Some days are harder than others. That’s no secret to anyone. And for me, personally, no days are harder to get up for than days I have a run ahead of me. I just don’t like running. Never have and I have a feeling that I never will. A while back I heard about an iOS app called Zombies, Run! that was supposed to turn your run – or jog, if you will – into an adventure. It told you a little story and as you run you’d just naturally gather supplies as you went. At points in your run zombies would get close and you’d have to run harder. I remember thinking it had possibility.
And then I forgot about it.
What need do I have for a running app if I never run? None at all. But that was then and this is now. I’ve run several 5K’s now, I’ve unofficially run some 8K’s and I’m training for a 10-mile race and a half marathon. I have need of a running app now. And if there is some software out there that makes a boring run more interesting I want to try it. I found myself at the Zombies, Run! App Store page and the price made me slow my roll. It’s not terribly expensive at $7.99, but it’s not exactly an impulse buy either. Especially by App Store standards. The reviews were good so I decided to leap.
I’m glad I did. For the first time since I started running I was actually eager to go for a run the next morning. Morning came, I jumped out of bed, grabbed a glass of water, pulled on my running gear and headed out the door. Within moments I found myself on a helicopter on a mission my pilot couldn’t tell me too much about due to the classified nature of that mission. I got the impression, whether right or wrong, that I knew more than my pilot and she was fishing for details. Our silent protagonist, me, didn’t have any words for her.
The silence didn’t last for long though because within moments a rocket was launched in our direction and we went down. Another radio transmission hit my ear buds and I’m being contacted by an outpost called Abel Township. I’m giving some sparse details about the dire straits we’re in and then told to run. Something I had been doing all along anyway. A few more moments pass and the radio operator who reached out to me is joined by a doctor who not-so-gently broke the news that there are no free rides in Abel Township and that I’d run for supplies or be turned away at the gates. Naturally, I agree. Not that it’s an option to refuse.
The story plays out in just that manner. You don’t have to press any buttons while you’re running. You don’t have to interact with your iPhone but upon completion of your run there is a use for the supplies you’ve collected, just by running. You have the opportunity to contribute to Abel Township by bringing back batteries, first-aid kits, axe’s and even sports bras. Again, nothing more is required of you to collect these things than simply running.
Zombies, Run! also has an option called Zombie chases, in which you’ll hear a message over your ear buds telling you that zombies are closing in on you. You can hear their groans and moans just behind you along with an occasional update telling you how many meters behind you they are. The app, I believe, checks your speed prior to the zombie chase and then compares it to your new pace while being chased. If you are moving faster than you were, you’ll evade the zombies. If not, you’ll dump supplies you’ve picked up along the way to distract them and save yourself. Zombie chases are an option, but an option I highly recommend you enable.
One word of advice as it relates to zombie chases, wait until the robot sounding narrator informs you of the zombie hoard on your tail. I started sprinting when the narrator of the story told me to run. Then a moment later I heard the computerized voice telling me that zombies were detected. I was already sprinting. This meant I couldn’t pick up speed. Which meant the zombies gained on me and I had to dump supplies to escape. This is a little painful to hear when you know those supplies help you in the mini-game after the run’s conclusion.
The app breaks the missions into two types: story missions and supply missions. Story missions, as you would imagine, further the story of Abel Township and likely deliver more answers as to the how and why of things. Whereas the supply missions are a means of collecting more supplies. Clever, I know.
It didn’t occur to me until I was looking through the settings after purchasing the app that I had no idea how the app would handle story pacing. You have two options, you can choose the length of your mission. 30 minutes or 1 hour. Those are probably great choices for mission length if you had to chose just two possible lengths to go with.
The last feature of the software I want to touch on is music. The app supports playlists. So if you have an exercise mix called, oh I don’t know exercise and you want to use that music in the app, you can. And it works great. Your music can be interrupted at times, but it’ll feel natural with the storyline.
