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Review of Zombies Run! for iOS and Android

zombies run iconOne of the most popular exercise games for smartphones is Zombies, Run! for iOS and Android, published by Six to Start in 2012, but continually updated since then with fresh updates. As of this writing, it has an average rating on the iTunes store of 4 1/2 stars from more than 5,700 ratings and a rating on the Google Play store of 4.3 from over 11,000 ratings. And the rave reviews continue to roll in from the over 3 million runners using the app. There’s also a special version called Zombies, Run! 5k Training for people that helps train and condition runners who are complete beginners through the point where they can run 5km (3 miles) without trouble.

One drawback to video game workouts using consoles was always that as you exercised you were stuck in front of your TV. Those who wanted to walk, jog, or run outside had to leave their TVs. There was always the option of putting in a playlist of music to run to, or regular “tracking apps” that charted your progress, but those only went so far in terms of taking your mind off your exertion as a true fitness game could.

But an obvious challenge to making a fitness game for walkers, joggers, and runners is that while you’re moving it’s difficult to stare at your screen without tripping over yourself or bumping into people or things.

And so the creators of this game came up with an idea that’s pure genius–they took the screen out of it. The entire “game” is played through audio.

Here’s how it works.

IMG_0841In the opening screens of the game you’re told the premise.

Only a few have survived the zombie epidemic. You are a Runner en-route to one of humanity’s last remaining outposts: Abel Township. They need your help to gather supplies, rescue survivors, and defend their home. 

You start by selecting a “mission”. When they first launched the game it consisted of 23 missions, but each subsequent year for the last 5 years they’ve added many more to the point where as of this writing there are over 200 missions to choose from.

run zombies screenOnce you start the mission the screen goes blank with nothing but the Zombies Run logo, the elapsed time, the distance run, and your pace. In audio you’re immersed into something reminiscent of an old radio drama (think Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds) complete with narration and sound effects. The first story (“Jolly Alpha Five Niner”) immediately pulls you in, where you’re involved in a helicopter crash that puts you in the middle of a dangerous location full of zombies.

By running, walking, or jogging, you can imagine yourself as part of the story. As you move, you’ll collect supplies and rescue survivors. Optionally, you can turn on a feature called “Zombie Chases”–if you do, then in the middle of the story you may encounter a pack of zombies which you’ll need to outrun by increasing your speed–get caught by the Zombies and you’ll lose some of your supplies.

You can configure the app to track your motion in a variety of ways. “GPS” will use your phone’s location services to track distance and pace, the best option if you’re moving outdoors. “Constant Pace” assumes a constant pace throughout your run. “Step Counting” will use your phone’s sensors as a pedometer, tracking the number of steps you take and estimating distance and pace. The screen will track the distance you’ve covered, the time elapsed, and if you have step counting turned on you’ll also see the number of steps you’ve taken.

Each storyline lasts about 30-40 minutes, the duration of an excellent workout. The production is so good you really get immersed in the story (especially if you have “Zombie Chases” turned on). The characters in the story will interact with you as if you’re part of the story (although they won’t ask you to do things like run off your normal path).

When you finish your run you’ll see an end screen that shows you your elapsed time, total distance run (in miles or kilometers), total calories burned, pace, and number of steps. It’ll also show you a map of your running path, your accomplishments, and your game events (such as the supplies you picked up and when).

Similar to the show “24”, events occur in real-time, which means there’ll be periods of times when things are silent; from time to time you’ll pick up “supplies” like a mobile phone, a case of bullets, a pack of underwear, a first aid kit, food, or a baseball bat. You can choose to play music from your playlist or from an external app in the background, and your music will be muted whenever the narration kicks in. There’s also an in-world “radio station” you can listen to to really immerse yourself in the story.

In addition to the Stories, there are a number of great added features. There are pre-made plans for those who are training for 5K, 10K, half marathon, or marathon races. There are “bonus” runs outside the story where you can stock up on supplies. And by running certain “races” you can unlock additional content.

IMG_0933Something else I appreciate about the game is that it’s free, and you can enjoy the game and all of its stories without ever paying a dime. But after using the app a few times chances are you’ll think about paying the $2.99/month or $19.99/year for the Pro membership, as it allows you to unlock all missions without waiting, provides you additional ways to customize the game, and stores and lets you view an impressive set of statistics. There’s a huge numbers of stories now that have all kinds of fascinating plots that rival anything you’ll see on TV.

In a lot of ways this game reminds me of the old Infocom text-based adventures. As video game developers try so hard to outdo each other with advanced graphics and performance, Six to Start is doing things the old fashioned way–doing fantastic storytelling with great production values and relying on the most powerful processor of all–your brain–to paint the pictures. In effect you have two choices–to slouch in front of the TV binge-watching the latest TV series about zombies, or to get off the couch and experience being part of the story. This is a great game for bringing new life into your otherwise repetitive morning or evening run.

While a lot of people think of “augmented reality” as displaying an image over a real-world scene, this is augmented reality just the same, just through your ears.

Game: Zombies, Run!
Publisher: Six to Start
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Exercise supported: Walking, running, or jogging (indoors or outdoors)
Watch Support? Yes
Price: Free, with In-App Purchases for “Pro Membership” and Season Passes
Download links: iOS Android

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