Zombies, Run! – Review

Developer: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Platforms: Mobile (Android and iPhone)
Released: 2011, May 2015 (Free to Play)
Genre: Audio, Apocalyptic, Zombie, Survival, Horror

You’re on your way to Abel Township, taking a helicopter over the zombie-torn landscape. You’re bringing in supplies for the people who have set up a strong, defensive, base known as Abel, but you have another mission. Your helicopter pilot knows something is up, but before you can get into it, well, somebody fires a rocket launcher at you.

From the wreckage you run, your headset feeding you the voice of Sam Yao from Abel, the radio operator who will be your guide, and hopefully guide you to safety.

All you need to do is run.

Zombies, Run! Is an immersive story where you are the main character, with the story told as if you are in it, experiencing it yourself, broken up by your own music playlist of choice. Once you start, you don’t need to stop, you don’t need to look at your phone, and you won’t need to take a specific path or make decisions. A completely auditory experience that places you in this world that is so like ours, only filled with zombies, bad guys, quirky characters, and the voice of Sam forever guiding you. Load it up, pick your playlist, and go. Every step you take is a step closer to unravelling the mysteries and conspiracies that surround you.

Now, Zombies, Run! Isn’t like a podcast, it’s not like an audiobook, and it’s not like your traditional video game. Or a fitness app. It’s similar to all these things, but with award-winning writers at work, a full cast of unique and distinctive characters conveyed through voice acting, and a number of features to help you get immersed in this world, it’s perhaps the only constant that motivates me to move.

It’s really as simple as loading up a mission, picking my playlist, and getting a move on. There is over 8 seasons worth of story, with various storylines, mysteries, villains, friends, sometimes-friends, and look, even romance. Throughout your run you will ‘pick up’ supplies and materials, which you can use to build up Abel, and your music will play in between scenes. And often you’ll be chased by zombies, with a warning and the far-too-close sounds of groaning behind you, you’ll need to pick up your pace regularly to keep ahead of the horde.

Your first story mission involves you getting shot down out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Your second mission is a simple decoy mission to lead zombies away from Abel while the gates are stuck open. Your third mission? Well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. Various characters will come to your aid, help guide you, or maybe just decide that it’s weird that you got shot down and managed to survive, and you must definitely be up to something. You don’t give anything away of course, you’re the strong silent type, just a runner here to help. Maybe. The zombie apocalypse isn’t exactly normal, but you’ll find out just how strange it really is.

During my first run, I went as the sun was sinking. Dark streets, quiet, listening intently to the conversations that were taking place around me. AHH! Oh, just another runner, not a zombie. Phew.

Now, let me tell you a secret. I hate running. I despise it. It feels bad, it’s not fun, I’m really not getting better at it. I’m willing to bet many of you also feel the same way. Perhaps you prefer cycling, or a treadmill. Elliptical, rowing machine, weight training. Or walking.

You can still be an Abel Runner.

 

You can adjust the difficulty of each mission, so that you’re chased by zombies as often as you can handle, or not at all. GPS is the default way of tracking your movement, but you can also use a step counter, or even just set your pace, and the game will just adjust accordingly. For some of these settings, zombie chases won’t be enabled, but that’s fine. You can play no matter what your exercise of choice is, except perhaps swimming. It may go without saying however, wearing earphones while cycling outdoors, or any other exercise that requires constant awareness of your surroundings, is not recommended. But if you have a stationary bike, well, cycle your little hearts out.

The zombie story is not the only story! There are a dozen side-stories related to the universe, unique virtual races that will take you across the solar system, through mythological stories, and so much more. But perhaps my favourite minor story involves radio mode, where at the completion of each mission you’ll get to listen to Eugene and Jack chatter and banter like your regular radio hosts, who happen to be playing music from your playlist. After a really intense mission, hearing their lighthearted chatter is a nice break, and you get to learn more about the more mundane aspects of living through the zombie apocalypse.

