26
Jun
zombiestiny

When we first took a look at Zombies, Run! a few days ago, I said that, while the concept is great, I hoped it would be $8 worth of amazing. Not to spoil the ending to this story right away, but the short version is: probably. This app could easily be worth $8 to many users. But not for the reasons you might think. And, before you start reaching for your wallet, you need to answer one very important question: are you willing to commit to a workout routine?

Game Of Moans

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To call Zombies, Run! a "game" is, perhaps, a bit disingenuous. The developers refer to it as a game, but most games require that there be gameplay elements, the ability to lose, and some level of either skill or luck involved to win. While technically, the game does have the first two elements, there is virtually nothing on the third. As long as you are capable of moving slightly faster than you're currently moving for a bit, it's impossible to lose. Which is actually a very good thing.

Here's how the app works. There are 23 missions (with 7 more on the way) to choose from. You pick a mission before you start your run and let it play. Pop your head phones in and put your phone in your pocket and you're on your way. All the other instructions are done via audio prompts. The story begins with a cut scene where you hear the story and dialogue with other characters. After a minute or two, you'll be dropped into your music playlist. This is where the bulk of the action happens.

While music is optional, I highly recommend it as it makes everything much less boring and gives you a frame of reference in case something goes wrong (more on that in a bit). During songs, you will occasionally here robo-prompts over your music like "Collected a bottle of water," or "Collected a med kit." More importantly, you'll also hear the automated voice say "Warning: Zombies [X] Meters." It's at this point that you run.

This mechanic threw me for a loop on my first run. For a bit of context, I am not a runner. I enjoy a good walk pretty regularly, but running is not my thing. Thankfully, this app follows your pace. If you want to run, run. If you want to walk, walk. Whatever suits your physical needs. The very first cut scene ends with a radio operator telling you, rather emphatically, to "RUN!" Being a good little survivor, I obeyed, upping my pace from a steady walk to more of a jog. After about a minute, I hear a warning that there are zombies 100 meters away. I wasn't sure if I should run faster, slow down, change direction, or how to react. The user is given no indication at this point what to do. Since I'd already been told by my radio operator to run, I slowed down, assuming the warning meant there were zombies ahead. The zombies caught me.

What was frustrating about that was not that I got caught by zombies, but that I didn't notice until about two songs later. I heard an audio prompt that sounded like "Items dropped. Zombies distracted." However, since these alerts play over the music, it was difficult to tell. Those four (?) words, however, were my only indication that I had died. About two songs later I decided to pull my phone out to see why I hadn't received any more instructions and my feed of events informed me I was dead. Sad times.

The moral of the story is don't trust the cut scenes. During your runs, ignore any and all commands from voice acted characters to run. Only run when mid-song alerts tell you there are zombies nearby and, at that point, pick up the pace until it says "Zombies evaded." It only took me one zombie attack to figure this out, but it would be nice if the app was more up front about how this works.

Back At The Base

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The web interface looks much nicer than the Android app.

When you're not running, the app has a selection of non-running features to use. For starters, there's the Supplies tab, where you allocate the items you've picked up to different parts of the base. The base has several sections that can each be leveled up if you collect and assign enough of the right kind of items to it. The upgrades are largely useless outside providing a tangible feeling of progress. Anyone who's ever played an MMORPG, though, can tell you how addicting steadily increasing numbers can be.

Runners can also create an optional and free ZombieLink account. When enabled, all your runs will be automatically synced to the app's online counterpart. Login and you can see a summary of your runs. At the moment, the summaries consist of a feed of items you've collected and zombie encounters. You can also see how far you ran, how long it took, and how fast you ran on average. The company promises that "very soon" we'll see maps integrated, so you can also review where you ran.

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Each run is laid out in a timeline, showing every event, item, and zombie encounter.

Fitness enthusiasts will probably find the tracking features lacking. There doesn't seem to be the ability to keep track of calories burned, nor is there a way to customize the length of a workout beforehand. Each mission runs between 30-40 minutes. After the mission is over, runners can continue running and, as of the most recent release, can continue to pick up items. However, it's difficult to tell when a mission is finished, and any run less than 30 minutes seems to not be possible. Still, for anyone attempting a decent workout, a minimum of a half hour with no real upper limit on the workouts is a pretty easy target to hit.

