Fieldrunners 2 HD: Your New Favorite Pastime

I’ve always enjoyed a good match of strategy. Tower defense games are one of the best ways to devise those nefarious tactical plans on a mobile device. I remember the days when Java games dominated the mobile market, and even though the selection wasn’t always great, the only way to get a game was to pay your wireless carrier up to $10 for it. You could then play it on your Motorola RAZR or other basic phone using the wondrous keypad to conquer the world. Those were the days.

Now we’ve become too developed for such devices and have moved on to Apple’s sublime iPad. Tower defense made it to the tablet as well, in the forms of Plants vs. Zombies, Kingdom Rush and Fieldrunners. Now we have the sequel, Fieldrunners 2 for the iPad, and I’ve been playing it since launch day. Is it good? Let’s find out.

Improved Graphics

Aesthetically pleasing games are always nice, and Fieldrunners 2 delivers a much better design than its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong, the first one has unique graphics, but the second is just beautiful. Things look more lifelike, towers have a smoother feel to them (as does the whole of the game) and levels have such insurmountable beauty that it’s hard to not like what the designer has done.

A great loading screen, marked by humor.

A great loading screen, marked by humor.

I see the first Fieldrunners as a stepping stone to these fantastic new graphics. If you compare the two, there’s no way you’ll want to even touch the first. The emphasis on the original game was likely gameplay, not graphics. People had it on their devices because it was genuinely fun to spend half the afternoon playing. But now, Subatomic Studios has redesigned every tower, every tree, every fieldrunner into looking more like a Disney•Pixar character. It’s really that good.

There are also all new territories in this game, as opposed to the first having just grass, snow and buildings. I’m only about halfway through the levels on the iPhone version and a little less on the iPad one — I’ve been playing for a while now, you see. However, further on down the road (yes, there really is a road) there’s more Drylands and Lavaflow. If you plan to beat this game on heroic, I hope you have a lot of coins and a few weeks straight on hand because that’s probably how long it’ll take. Then there are the expansion packs, which the developer offered as an in-app purchase on the original game.

iCloud Sync, But Only on the iPad for Now

The most significant feature of Fieldrunners 2 HD — at least to me — is iCloud sync. That means all your progress, medals and whatnot have been stored for you in case you decide to pick the game up on another iPad. In any game, it’s an irreplaceable tool that becomes something you want to see in every game on every device you ever use. Sadly, that’s not yet the case and iPhone users are left out in the cold for the time being. I spoke with the developer and was told that the team is hoping to have it out “sometime in the next two weeks,” so keep your eyes peeled for an update.

Same Gameplay, New Weapons

Zoom in on that waterfall for some hydrous sound.

Zoom in on that waterfall for some hydrous sound.

One thing that wasn’t changed in this sequel is the gameplay. And why should it? That was the best thing about the first one. I like how the developer included a tutorial on this one though, because first-time players can have a bit of trouble with being thrown into a game. This time around, you’ll be guided through the basics of tower defense with a Subatomic Studios game. The tutorial will tell you how to set up your towers, what certain ones do and so on. It’s a perfect guide and should have been included with the first game.

Play a level a second time to find the director’s commentary, an iPad-exclusive feature.

This is top secret; I was never here.

This is top secret; I was never here.

The iPad version of Fieldrunners 2 actually has some exclusive weapons. If you earn 750 coins or more, said weapons become available. One of them, pictured above, is an especially handy replacement for the Gatling Tower. Why? It slows down enemies, is more accurate and damaging than the Gatling Tower, and has tracer bullets so you can watch as rows of fieldrunners are destroyed with only a few swift hits. This tower costs 750 coins, which might take you a while to earn, but it’s worth every single coin.

Not Fully Optimized for Retina

One of the biggest downsides to this game is its Retina support, because it’s not exactly fully supported. Sure, the splash and even over-world screens are beautiful, along with all the icons in the app. But when you make it down to level selection (zoom in by double tapping or pinching), things get a bit fuzzy. All the menu buttons stay optimized, but they’re static. I think the problem here was that the developer included birds flying about, water moving in the background, and even simple clouds moving on. It’s just too much for a new iPad to handle, even when it’s not optimized.

A bit lacking in Retina territory.

A bit lacking in Retina territory.

So when you zoom in on the over-world screen, detail is lost, at least on the scale that you’d expect to have from a Retina display. Most of the levels, and even the loading screen, are fine. When you’re using more than eight flamethrowers on one level though, things can often become slow, especially when you play the game at 2x. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re using a new iPad.

Some Crashing, Slow Loading and Lag

For a highly anticipated title like this, you’d hope to get a good half an hour of use (at least) without it becoming sluggish or crashing. Unfortunately, Fieldrunners 2 has some issues, especially on the new iPad. It could be the Retina display and it could be the heavy and bright graphics: something is causing this game to dawdle, not to mention crash. In my three to four hours of play since its release, it’s crashed once on start and two times when loading a level.

The loading begins here.

The loading begins here.

As for loading times, they’re not what some would call desirable. In fact, it takes longer to start this game than it does to load one level of Skyrim on my PlayStation 3. I would have expected better than this, but really, it takes an average of 42 seconds to start the game, along with another twenty or so for a level, depending on how heavy the graphics are. Once you’re in a level, sluggishness can set in when you’re using flamethrowers.

I think slowed loading times and a little lag here and there are the only way for this game to be as detailed as it is on a Retina display. In every game that’s high quality, there will be lag — Fieldrunners 2 is just more noticeable. When you zoom in and pan around, the frame rate is significantly lower than before with a less-than-desirable jitter to it. Even bringing up menus can very slowly fade the screen — something that should be seamless. Some people might not notice this, but it’s there nonetheless.

It’s Good, Just Short of Great

I hate to criticize a game that I thoroughly enjoy, but until the developer releases an update with fixes for the sluggish performance, I can’t rightly recommend this game to every user. If you won’t be affected by some lag and slower loading times then I’m sure you’ll be fine. But if you have an eye for detail and can’t stand it when the frame rate goes below 10 fps, you’re going to have a problem.

Other than that one problem and the iCloud sync lacking on the iPhone, this game is spectacular. If you’ve got a penchant for world domination, this is the game you’ll want to play on that lazy Saturday afternoon while waiting for the next episode of Doctor Who to air. It’s a perfect pastime, and my top one right now.


Summary

Fieldrunners returns with Retina display optimization, better graphics and new weapons. Everything has been improved, including the lag and loading screens, which you'll be seeing slightly more often.

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