of this game rounds out the package nicely, and really makes this game feel finished. You may not reach for your headphones, but you'll sure as heck turn the volume up.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
When I played Fieldrunners 2 HD for the first time, I was dismayed to find what has now become so common; a store where you can spend coins on various non-persistent upgrades. Imagine my surprise when this was not accompanied by a sales pitch to sell me more coins. Yes, folks, that's right. This is an old-school game. You will be expected to earn upgrades through gameplay, and there is no shortcut offered for the wealthy or impatient. This is a very welcome design decision, and one that I hope will be successful for them. Even if Subatomic Studios chooses to offer the ability to buy coins at some future date, you can rest assured that the game was balanced without IAPs in mind, and that they will almost certainly be completely optional.
Fieldrunners 2 HD is a fantastic tower defense game for your iPad. The graphics are amazing, and the gameplay is fun, varied, and creative. The game is completely accessible to all skill levels, thanks to its broad range of difficulty options, and the upgrade system gives it that one more level quality, which will keep you playing and playing and playing. The long load times were a pain, however, as were some nasty crash bugs, but both of these are likely to be addressed in future updates.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Spectacular graphics; especially on a new iPad. Sound: - 5 - a high quality soundtrack and fantastic sound effects really add atmosphere and personality to a game that already oozes with both. Controls: - 5 - I never experienced a mis-tap or interface confusion. The design is clean and well-organized, and the touch interface is responsive and accurate. Gameplay: - 5 - The best pure tower defense game just got better.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Upgrading towers is ALWAYS a better deal than buying new ones (check the almanac) so reinforce before you spread out. In the early/midgame, the most effective tower is the flamethrower. Scrimp, save, and survive long enough to deploy one of these bad boys and watch your game get significantly easier. Listen to the commentaries; you will learn a lot. You cannot win without purchasing towers that slow fieldrunners. If you ignore them and pour all your resources into damage dealing, you will fail.