And the final feature, you get to manage the base! It doesn’t actually affect your runs, but it’s a nice visual way of seeing how much you’ve accomplished. You get to see how the materials you’ve gathered have gone towards farms, wind turbines, barracks, and so much more. You can also track how much you’ve run, but I like a bit of city building.

Obviously, music is up to you! I have a few playlists, and the app works… alright with Spotify. You may need to adjust your settings to allow all the permissions to work together, but the app doesn’t know that you’re about to hit the hardest drop of all time. It is not afraid of interrupting your songs to throw story at you. And sometimes the music wouldn’t start up again once the scene ends. When I first started running it interacted a lot better with music saved directly to my device, but after a bit of tinkering it works most of the time.

There is a robotic voice for warning you of zombies on your heels, or to tell you that you picked up something. It’s a bit of an immersion breaker sometimes, when you have the passionate Sam warning you and then a voice saying ‘picked up a sports bra’. But this can also be changed, and I just have it set up to buzz a little when I pick something up. And the sound of zombies approaching behind you sounds awful, in the best way possible. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

But in a scene, the sound experience is great. Initially they are finding their footing, but it’s always good. The soundscape they create, combined with the voice acting, audio effects, I feel a bit like I am in the middle of a movie. It can be extremely satisfying, especially when you get your hands on a rocket launcher yourself.

I love Zombies, Run! I got into it when it first became free to play, and you initially get unlimited access to the first 4 missions, and then a new mission is unlocked each week. I ended up subscribing for an annual fee, to unlock all the missions immediately. Totally work it, and you get a bunch of other bonuses.

But that’s up to you and how quickly you progress. You’ll still have access to simple supply missions, radio mode, and a new mission each week.

It’s not often that something makes me want to try running, and actually makes me feel kinda cool. I just wouldn’t recommend running after dark if you’re the jumpy type. Or just hop on a treadmill! It all counts.

Game Awards 2021, Kong-O-Thon, Xbox Turns 20, and More ActiBlizz!

 

The Game Awards 2021 Announces Game of the Year Nominations –
This year’s Game Awards nominees have been announced, with Deathloop, It Takes Two, Metroid Dread, Psychonauts 2, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, and Resident Evil Village in the running to take the title. Deathloop has the lead for nominations, with 9 in total, while It Takes Two and Psychonauts 2 tie for second with 5 nominations each.
Host Geoff Keighley has mentioned that they’ll be featuring content from 40-50 games in some capacity, with lots to be excited for between 2022 and 2023.
The Game Awards will broadcast live on the 10th of December at 10am Australian Eastern Standard time.
You can check out the full list of nominees here.

Brisbane man raises $7500 for mental health –
In news closer to home, Dr Aaron Raynor spent this Monday the 15th of November at Netherworld in Fortitude Valley, playing Donkey Kong for a 24 hour charity stream raising money for Headspace, a foundation focused on the mental health of youths in Australia. Dr Raynor raised over $7500 by the end of his Kong-O-Thon stream the following morning.

Xbox’s 20th Anniversary! –
Xbox turned 20 on the 15th, with Microsoft hosting a live event celebrating the anniversary. During the live-stream they made several announcements, with the biggest and arguably most exciting being that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer beta would be releasing almost a month early, and is now free to play on Xbox and PC. They also announced a final update to their catalogue of backwards compatible games, with over 70 new additions!
Turning from gaming, they have also shown off a teaser for the live action Halo series that will be coming to Paramount plus in 2022; and a six-part documentary on the creation of the Xbox brand that will be coming to streaming services on the 13th of December.

More news from Activision/Blizzard

In the latest news from the Activision/Blizzard case, one of the most comprehensive articles about the case has been published by Wall Street Journal, who are alleging that CEO Bobby Kotick knew about the sexual-misconduct allegations for years before it became publicly known, even going as far as hiding it from the board of directors. Following this article, Activision/Blizzard have released a statement stating that Wall Street Journal have presented a misleading view of both the company and the CEO. Staff have since organised a walk-out, demanding Mr Kotick be replaced as CEO. Click here to check out the full article.