Soundtracks For The End Of The World

One of the major components of the app is the music which, as of right now, needs to be downloaded locally. The app allows you to select from playlists you've made previously, although it's more than a little unclear how to go about creating them. The app doesn't seem to tie in to the Play Music app, nor Spotify which I use for most of my music needs. Two playlists were ready for me made from the couple dozen songs I still had on my SD card from over a year ago. If these files weren't already on my device and auto-detected, I would have had a very hard time figuring out how get music in the app.

A Note On The UI

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Left: The app's landing page. Center: Swipe up to open the door... Right: ...to an ordered list?

While most of the UI takes place audibly (and even that interface needs a bit of work), it feels necessary to point out that the UI of the app itself is generally atrocious. It still uses the old style Gingerbread tabs. This wouldn't be too big of a deal, except that the first tab, Home, is an image of a door to the outside of the compound. Sliding up on this door, which is meant to simulate leaving the base, merely takes you to the next tab, Missions. It's nice that they're going for this illusion, but the giant tabs at the top break the illusion rather quickly and make the entire Home tab feel pointless. Moreover, the Missions tab is just a black, scrollable list. It would make more sense, given the context, to at least make that tab a poster board, or a computer monitor with a stylized scrollable missions list. At least then the illusion would be consistent.

Since this is tertiary to the main point of the app, I'm willing to give it a pass. As stated before, there are other, more pressing issues that need to get ironed out, like notifications for when a mission has ended, and better instructions for how to add music. Still, it would be nice to see support for Ice Cream Sandwich style UIs. Or at least, if it's catering largely to Gingerbread (the developer correctly pointed out when I asked about this that Gingerbread and lower are overwhelmingly the most used versions of Android right now), for the UI to be consistent. As it is right now, the whole thing feels very unfinished and very rough.

Work It Out

There are plenty of things to nitpick about this app, though it is worth pointing out, the release reviewed here is 0.9, so it's not quite final, and updates are on the way. However, at the end of the day, this app has one, overall point: getting you to run. For me, this is not an easy task. While I don't exactly enjoy sitting around motionless all day (I maintain a retail job when I'm not here mainly to get me out of the house and moving around), sticking to a rigorous workout routine is not something that comes naturally to me.

If you're like me, then this app is perfect. It has an interesting story and, more importantly, a workout routine all planned out for you. Even if you do one mission every day, the 30 total missions will give you a solid month of workouts. Run every other day and you stretch it out to two months. Plenty of time to get into the habit of running regularly without the aid of an app.

There are also a few other motivators. For starters, there's the price tag. Whether or not this app is worth $8 is highly subjective. It's still a little rough around the edges, and a few kinks need to be worked out, but $8 is $8. If the structure of the episodic story isn't enough to motivate you, then perhaps not wasting eight bucks will. The cost will scare off a number of people (which the company says they're comfortable with), however, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that might just keep the bar high enough that only people who really want to make themselves run will buy in.

As if the clear-cut structure of the missions or the price point that's well above impulse buy territory wasn't enough, the base upgrades are also a bit of a motivator. While the upgrades are entirely useless, having numbers steadily increase as you progress gives the feeling of accomplishing something. All the parts seem minor, but when getting into a workout routine, every motivating factor helps, and this app offers nothing if not a lot of little bits of motivation.

Conclusion

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Ultimately, this app is probably going to disappoint a good number of people, but that doesn't make it bad. It's not a fitness app. It certainly won't replace RunKeeper and its ilk any time soon. And, as stated before, to call it a game is a little misleading. The only real gameplay mechanic is "run faster for a bit," so it's hard to say that "game" is the right word to describe it. If you're expecting it to be either of this things, you'll walk away pining for those $8 you miss so dearly.

