The dead aren’t just walking anymore
“Raise the gates. Runner 5 Ready? Go!!!”
Picking up the pace as you leave the safety of Abel Township, your guide Sam details your latest mission through the zombie-infested wilderness. Combining actual running with an engaging storyline and GPS-fueled undead chases, Zombies, Run! is an interactive fitness app and Kickstarter success story from Six to Start and Naomi Alderman that provides excellent motivation to get up and get moving.
Gameplay is simple. Slip on your headphones, swipe your phone’s screen to start your mission, and commence running. In your first mission you’ll be introduced to Abel Township, an oasis of humanity in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. As the newest arrival to the fortified farm, you assume the role of Runner 5, one of a group of athletic couriers and messengers sent out in search of supplies and news.
The story plays out completely through well-acted voiceovers with no need to look at the screen. As you start each run, Sam lets you know if you’ll be searching for a lost child, combing a nearby hospital for supplies, or luring the shambling dead away from the jammed entry gates. When Sam’s briefing is complete, the game plays a song from your chosen playlist followed by another segment of the story. During the music segments, voiceovers notify you when you have collected an item to take to base. From boxes of 9mm bullets to bandages, laptops, and even packs of clean underwear, these supplies upgrade the township and unlock additional missions. Depending on the length of your songs, each mission typically lasts between 20-35 minutes.
As for the undead, you can decide to play with or without random zombie mob encounters. Treadmill runners can still play the game, but with encounters switched off. With encounters on, occasionally you’ll need to pick up the pace to evade a crew of braineaters. Voiceovers warn you if zombies have been detected, followed by a series of beeps. As the dead get closer, the beeping grows faster (for fans of the movie Aliens, think of the Marines’ proximity sensors), and as they catch up to you, you’ll hear zombie moans and growls. If you can’t get away in time you’ll lose some of your collected supplies, dumping them as distractions. The game uses the phone’s GPS to track your speed, so you don’t need to be a world-class runner to escape. According to the developers, you need to increase your speed about 20% from base pace for about a minute to get away.
In the event you finish your mission before your actual run is complete, the game switches to radio mode. Hosts Jack and Eugene treat you to a post-apocalyptic radio show serving songs from your playlist, interjecting commentary, jokes, and news in between tunes. But be careful! Just because the mission’s over, doesn’t mean the zombies are taking a break!
When you are ready to stop your run, you tap “Stop Mission” on your phone. The game presents a tweetable summary of your run stored permanently in a reviewable log, including total time, distance, and pace, along with a listing of items and zombie mobs encountered. Returning to the base screen you then allocate supplies to different buildings in the township, upgrading the armory, communications station, and more. While you can assign any item to any area, the buildings will upgrade faster if you allocate supplies specific to their needs, such as med kits to the hospital. As the township improves and the population grows, you’ll unlock new missions.
Reviewing the game’s codex, you’ll read descriptions of introduced characters, buildings, supplies, and special items collected. These special items include clues to what caused the zombie apocalypse, and extend the game into alternate reality game territory (where Alderman, the lead writer of noted 2005 ARG Perplex City is no stranger) encouraging you to track down Twitter accounts and email strange addresses to get to the bottom of this zombie business.
There were a few minor areas of improvement I initially wanted to see fixed, but many of them were addressed in the game’s first update, released March 22. With the game developed in the UK, runners across the pond will be pleased to see a mileage conversion option. Playlists can now be shuffled during your runs, and voiceover volume can be adjusted. Nine missions have been added bringing the total to 22, with more on the way, including beginner 5K and interval training packs.
Continually adding new content will be very important to maintain replayability and keep the game fresh, and it seems like the developers are on the right path. The only minor complaints I have now are that the supply collection voiceovers are hard to understand, and the times and distances displayed at the end of your run aren’t quite matching up with what is displayed in the log. Additionally, prior to the update I was evading zombies without much of a problem, but the first time I ran with the new version, they caught me …twice. At one point, I was warned that the zombies were 20 meters away, and literally a second later they were on me. Maybe I was tired, or maybe it was that hill, but I like to think the zombies have gotten faster. I am not getting slower, I swear!
As a runner myself, I occasionally find it hard to lace up my sneakers and head out on the road. Between the engaging storyline, collecting supplies, upgrading base, and of course, the adrenaline-infused zombie chases, Zombies, Run! makes you look forward to your next run and hearing what happens next at Abel Township. If you’re looking for extra motivation to exercise, I recommend you run, don’t walk to your iPhone (the Android version should arrive by June), and download Zombies, Run! And remember – in the zombie apocalypse, you don’t have to be the fastest runner, you just can’t be the slowest!