Monster Harvest – Review

Developer: Maple Powered Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Music: Maple Powered Games
Platforms: Steam, Nintendo Switch
Released: 31 August 2021
Genre: Farming Sim, Pixel Graphics, Creature Collector

You have grown tired of your life, and your uncle has offered you an opportunity. He once ran a farm you see, but he discovered a wondrous creature called Planimals. And as a man of science and botany, he has taken it upon himself to study these creatures. Planimals come from a fusion of slimes applied to growing plants, bringing them to life much like birds and possums. A town has sprouted around this discovery, leading to a lifestyle adapted to these Planimals and slimes. Slimes can be used as a form of energy, and the Planimals can fight for you, act as livestock, and are a loyal companion.

Now, it may sound kinda familiar, but Monster Harvest is a hybrid meant to fulfill a niche. A cute, pixel game, you have to restore your uncle’s farm, uncover the mysteries of this town, the slime, the Planimals, and the menacing group that seems hellbent on making sure you don’t know what’s going on.

Monster Harvest at its basic is pretty straightforward. Grow plants, fight slimes. Use the slimes on the plants and you’ll grow Planimals! And depending on the type of slime used, and the plant you apply it to, you get a variety of Planimals.

The one you’ll encounter first are Planimals that will fight for you. You can create a party of them, and explore the dungeons with them. You’ll encounter dangerous Planimals in there, but with a bit of strategy, you’ll defeat them, finding resources and treasures.

You’ll need to focus on farming in order to maintain your Planimals, and the fruits of your land will provide you with income. Essential for upgrades, new buildings, and new gear and seeds to grow, leading to new Planimals to discover.

You can also combine slimes together to create more powerful slimes to apply to your plants.

The battle mechanic is pretty straightforward, try to attack the enemy Planimal first with your sword and you’ll get the first hit in with your own Planimal. Once engaged in battle, you’ll have access to some attacks and abilities that you’ll use to fight. If your Planimal is knocked out, you get a resource from their… soul? Life essence? That you can use to upgrade the soil of your farm, allowing you to grow more powerful Planimals. But if your Planimal survives the battle, they’ll gain experience and level up. And you can continue through the dungeon, finding more ore and resources, and stronger Planimals.

Other townsfolk have also raised Planimals, and every Friday you can go to the recreation centre and battle townsfolk, raising your own rank within the town.

So, it sounds pretty solid. And I was interested in the concept, as Monster Harvest combined genres I enjoy. But it’s not doing it well.

The mechanics I described aren’t especially robust. Farming is fine, although the drain on my stamina is quite frustrating. Crafting recipes are unlocked as you level up, and to level up you need to farm, fight, or forage. And the stamina usage limits how much progress you can make. Granted, as you upgrade your gear, and earn enough to buy stamina potions, it becomes less frustrating. But it still takes a while to unlock crafting recipes that are actually helpful. It is fun unlocking and building new buildings, and planting as many seeds as I can afford, and seeing what Planimals I get throughout the seasons.

Battles… aren’t exactly exciting. You have one move unlocked to start with, and whoever wins depends on who strikes first. There is a bit of RNG, and some status effects to keep track of, but you’ll have to do that in your head, because there isn’t really a good UI. Oh no I’ve been poisoned! But I’ll have to remember that, I won’t get a little post-it note. You can’t heal your Planimals unless you sleep overnight, and you can’t switch Planimals around or run away in a battle.

 

I do absolutely love that the two top members of my Planimal party will walk around the world with me, following my character around.

 

But my biggest frustration is with the UI, and how this game communicates important things with the player. There is a tutorial… kinda. It just dumps EVERYTHING on you in one go, and you just have to remember that. And there’s not a way to revisit any part of the tutorial. There’s a device that I know I can put things into, but I have no idea what exactly I can put into it, and when I try it just tells me I can’t put this item I’m holding in.