The advantage of Zombies, Run! though is that it is neither of these things, but rather sits in a sweet spot right in the middle. Despite the UI, despite the comparative lack of fitness features (many of which the developers say are on the way), the app does everything possible to entice you to workout. Few apps can boast this. Apps like RunKeeper are great for fitness nuts who already have a routine, but Zombies, Run! gives people who don't (or people who are just looking for some new entertainment on their runs) an engaging reason to use their legs for what they were made for: fleeing from zombies.

My advice is this: forget your expectations about what this app is and what it should be. If you don't already have a proper workout routine, and downloading apps with charts and trackers just isn't the motivation you need, then grab this app. Does it sound too pricey for you? Do it anyway. You won't want to have wasted the money, so you'll be all the more motivated to use it. The story will take it from there.

If you already have an established workout routine, or if you're not interested in making runs a part of your every day life, then give it a little more thought. The story is certainly neat, but it is still secondary to the point of running. It will keep you entertained for a bit, and perhaps spice up your usual routine, but you will sacrifice some of the more fitness-related options of a proper running app. Whether the story is worth $8 is up to you.

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • Raphaël Briand

    I hope it works out its problems because it's one of the most original apps I've seen for a long time, and one of the coolest concepts too. Considering it...

  • http://twitter.com/Tommyyy_NYC Tommy B

    I was about to say, why the heck are you reviewing this now, the game is years and years old... Nope, I'm sorry, it's just a rip off of a game that's years and years old. 
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.peterd.zombierun&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwyLDEsIm5ldC5wZXRlcmQuem9tYmllcnVuIl0.

    • Tjwoo

      They're similar in that they're both zombie running games, but similarity ends there.  One you posted requires constant navigation(which could be your cup of tea) whereas this game is based on whatever path or pace you're on.  Yes theyr'e both zombie genres but completely different. 

    • roflmao

      I'm starting to think you are the developer of that app. lol

    • roflmao

      I'm starting to think you are the developer of that app. lol

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      I hate to say it, but this is one of those spots where you have to give creative license to the concept of 'originality'.  When Apple announced they were coming out with an on-device store for apps, I came up with a very similar idea to this the same week.  To be clear, my idea isn't exactly this, and somebody else has come out with something more like what I wanted to do (though, I've looked at it, and I think they should be embarrassed by what they've put out).  As many writers and philosophers (and now, more than a few judges) have said in the past, nothing is truly original anymore, it's all just a conglomeration of ideas that are based on other ideas but put together slightly differently.
      This game isn't original because it put together a fitness app with zombies, it's original because nobody has done a fitness app that uses gamification and a storyline as motivators and delivers it using "professionally" (quality isn't mentioned in the review) recorded audio prompts.  It's not a clearly defined line, but it could be compared to calling Wolfenstein 3d (or Rise of the Triad if you believe it came first) original despite there already being several 2d games that allowed for running a character around a map and shooting at other players or targets.

      • Dan Stone

        hipster

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      I actually linked to that game in my original coverage of this app. I linked to it because I remember playing it way back in the day on my G1. I was super excited about it because I'd wanted a game that utilized GPS and a sort of augmented reality type interface to create a real-life game.

      And neither of these games, to be absolutely clear, are that. Furthermore, these two "games" could not be more different. The game you're linking to lets you pick a point A and a point B and shows you where, on a map, that zombies are located and instructs you to avoid them. It is much closer to a game than the one I reviewed. However, due to the fatal flaw of forcing the user to stare at a screen while running, it was never very successful, nor was it very good.

      The app I reviewed, on the other hand, is different in just about every way. It uses audio prompts, not visual ones, it is more of a fitness app than a proper game, and the zombies are not placed on a map at all. The only thing they have in common is the name. Which, to be fair, is strikingly similar, but since the older app seems to have stopped development, it hardly matters.

      To claim this app doesn't innovate, or that it "ripped off" another app in anything but name only is pure ignorance.

