Stepping into Runner 5′s Shoes with “Zombies, Run!”
A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to try a new iOS app by Six to Start called Zombies, Run!, a “running game and audio adventure” that transplants its participants into a zombie apocalypse. The story begins: you are Runner #5, a refugee of a supply helicopter crash, with no identification to prove you’re not from one of the other rival camps, trying to earn your keep in Abel Township by running on supply or rescue missions. Along the way, you collect items that will help the camp, and sometimes obtain information that might help explain who you are, how the world got in this state, and maybe even how to save it.
At its heart Zombies, Run! is designed as a narrative complement to players’ running music playlist. After starting the mission by loading up the app and swiping the “slide to run” control, the first segment of the story will start, interweaving music from the phone’s iTunes library with additional story segments until the mission is over. While running, a computerized voice informs you of items you pick up along the way: USB Keys, bottles of water, batteries, clothes . . . and often CDC records, information about other factions, or even other apps. In one document, a newspaper article describing a suspicious fire at a university contained a live Twitter account.
Zombies, Run! received its initial funding through a Kickstarter initiative, and one of the benefits offered to early backers was the ability to be inserted into the story, either as an individual or a brand. One of the companies to jump at this opportunity was the app development company ChipotleLabs. Various items recovered over the course of the story including the “Kensaido sword” and “Kensaido Manifesto” hint at a secret ninja society that predated the zombie apocalypse, and whose members work to combat the growing incursion. In addition to providing more information about the world beyond Abel Township, the items promote ChipotleLabs’ upcoming app, Kensaido.
At random times during missions, the Zombie Chase portion of the game is activated with the ominous audio queue, “Warning: Zombies detected.” When this message is heard, it means a Zombie Mob is after you, and your only way to survive is to pick up your speed by 20% and get moving. Much like sonar detection, you’ll hear beeping, which gets faster as the zombies get closer, but if you put on a burst of speed (for up to one minute), the mob will be outrun and you’ll be safe. Run too slow, and you’ll be forced to drop some of the items you’ve collected to distract the mob. Zombie Chases will only happen when using an iPhone in GPS mode, as the game needs to know how fast you’re running to determine if the mob has been outrun, and can be shut off if the thrill of the chase is not for you.
Information about the items picked up during your run are available after the mission is recorded in the Codex. Reading these descriptions can not only help you decide where to place them in Abel Township to help build up your base, but also where the articles and special items and be read and accessed. Further information can be gleaned from The Runner’s Guide, a narrative scrapbook introduction to the game, available free for download on Scribd.
This leads us to the next part of Zombies, Run! – building up Abel Township. Assigning the items gathered during the run increases the capacity of each segment of the Township (hospital, recreation, communications, etc.) enables the Township to support more people, expand its services, and most importantly, unlocks more missions. Season One will consist of 30 missions: thirteen were released with the game’s launch, with an additional nine added with a recent update. Tapping on each of the buildings displays their function and a bar graph displaying the building’s “health” – how close it is to going up a level. Each time a building’s level increases, it gets bigger and the Township’s population increases. Knowing there are other factions out there, a larger and better equipped organization might prove valuable should a conflict ensue.
While Zombies, Run! is playable on any iDevice enabled to run iOS 5, the game is optimized to take advantage of the iPhone’s portability and GPS functionality. The initial download is available at the iTunes App Store for $7.99, but might well prove to be worth the cost if it gets you off the couch and into the gym, or out on the road.