There is a calender and I know that there are festivals. I’ll walk into town and its decorated for… something. And I can’t go into the dungeons while there is a festival. My uncle says I should go enjoy the festival. But I can’t find anyone or anything to do during these festivals. I wander around everywhere aimlessly before giving up and calling it a day.

I think I’m supposed to be able to cook, I can buy salt and sugar for cooking. I have no idea how to cook. And food would be so helpful for my stamina.

There’s a little clock icon at the bottom of my screen, right above my toolbar. It’s not a clock. Not a useful clock. It’s just there for decoration, which took me a while to figure out because it is animated. But it doesn’t mean anything.

And it’s kinda ugly. The game is quite pretty, but the way the user interface is designed is clunky. The font doesn’t fit, literally. Parts of the bars are hidden behind the decorative frames. Navigating my inventory is a pain, it seems to glitch out sometimes, the highlight square doesn’t fit, also literally, and while I play primarily with a controller, I switch to my mouse to move around my inventory and chests.

Music and sound is repetitive, painfully so. The pop sound from picking up things is satisfying, and it can be eerie to hear Planimals making their weird sounds in the distance, but the music is a very short loop. The audio experience means nothing to me except something to numb my mind. I put it on mute and listened to a podcast instead, which actually helped me stay focused enough on this rather shallow game.

 

I wanted to like Monster Harvest. I like the genres, and it’s quite a pretty game. I could play farming games for days, I love raising a party of creatures to bond with and work with. And Monster Harvest is those genres, it does deliver these things, but in an extremely unsatisfying manner. The entire time I was playing I just kept thinking of other games I could be playing instead.

Nothing grabbed my attention, I wasn’t invested, losing my Planimals didn’t really matter. Farming is alright, but I know a dozen other games that does it better. The story is alright, but it’s nothing new. I essentially predicted it within 3 minutes, but it takes forever to progress through.

There is one thing this game did really well though, and its the fact that a couple of my Planimals will walk around with me and follow me. I mentioned this earlier, but it helped my frustrations to look at my mutanko just standing there. He’s a little guy. I love him.

Graphics Cards Heist, More Unity, and More Accessibility

Shipment of Graphics Cards Stolen

An entire shipment of EVGA RTX 30-Series graphics cards have been stolen in transit from San Francisco to California. More specific details about the truck heist aren’t available due to ongoing investigations, but users are warned that it’s illegal to ‘buy or receive’ stolen goods, or ‘conceal, sell, withhold, or aid in concealing, selling, or withholding’ of these goods.

If you think you may have a card that was involved in this theft, you can find out by entering your card’s serial number on EVGA’s warranty status page, or you can attempt to register your card. If you can register it, then you can rest easy. Otherwise, if a user does end up with a stolen card, it will be addressed on a case by case basis.

The heist is similar to an incident at the end of 2020, where about $340,000 worth of GeForce RTX 3090s were stolen.

Peter Jackson Sells VFX Tech Division to Unity

Unity, a 3D game-development platform, will be obtaining the technology used to create Gollum for Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’, and many other characters from movies, making the VFX tools available to creators all over the world.

Under the deal, Unity will be gaining the Weta Digital suite of VFX tools, as well as a team of 275 engineers, joining Unity’s Create Solutions division.

What is the price for a division responsible for ‘Avatar’, ‘Game of Thrones’, and ‘Planet of the Apes’? A cool $1.625 billion in the form of cash and stock.

This makes award-winning technology available to all Unity creators, making industry-pushing VFX tools more accessible than ever.

Forza Horizon 5 Includes On-Screen Sign Language

The car racing game, Forza Horizon 5, will be getting on-screen American and British sign language for cutscenes, bringing a rare level of accessibility to the game.

The feature has been shown off in a video by Playground Games, showing how a picture-in-picture sign language interpreter alongside the cinematic and subtitles. Sign language conveys tone more effectively than subtitles alone, and is an option if players have difficulty reading at the speed of the subtitles.

