Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Zombies, Run! For Android and ZombieLink – A Review

When I first read about the Zombies, Run! Application, I thought it was a great idea. A fitness/gaming application where the player is a scavenger for a base of survivors in the zombie apocalypse, running to grab supplies and away from zombies.  It was first developed for the iPhone, and, well, I don't have one of those. However, one of the positives in my period of re-employment recently is that I did get an Android phone,and last week (6/14/12) Zombies, Run! Was released for my phone, and I've given it a few test runs (pun intended,) since an injury has me out of the weight room at the moment anyway.  The launch is not without its hiccups, but overall I like the application a lot, and will continue using it. I hate running, but this has motivated me enough to give it a serious try.

I used to joke when asked if I ran "Only when chased." Be careful what you wish for.

Zombies, Run! has a fairly simple interface. There is the base door, which lists Abel Township's (the settlement) population, and allows a quick swipe to open the door and start a mission. There's the mission menu, that displays all unlocked scenarios as well as criteria to unlock certain missions that have requirements. Next is the base upgrade menu, where each of the critical structures in the town are shown, and after each mission, collected items can be allocated to upgrade facilities with a simple drag and drop. There is an options screen with a help system, the ability to choose distance units (miles/km,) credits and the ZombieLink synch settings.  Each mission is a series of audio files telling the developing story, introducing characters, announcing when items have been picked up and cueing sprint sequences with a warning and the groans of approaching undead. Get away, and you keep your loot... get caught and you must drop an item to distract the horde. The game plays without needing to interact with the screen while running, using it to build the base and look at collected supplies later.

The Good

The voice acting in this game is spectacular, on par or better than that found in top-quality animation and AAA-video games. The story is immediately engaging, and finding out what happens next is a great motivator for getting back out there and running around a bit. The zombie chases also motivate a burst of speed, as I found myself not wanting to surrender any items even when my body was protesting that I'm built to lift weights, not sprint. I've always appreciated games that allow you to do some base/city building, and though that aspect is simple, I'm glad it is there. ZombieLink automatically tracks your progress, distance, and story events that happen along each workout for later viewing, as well as tracking in other fitness programs/sites like RunKeeper or Fitocracy. Getting to see the base's population increase as it is made more secure reinforces the idea that the player is assisting a desperate community while going out for a jog/run.

When finding that pack of underwear in the wilds, do you
allocate it to the residential facility... or the Armory?

The Bad

The application is far from perfect, and I've found a few frustrating things, especially considering the relatively steep price tag of $7.99 in an Android market packed with free or $0.99 apps. I think it is worth the price, but the flaws are a little less forgivable than they would be in a cheap/free product. There is an option to use your own music while running, but at launch, it was frustrating to use and sometimes interfered with playing the game.  Though supposedly compatible with WinAmp (though not the default music player on my phone,) the music wouldn't play through Zombies, Run!during my first two workouts. When manually starting a playlist, the music frequently drowns out some of the narration, marring the experience. It is worth mentioning that with today's update and a swap to Android Music Player, these issues seem to be resolved. ZombieLink is great, but seems unfinished, with no maps of my runs, a feature the website suggests should be live. Finally, the zombie chases are great, but they start randomly, so I find myself moving slowly when not being chased, not wanting to be worn out should a sudden chase start up.

I have great hopes for ZombieLink, but it isn't quite there.. yet. And yes, I run slow. Shut up.

The Future

Today's update, in addition to resolving the audio issues I experienced, added a shuffle feature which greatly improved the experience with each story clip or "transmission" playing as an intro/outro to random songs from a custom playlist I made for running. Various stability issues were also addressed, and my experience with the third time playing the game takes my recommendation from a cautious "Yes, but..." to an emphatic "Oh, definitely." There are currently 23 missions available, with a total of 30 promised for the first "season," as well as 5k and marathon training expansions (as I'd like someday to try the "couch to 5k" program, I look forward to this.) The team seems committed to supporting the project, so I am confident that an already great app will only get even better with time. As an experienced gamer, fan of the zombie genre and novice fitness enthusiast, this game hits the right notes. As the application is patched and refined, I think it'll be a great tool for my quest for  being more physically fit. After all, ZombieLand taught us that Rule #1 is: Cardio.

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Jay said...

Looks very fun. :D

UII Official said...
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