Platforms: Apple iOS (iPhone); Android (not yet released)
Unless you’re one of those freaks, running pretty much sucks. It’s hard and it’s boring. While nothing but training can make it any easier, there are ways to make it more interesting.
Enter Zombies, Run!, an iOS app created by developer Six to Start and writer Naomi Alderman that turns your running routine into a game. Six to Start calls the app a “Running Game and Audio Adventure,” and as far as I know, it’s the first of its kind.
The setting of Zombies, Run! is far from original. Months after a zombie apocalypse, survivors are doing their best to survive. Think 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, or any other such story and you’re not far off from the general atmosphere.
When you put on your headphones and open the app, you can simply swipe a “slide to run” switch across the screen to start a mission, or you can select any of the missions that are available to you (there’s only one at first). After you choose your mission, you can select some other options that we’ll get to in a moment, and the game/story begins.
The sound of helicopter blades whirl, and a voice is speaking to you over the radio. Everything is going according to plan until OH NO your helicopter is shot down by a rocket and crashes near a stronghold of survivors called Abel Township. Who fired the rocket? WE DON’T KNOW!
After some initial mistrust, the people of Abel Township employ you as a runner. Runners go out on missions to find supplies, gather intelligence, and do whatever else needs to be done outside of the protective walls of Abel Township. You are Runner 5, and not the first Runner 5 they’ve had .... You’re fitted with a headset and introduced to a guy named Sam who acts as your mission control. He gives you some details, raises the gate, and you’re off and running (literally)!
Now, back to those other options you had going into the game.
You can choose play your music during your run. In between each song, Sam, or various other people, will give you updates on your mission, give you info about where zombies are relative to your position, or sometimes just shoot the breeze about whatever is on their mind.
You can also choose from a few different modes of tracking your progress. If you’re running outside, you can use GPS to track your run. The app’s run tracking features aren’t as robust as some other apps, but it’s enough for me, and the devs are always working on improvements. There’s also an experimental accelerometer mode that counts your steps, but it’s very much not to be relied on for accurate tracking. You can also just ditch the tracking altogether. Missions last about 25-30 minutes regardless of your speed, so it’s only how long you run that matters, not how fast -- unless you’re being chased by zombies!
The last option you have is a “Zombie Chases” toggle. With Zombie Chase activated, a horde of zombies will appear and chase your tasty flesh every so often, and you need to increase your speed for a short period of time to outrun them. Their hungry moans grow louder as they gain on you, and provide some extra spine-chilling motivation to put on that extra burst of speed.
As you run, you automatically pick up supplies such as tins of food, discarded cell phones, baseball bats, and clean underwear. In between missions, you can drag and drop these supplies on to different areas of little map of Abel Township to build up its different areas. The bat contributes to your armory, the food tins to your food reserve, the cell phone to your communications shack, etc. As you level up the different parts of the township, new missions become available. It’s a great touch that satisfies my need for progression.
There’s a “Codex” which has dossiers on all the characters and descriptions of the items you’ve picked up, including special items such as newspapers and notes that provide clues about the incidents leading up to the apocalypse.
The voice-acting in Zombies, Run! is really good. Much better than it needs to be, in fact. Six to Start is a British studio, and the story is set in England. As such, you’re treated to a range of authentic English accents delivering dialog that seems truly spontaneous. This is especially true of the excellent DJs that take over if you’ve completed your mission and decide to keep running. They’ll DJ your selected playlist for you as if it were playing on the radio. I found myself chuckling to their banter on the treadmill at least a couple of times.
Six to Start has said that they’re unveiling the story arch in “seasons.” So far we’re still on Season 1, though there has been one update which added a number of new missions, as well as a nice dose of new and improved features. Season 2 is currently in development, as are a bunch of fancy new features such as a 5k trainer, and RunKeeper integration.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this little running app is that I’m emotionally invested in it, almost entirely because of the quality of the acting and writing. I’m the star of this radio play, and every time I hop on the treadmill it’s a new episode featuring ME, Runner 5.
Running still sucks, but it sucks less with Zombies, Run!
Overall Rating: 4 Smiles and a Rainbow
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