It’s not the only accessibility option of course, with Game Speed Modification, High Contrast and Colour Blindness modes, text-to-speech and speech-to-text options for voice chat, and a screen reader narrator, not to mention the ability to adjust font style and size.

With greater accessibility, driving cars fast will be available to more and more speed demons.

And now for some upcoming game releases!

November 11

  • Beyond Blue (Switch)
  • Epic Chef (PC, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Kainga: Seeds of Civilization (PC)
  • Killer in the Cabin (PC)
  • Megaquarium: Architect’s Collection DLC (PC)
  • Skyrim Special Edition (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO)
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Switch)

November 12

  • Gynoug (PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Punk Wars (PC)
  • Shin Megami Tensei 5 (Switch)

November 16

  • Sherlock Holmes Chapter One (PC, PS5, XSX)

November 17

  • Next Space Rebels (PC, XBO)
  • Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall (PC VR)

November 18

  • Guild of Dungeoneering Ultimate Edition (PC)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator Game of the Year edition (PC, XSX)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator: Reno Air Races Expansion Pack (PC, XSX)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator: Reno Air Races Full Collection (PC, XSX)
  • Undungeon (PC, XBO)

November 19

  • Battlefield 2042 (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Battle Operation Code Fairy Volume 2 (PS5, PS4)
  • NERF: Legends (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl (Switch)

News from the Metaverse

Facebook gets Meta

“I am proud to announce that starting today, our company is now Meta” – Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook the company, not Facebook the social media platform has changed its name to Meta. CEO and real human boy Mark Zuckerberg fronted a recent Facebook Connect event to reveal the name change and explain his vision for the Metaverse; A VR and AR future where our real and virtual worlds interlink.  While much of the presentation was speculative concepts there were some more substantive reveals. Oculus is working on a new high end VR Headset codenamed Cambria which will integrate eye and facial tracking among other features which will be revealed at a later date. They also announced their first AR headset codenamed Project Nazare with the goal of integrating AR into a regular sized set of glasses. It should still be a few years before we see any concrete details.

In more game focused new Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas VR has been announced for Quest 2 developed by the same team behind L.A. Noire: The VR Case File and a port of the popular VR combat simulator Blade and Sorcery has also been announced for the Quest 2.

For full details you can rewatch all the event’s streams including a talk by legendary Doom programmer John Carmack at Facebookconnect.com

Netflix launches gaming service

If you’ve got an Android phone and Netflix you can log in and find a new tab. Games! Previously Netflix had experimented with interactive story telling such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Minecraft Story Mode but this is the companies first foray into more traditional games via the streaming service. The launch line-up includes 5 games Stranger Things: 1984, Stranger Things 3: The Game, Card Blast, Teeter Up and Shooting Hoops,  but expect more to follow.

While only available on Android devices currently Netflix has iOS support in development and hopes to release in the coming months.

Let the Games Begin: A New Way to Experience Entertainment on Mobile

Playstation State of Play

Sony held a State of Play last week announcing games and new details for titles from some of it’s 3rd party developers. Beginning the show was the reveal of a spin off to the Grasshoper Manufacture game Let it Die called Deathverse: Let It Die. The free2play game will have players competing in a twisted and ultraviolent game show.

A free DLC expansion to Bugsnax was announced titles The Isle of BIGsnax. Coming 2022 player will have a new area to explore but most importantly they will be given the option to put hats on bugsnax.

Death’s Door one of this year’s most well-regarded titles has been given a release date for PS4 and PS5 of November 23rd. Not included in the presentation is that this date will also see the Switch release of the title.

A handful of other games were shown off such as First Class Trouble, KartRider: Drift and the always charming Little Devil Inside. You can check out the full presentation here.

Government rebate for Queensland game industry

In local news, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced new incentives for Video Game creators in the state. The Post-Production, Digital and Visual Effects incentives which previously provided film makers doing post-production and post-visual effects with a 15% rebate will now include game developers.

“By adding this new games’ incentive, local and international studios will be further motivated to outsource the creation of valuable game titles to Queensland, while our own locally based developers will be supported to create original games content right here.”

