Yet another perfect round.
Fieldrunners 2 makes me feel a little lonely. Fieldrunners is one of those games with a fervent, obsessive following – if you search Twitter right now you will find a legion of fans howling with joy at the sequel’s long-awaited release.
I’m not a misanthrope – I like joy. I want to be excited, too. But I didn’t get Fieldrunners, and I don’t quite get Fieldrunners 2. Its production quality is undeniable, and the gameplay has its moments – but for the most part it’s a boring, non-interactive experience.
To wit: I’ve left the game running whilst I write. I’m playing a level that seems to be about a quarter of the way through the game – “Home on Derange”, it’s called. I set up a pretty decent maze of towers to route the enemy fieldrunners through in the first ten rounds, and for the last thirty-odd rounds I’ve just left the game going – glancing over at the iPad every so often, occasionally upgrading a tower but usually not. I have hundreds of in-game dollars that I could spend, but why bother? My towers haven’t leaked a mob yet. This is the “tough” difficulty – I can’t imagine how soporific the “casual” difficulty is.
This is what I was afraid Fieldrunners 2 would be – a screensaver. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice one. It’s bright and colorful to look at, and the writing (what little there is) is good-natured and jovial. There’s little touches that charm you – the fieldrunners have impressive ragdoll animations that they go into when you kill them, for example. But it’s still a game that – after some initial setup – essentially plays itself. Your most meaningful interaction with Fieldrunners 2 is when you drop $2.99 on it.
Fieldrunners 2 rewards the persistent with unlockable towers, consumables, and achievements.
The most frustrating thing for me is that it doesn’t have to be like that. In the level I described earlier, there are seventy (yes, seven-zero) waves of mobs. At regular speed, it’s going to take twenty or thirty minutes for all of those waves to go by – and for the majority of that time I can do literally nothing and maintain a perfect score. That’s not a fundamentally flawed game – it’s just a flabby one. Compress that action into ten or fifteen interesting waves (as Radiant Defense does) and that screensaver becomes a proper game – and one much better suited for mobile. I pity the fellow whose subway commute allows for an entire round of Fieldrunners 2.
What I’ve been describing is Fieldrunners 2 at its most banal – it’s not all like that. Subatomic Studios had been promising a game that would reinvent tower defense for the better, and while that might be overstating the case, they have definitely added some interesting new wrinkles to the formula.
Fieldrunners 2 adds levels with different objectives into the mix: time trial levels where your goal isn’t necessarily to prevent mobs from reaching the exit of the maze, but rather to kill a target number before time runs out. There’s also puzzle maps, which give you a fixed set of resources and force you suss out an optimal solution before time runs out. These modes are actually challenging, interactive, and creatively demanding – I only wish I didn’t have to slog through the regular levels to get to them.
The biggest games of the last years have been typified by idleness: “social games” like Farmville, freemium games with energy systems designed to soak up microtransactions, and tower defense games. Even mainstream shooters have become scripted amusement park rides where your participation is optional. John Romero probably cries himself to sleep every night. But the triumph of these games is that they’ve brought a once-niche hobby into big-tent accessibility. Maybe minimally interactive games are gateways into more complex games, so that more Fieldrunners players today means more Panzer Corps players later – a rising tide that lifts all boats. I hope so.
“Trench” levels where the maze is pre-defined are Fieldrunners 2’s nadir.
For aficionados of tower defense, Fieldrunners 2 will be a must-have. Subatomic have made an attractive package with lots of meta-game content like unlockables, scoreboards, and collectibles. It’s a proper shame that they’ve decided to release the iPad version as a seperate app (it’s not as if the larger form factor requires a redesigned UI for a game like this), but for owners of the 3rd-gen iPad, Fieldrunners 2’s Retina graphics are just as good as an “HD” app. But if that seems like a cynical, commercially-driven decision, consider that Fieldrunners is a game devoid of IAPs. Subatomic have made a game that you pay for once and only once – a refreshingly old-school proposition in this age of nickel & dime microtransactions.
If you were hoping for a game that would turn the tower defense genre on its head – Fieldrunners 2 is not that game. But if you want a self-assured game that is largely content to play itself while you watch TV, then Fieldrunners 2 will fit the bill nicely.
2 out of 5