The playlist functionality also brings me to a story. I don’t really do much music on my iPhone. I tend to stream music, which I don’t believe is supported in the way that playlists are. In any case, I’ve taken advantage of some of the free songs that Starbucks makes available and one in particular is called Banjo by Leonard Cohan. It was the only song in a default playlist called “purchased” which is what I accidentally started my run on. That meant that the entire duration of my run, during the lulls in story time, I was listening to Leonard Cohan’s Banjo. The song was such a perfect fit for the app that I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was a built in song. It’s not. But you may want to add it to your run playlist. Check out these lyrics:
“There’s something that I’m watching means a lot to me. It’s a broken banjo bobbing on the dark infested sea. Don’t know how it got there maybe taken by the wave, off of someone’s shoulder or out of someone’s grave. It’s coming for me darling, no matter where I go. Its duty is to harm me. My tears to know.”
Yeah. Sufficiently spooky.
So Dusty, you may be thinking, what if I say I want to run 30 minutes and I run an hour? What happens then?
Great question. After 30 minutes the story concludes but you are moved rather naturally into a radio/DJ mode that I believe also serves as an Easter Egg for the folks who helped fund the app’s Kickstarter campaign. This was, after all, a crowd sourced product. You hear the radio operator say that we should feel free to roam as much as we want and he’ll try and keep us entertained with whatever music he can find laying around. This is a clever way of saying “whatever you have in your playlist.”
As you run you still collect items along the way. And you can still be chased by zombies. However, instead of story between songs you hear of more “safe havens” or survivors and their situations. One firm, again that probably helped fund the game, had a headquarters that is blockaded off and visibly guarded with heavy artillery. “So kind. Really 1-percent-er’s those guys,” the radio operator jokes.
And it should be noted here, as it is in the reviews, that the voice acting is top notch. And you aren’t necessarily meant to remember every tidbit you learn as there is a codex that fills with entries as you learn new things. For example, after my first mission I had codex entries for every item I found in addition to places I’ve heard of and people I’d met or learned of along the way, Sam Yao, Dr. Maxine Myers and Runner 7. Prior to my first run my codex was empty.
So I’ve gushed and gushed about Zombies, Run! and it certainly deserves it. However, there are a few little gripes I have. First, and perhaps most importantly, the GPS isn’t particularly accurate. It’s not radically far off but it’s not accurate either. I mapped a 4 mile run on mapmyrun.com. I ran Endomondo at the same time as Zombies, Run! and at the conclusion of my run Endomondo said I ran 4.02 miles and the app reported that I had run 4.24 miles. An almost quarter of a mile difference is kind of significant so I’d couldn’t depend on this as my primary run keeping app.
Another possible gripe about the app is found in the app comments on iTunes. The GPS doesn’t take into account elevation changes. So if you just happen to start being chased by zombies on a hill you may be doomed to dropping items to escape the hoard. Zombies, unlike you, apparently lose no speed on an incline.
And my last little complaint is a minor one. I had to figure out the mini-game that levels up Abel Township on my own. I saw I had a bunch of supplies on me at the conclusion of my run but I didn’t necessarily know what to do with them. I started tapping around the map and noticed that one area was a hospital so I just guessed and dragged my first-aid kits over there. I was happy to see a status bar fill up and show me that the hospital tent was leveling up. By the time I dropped off my first-aid kits, bandages, etc. my hospital tent had been upgraded to a red corrugated metal structure with the universally understood red cross. In my opinion the tutorial should include more instructions for that aspect of the game.
All things considered this seems to be an incredible app. It brings much needed variety to something that really holds no interest to me and that’s running. Like I mentioned above, I’m looking forward to my next run. I want to learn more about Abel Township. I want to learn more about the original Runner 5. I want to learn more about the whole story. It’s a very compelling tale even after a single episode.
Zombies, Run! is a fantastic concept and it is executed almost perfectly. There are tiny improvements to be made but even those little complaints can’t stop me from giving the app a perfect app store review. 5/5 stars. I don’t hand perfect scores out often but I sincerely believe what is delivered here is so valuable to those, like myself, who aren’t overly enthusiastic with running. An app that can provide motivation and entertainment is a very welcome addition to my phone.