“My government has also moved to lower the threshold on access to the PDV and games incentive from $500,000 to $250,000, a substantial boost to local post-production businesses pitching for a broad range of projects.”

Annastacia Palaszczuk

You can find to the government’s statement here.

Upcoming releases

Just Dance 2022 (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch), The Binding Of Isaac: Repentance (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Switch), Where Cards Fall (Switch, PC) – November 5

Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise DLC (Switch), Call of Duty: Vanguard (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) – November 6

Football Manager 2022 (Xbox One, PC), Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC), Jurassic World Evolution 2 (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) – November 10

Games are popular, On Pause, and Trick or Treat

Video games more popular than Free-To-Air TV

A study conducted by Bond University’s regular Digital Australia report has revealed that 17 million Aussie’s play video games in some form. 5.5 million households own two or more dedicated game playing devices while 92% of Aussie homes own at least one gaming platform. This report has shown some pretty interesting information about the habits of Australian’s during the pandemic, mostly relating to gaming as a form of social connection with 76% of parents who were part of the study having played some form of video games with their children throughout. The average age of a video game player is now 35 and has steadily risen since the generation of Game Boy, NES, SNES, and PS1. And most interestingly is that while streaming TV/Movies is in the number one spot, Games is now in second place before free-to-air television in Australia. If you’d like to check out all the stats click here.

BlizzCon on ‘Pause’

The gaming giant Activision Blizzard has announced that they are currently putting their plans on hold for an online BlizzCon event in 2022. A spokesperson from Blizzard said, “Any BlizzCon event takes every single one of us to make happen, an entire-company effort, fuelled by our desire to share what we create with the community we care about so much. At this time, we feel the energy it would take to put on a show like this is best directed towards supporting our teams and progressing development of our games and experiences.” BlizzCon 2020 and 2021 were both cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with next year’s BlizzCon on ‘pause’ it is speculated that the recent situation Blizzard has with the widespread discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit may be cause for delay relating to whether BlizzCon 2022 is going ahead. Blizzard also suggested that if the event was to return it would be a very different event from the ones we’re used to seeing.

Trick or Treat – Zed Games horror game suggestions for Halloween

Dead by Daylight – Available on all platforms Dead by Daylight is a four-person survival game with the goal of escaping a killer before daylight breaks. Four players take on the role of a survivor while one player hunts in a big one vs four multiplayer survival mode. This is a great game to play with friends and enjoy a heart pumping adrenaline fuelled action.

Phasmophobia – Available on PC and VR Phasmophobia is an investigative co-op horror game where you must work with your friends to identify the types of paranormal activity inside different locations. Tasked with four objectives you must complete, but do it quickly, because the longer you stay in the haunted house the more your sanity drops and the ghosts start to hunt you.

Little Nightmares II – Available on Nintendo Switch, PS, Xbox and PC, Little Nightmares II is a puzzle-platformer which is a little less terror and more spooky. You explore and solve puzzles in order to progress through the narrative as this little boy guided by a girl in an ominous yellow raincoat.

Resident Evil 4 VR – Available exclusively on the Oculus Quest and relive the arguably most terrifying Resident Evil game of them all in VR, almost certainly an experience filled with jump scares, screams, and pure terror.

Dead Space – And finally, a classic available on PC, Xbox, Switch and PC is Dead Space, looking for some regular old poop your pants kind of action this Halloween. Play this classic space horror  game, a single player campaign where you are in an interstellar mining ship exploring and unfolding the creepy story whilst fending off jump scares and terror from unknown extra-terrestrial forces.

This week in game releases:

Oct 28
• Age of Empires 4
• Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
• Plan B from Outer Space: A Bavarian Odyssey
• Riders Republic
• Sunshine Manor
• Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars
Oct 29
• Mario Party Superstars
• Zombo Buster Rising
Nov 2
• Giants Uprising
• World War Z
Nov 3
• Bloodshore
• Time Loader