Like most tower defense games, Fieldrunners 2 is based on a pretty hideous premise when you think about it. You throw up a few machine gun emplacements, maybe a couple of static missile launchers or some pipes to spray the enemy with crude oil while they get roasted alive by flamethrowers, then the cannon fodder turn up. Hundreds and hundreds of them: cutely designed goons sprinting gamely forward, clambering over the butchered carcasses of their buddies. They’re not even armed. What are you, some kind of monster?
One of the ways Fieldrunners 2 prevents you from dwelling on silly thoughts like this is to keep your mind constantly occupied. There are always problems to address, threats to deal with, towers that you need to get round to upgrading, or weak spots in your defenses that need filling. It’s a brilliantly frenetic game.
If you’re new to the tower defense concept, it’s a straightforward one. The enemy assaults you with waves of mobile troops; your job is to prevent these from getting to the other side of the screen by spending your money (that you earn by killing) on gun towers in strategic combinations that will funnel the bad guys into bottlenecks and then shoot them to pieces. (There I go, sounding all murderous again.)
You have to last a given number of waves to finish a level, but it will then give you the option of playing Endless mode, and simply try to last as many more waves as you can. It’s a lot of fun, although surprisingly difficult when played on any but the easiest of settings.
The first Fieldrunners game had a decent range of weapon towers, but your options here—like the range of baddies—has expanded enormously for this sequel. There are radiation, plague and poison gas towers (lovely), towers that generate a vicious hanging laser ribbon between them, and a tower that lobs bee hives. And the fieldrunners now have medics who heal troops around them, hazmat specialists who are immune to your chemical warfare, and jeeps that disgorge infantry when you blow them up.
And the graphics are exponentially better than in the first Fieldrunners game. Zooming in reveals cute, beautifully rendered towers, troop types and vehicles, and the backgrounds are stunning, in a cartoonish, painterly style. And everything is nicely animated, with all sorts of neat little touches such as ripples of static on the electric Tesla towers.
And not all the changes are skin-deep. In the new puzzle levels you need to steer the enemy through particular routes, while sudden death levels throw a hilariously over-generous helping of enemies at you and simply ask that you rack up enough of a body count before getting overwhelmed.
And the standard levels now seem a little more prone to intrusive, restrictive screen furniture: trenches, bridges, and roads that channel the enemy for you. These look great, but possibly reduce the satisfaction of moulding a lethal labyrinth from scratch. It’s usually obvious on those levels where the flamethrower needs to sit: in the center of the road loop, generally.
There are more extra bits and bobs. You can spend the points you earn on useful items (one-shot smart mines, say, or a dose of Spanish flu that spreads through the fieldrunner ranks like, well, the flu). The game rewards you with achievement-style cards for various feats and milestones. And if you wait patiently for it to charge up, you can drop an aerial bombardment on the entire level if things are looking really bleak.
Finally, the overall structure of the game is much improved. The first game simply offered you a (quite small) range of levels and invited you to pick one, but now there’s a pretty, Dungeon Keeper-esque map of the various zones. Gradually unlocking levels is far more enjoyable than just plunging in willy-nilly.
Subatomic has taken an addictive little iPhone game and sharpened everything up: from the superficial (graphics, bonus items) to the fundamental (unlocking all the levels in that satisfying campaign). Fieldrunners 2 is about as polished, well-crafted and enjoyable to play as the humble tower defense genre gets.