In the contemporary video game climate (do I use that phrase too much?), there seem to be a number of common, yet largely ignored, plagues. Well, maybe plague is a very harsh word, but there are definitely a few infective diseases that are spreading like wildfire through the industry. Is that phrase too harsh as well? In my review of Krater, I briefly discussed the epidemic that is indie games releasing well before they’re ready and lacking a multitude of necessary features. Fieldrunners, recently released on Steam, is an example of a very distinct pandemic – portable games being ported to platforms which really don’t need them.
I once considered it a niche genre, but tower defence seems the thing to do at the moment, especially for mobile developers. Fieldrunners is a fantastic example of tower defence done perfectly for the mobile market – it’s simplistic, but not dumbed down, and the open-grid maps feel fantastic when you strategically plonk down a gatling gun with the intention of forcing your foes down a certain path, rather than just deal them damage. This grid-type gameplay adds a level of strategy that is not seen in many tower defence titles, as you’re required to maximise the distance travelled by your foes in order to maximise the amount of potential damage they can take before reaching their goal. You’ll often find, every time you attempt a map, that you end up with a totally different turret layout. The growth of this maze feels organic, as there’s not one ultimate configuration. At least, I don’t think there is. If you know of one, let me know. It’s not a unique feature, by any means, but it definitely adds to the replay value provided by Fieldrunners – rather than simply change the arrangement of your towers on a number of fixed spaces, you can whip up an entirely new maze in order to tweak and improve your strategy.
Apart from the defence mechanism, the other important aspect of a tower defence game is, well, the towers. Fieldrunners offers eleven distinct towers. Following the formula, we have the short-range, inexpensive gun, the tower that slows your opponents, the tower that specialises in taking down airborne foes, the short-range tower that sporadically shoots electric pulses at enemies standing around it, etc. In all eleven towers, there isn’t one that is brave enough to go out on a limb and do something that would be unique for the genre. Unfortunately, the eight maps also seem scared to deviate from tower defence standards, with the only thing that differentiates them from one another (save aesthetics) being the placement and number of entry points. Oh, and the towers – each map has only 4 towers available to build at any one time, the arrangement of which are unique (I think) to each map. You can’t tailor the towers to your playstyle, rather, you have to tailor your playstyle to fit the available towers. After completing 100 waves on a map, you unlock two “Tower Combo” modes (as well as Time Trial, Endless, etc), but it’s the first 100 you’re going to have the most difficulty completing – after you’ve done that once, you tend to have already got a grasp of what sort of maze-strategy works for that map, resulting in you not really needing the extra towers.
Fieldrunners is good fun. Really. Well, it was when I played it on my phone. The frantic action, mowing down waves of enemies, trying to get that last tower up in time to direct and destroy any troops heading for your base – I actually really enjoyed it, and it’s one of the few games I’ve got on my phone that I play regularly and isn’t made by Kairosoft. This, however, is where my main qualm about Fieldrunners comes into play. It’s a mobile game. It was made for mobiles, optimised for mobiles, and is hence enjoyed most on mobiles.
Maybe my opening paragraph exaggerated the issue at hand a little, I admit. But there’s one thing that Fieldrunners for PC makes me ponder: does it need to exist? Since originally being released for iOS back in 2008 (whoa, can we even remember that far back in mobile gaming?), Fieldrunners has seen the light of day on eight – yes, eight – platforms. Yeah, some of them make sense – as an Android owner, I’d be offended if there wasn’t a port for Droid, and by the same logic I can understand the need for a Blackberry port. And yeah, for those of us who prefer to keep our on-the-go gaming to a console designed for the purpose, DSiware and PSP make sense. But if there’s one platform that didn’t need its own version of Fieldrunners, it’s PC. It did its job perfectly well on every portable platform under the modern sun, with the touchscreen capabilities and bite-sized gameplay lending themselves fantastically to the pocket-dwelling platforms. The PC port comes off as undercooked, in all honesty. This is probably because, as a recent 16:9 adopter, the horrible, forced 4:3 resolution, complete with pillarboxes if you choose to play in fullscreen. Coupled with the low-resolution menus and near-complete lack of settings, the PC port is a rushed, unnecessary mess, especially if you’ve got a smartphone and feel like saving yourself $2.
Don’t think that this is a negative review. It’s not. I love Fieldrunners, I have for about a year now. It’s one of the best games available on the Android Market – sorry, Google Play Store. It’s a shame, then, that this review is for the PC release of Fieldrunners, which, although being still fun, doesn’t quite live up to what we expect from a PC game, even for a port of a mobile game. Quite simply, it reeks of unoptimisation, as though it was copied and pasted straight from the iPhone. The combination of cute visuals, simple yet challenging gameplay and level-based stage structure simply fit handheld platforms much more naturally than the PC. I still recommend Fieldrunners, wholeheartedly. It’s fantastic. But do yourself a favour – only buy it for PC if you don’t own a smartphone/DSi/PSP/iPad. If you do, stick to that system. You won’t regret it.
Select Start Media was provided a review copy of Fieldrunners for PC by Subatomic Studios.