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.