It’s been four years since the first Fieldrunners game marched onto iOS, and in that time it’s fair to say that the landscape of smartphone gaming has changed quite considerably.
Full price releases have fallen out of favour with the mainstream, to be replaced with wave upon wave of generic freemium titles, streaming out across the smartphone battlefield, screaming solicitations to pay for sacks of virtual gold as they run.
Thankfully, Fieldrunners 2 isn’t one of them.
The main concept of the game is the same as before - it’s a tower defence game that sees you take down hundreds of little soldiers before they make it across to your base. What Subatomic has done, however, is polish the game until it almost seems to sparkle.
Go! Go! Go!
There have been a few major changes to how the game plays. While the famous ultra-long levels of the previous title are still present, Fieldrunners 2 has many more quick-fire missions that can be completed without the aid of a power charger.
One such level I played during my hands on time was over in around eight minutes, for instance, and saw an almost unrelenting stream of enemies flowing across the battlefield, darting into tunnels and over hills (a new feature for the title), and trying desperately to avoid my towers.
Another new feature is pre-determined routes for your attackers, although purists will be relieved to know that the old ‘corridor of death’ strategy of the last game still rears its head on some levels as well.
Now, however, you also get to see exactly what route attackers will take past your turrets, with the direction arrows updating in real time as you place your towers on the battlefield.
Theatre of war
The battlefields themselves are three-dimensional in terms of game mechanics (in that they vary in height), but are shown as beautifully hand-drawn 2D art on the screen.
Subatomic CTO Jamie Gotch told me that the team has spent an obscene amount of time on both of the look of each stage and the balancing of the difficulty, with each level taking "several months" to design and draw.
One such example of the team’s attention to detail comes in one of the desert maps, which sees a group of medic enemies on a fixed path timed so that they cross over the main fieldrunners’ route below, healing as they do so.
It’s not an overwhelming task for newcomers to the genre, though, thanks in part to the three difficulty settings that should also provide veterans with a real challenge.
What really drives home the impression that Fieldrunners 2 is a vastly improved sequel, however, is the animation and behaviour of the cannon-fodder grunts you’re fighting against.
Rather than just swarm in one big overlapping mess of pixels, the fieldrunners ‘know’ where their friends are in the game - spreading out to avoid collisions with each other. This gives the battlefield a much more organic look in motion than any other tower defence game I’ve seen on any platform (and, by god, I’ve seen a lot).
Another way that Fieldrunners 2 separates itself from the pack is in its approach to IAPs: they don’t exist.
Yes, there are consumables - with abilities like Rewind offering up a get-out-of-jail card for those struggling to keep the waves from breaching your defences - but these are solely bought through gathered cash, and not through micro-payments.
We’ll see if Fieldrunners 2 can breach the defences to our hearts when it launches on iPhone at the end of June, and iPad some time after that.