  • Tjwoo

    Bought this game last week, and had a chance to run a couple times. It has already received an update which is promising. Since the last update, you can stop mid-mission and continue where you left off. This was pretty major for me, as my previous workouts were 23-25 mins jogs and I had to relisten to the same damn opener mission again and again. Also, the webapp was also updated, now they show your running path on a pseudo-googlemap and shows you a nice graph with speed/time or pace layed over the map. It also shows a separate graph per each 'zombie' chase event which is interesting.  I don't have any mp3s stored on my phone so I just ran pandora in the background, which works fine.  Overall, it's fun. I wouldn't really call it a game yet, but certainly gets me out there, and I'm excited about hte pace of the development as well.

  • Tjwoo

    Bought this game last week, and had a chance to run a couple times. It has already received an update which is promising. Since the last update, you can stop mid-mission and continue where you left off. This was pretty major for me, as my previous workouts were 23-25 mins jogs and I had to relisten to the same damn opener mission again and again. Also, the webapp was also updated, now they show your running path on a pseudo-googlemap and shows you a nice graph with speed/time or pace layed over the map. It also shows a separate graph per each 'zombie' chase event which is interesting.  I don't have any mp3s stored on my phone so I just ran pandora in the background, which works fine.  Overall, it's fun. I wouldn't really call it a game yet, but certainly gets me out there, and I'm excited about hte pace of the development as well.

  • Sorian

    I know this app is suppose to be for runners, but it is following via GPS. I wonder how well it would work for me as a cyclist? Would it go too fast because I am riding instead of running?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      It doesn't seem to be tied to distance. It's hard to say if, for example, the zombie chases are measured in actual meters, or if it simply measures your speed over a given time frame. Worst-case scenario, the zombie chases will be a bit briefer. You'll probably still have to pick up the pace (which could mean you'd be screwed if an encounter happens on a large downhill), but otherwise everything seems to be tied to the timing of the music and cut scenes, so it should probably work for you.

      Also, you can turn the random zombie encounters off, so if it doesn't work, you can just disable them and still enjoy the story.

    • Matthew Ball

      It would work, but not sure youd get the same benifits. Not a cyclist to be fair, but think the app is more aimed at runners.Perhaps a zombies cycle would be one for the developers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558821952 Charles Marks

    I am on mission 4 and love this. It is a fun distraction between music, sets the scene for your next 5 minutes of running and does a great job of tracking your runs online (with maps, speed, calories etc). For $8 it is a cheap way to liven up 30 of your runs. Yes, it needs a few fixes etc (there are problems with playlists etc) but these are being addressed with updates. I am looking forward to my runs and to the next instalment. (Oh, and the runs often take me past the developers offices in London and I am tempted to bash on their doors screaming that I need help from chasing zombies - just wonder if they will let me in!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kraig.kimbo Kraig Kimbo
  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.flatt Jeremy Flatt

    um.... I have to run for 30 mins or it doesn't count. That is retarded... I prefer fast sprints 10-15 mins... this sucks.... Why would they do that... you should be able to pauce and restart or something...

  • An angry customer

    This App has been updated. If you bought Zombies! Run on a gingerbread phone, you will be unable to re-install it, so be careful and back it up. The staff at "Zombies! Run" will refuse to give you the APK for the old gingerbread compatible version and also refuse to refund you. I had to get a refund through the Google Play store I made sure I let them know "They withdrew the original app and replaced it with a sequel that no longer works on my phone and they refuse to give me the original or a refund".

  • Kelvin

    I use this app with run keeper. Works like a dream

  • Daphnia88

    Best review on this app ever! I've been considering downloading the app, but I really HATE running. And if there really is no game or no real story then well.....I'd probably not do it for longer than a day. Thank you so much for your detailed review! It has helped me decide whether or not I should buy it =)

    • Jonathas

      A lot of improvements have been made since then. Interface is better, Google Maps is integrated in the web version, and the gaming elements (avatars, picking items, badges, upgrading your base, and so on) can be greatly motivating. Now it's costing 4 bucks (that's when I bought it)... I think you should give it a try! ;)

  • BSNJogger

    There's an even newer, more interactive, and most importantly, FREE running adventure app that just hit iOS and Android. BattleSuit Runner Fitness. VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeoGMyUDNVA