Just about every time I go running I swear it’ll be the last. I get rained on. I get splashed by cars. I develop blisters. My knee joints swell up. I basically fall apart like a badly-wired marionette, arriving home several orders of magnitude more decrepit than when I set out. I take off my trainers and throw them into a corner and vow that the next time I feel like getting some physical exercise I’ll look into tai chi.
Recently, however, I’ve been running a lot more than I normally would. And – in an unprecedented development – genuinely enjoying it, rain or shine. Zombies, Run! is an app that falls somewhere in between a podcast and a augmented reality game, and it actually makes running fun. Even for me.
Download the app. Set up a profile. Plug in your headphones, select an episode, and set off at a modest jog. At five minute(ish) intervals you’ll hear a series of audio segments designed to convince you that you’re running through a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by zombies rather than through a small city park on the windy side of Edinburgh. The voice you hear most often will be that of a friendly radio operator, who makes chit-chat, offers direction, and sometimes warns you of the incoming undead.
The zombies themselves are represented by a chorus of groans and moans. When they get too close, the app prompts you to pick up the pace… or face some cannibalistic consequences. For a few tense minutes you’ll be required to sprint, with either your phone’s GPS or accelerometer deciding whether you’ve done enough to outpace the horde.
I’ll say, entirely without reservation, that the first episode of Zombies, Run! is brilliant. If you only play one, make it that one. As the sole survivor of a helicopter wreck you must sprint across several kilometres of undead-infested countryside to the nearest available safe haven. It’s utterly convincing, and at times even quite scary. It’s a pure and thrilling experience.
Subsequent episodes are… a little less exciting, although the storytelling remains pretty solid throughout. Unfortunately the actual “chase” segments (when you have to run faster in order to evade capture) are random, and don’t coincide with particularly tense narrative moments. While your radio operator might tell you the “zoms” are just on your tail, you know they’re not. As such, the tension’s pretty much all over the shop.
In addition to this, between story segments Zombies, Run! defaults back to your standard playlist – which in my case was anything but mood-appropriate. One minute you’re evading zombies by the skin of your teeth, and the next you’re jogging along to fast-paced happy hardcore (it helps me run faster, don’t judge). Even suitably spooky music kills the immersion somewhat… as does the robot voice which occasionally chimes in to tell you that you’ve found some pants.
See, even as you flee the shambling dead, you’re looking to collect vital supplies. As you dash from one location to the next you’ll collect a box of batteries here and a baseball bat there. For some reason you’ll also pick up an extraordinary amount of underwear – more underwear, in fact, than food, water, fuel or power cells combined. Priorities, eh?
So, to summarise: the story segments are excellent. But what happens in between can be something of a jumbled mood killer. Zombies, Run! isn’t just about the running, though. As you warm down you can use the supplies you grabbed while out and about to build up a base (I’m picturing a military installation made entirely of underpants). Sometimes you’ll also snag articles and bits and pieces that you can read in order to deepen your understanding of the world.
Whether you’re interested in harvesting supplies or simply staying alive, Zombies, Run! is an immersive experience worth trying. Even if you’ve sworn off running for life, it’s worth dusting off your trainers and doing a few warm-up stretches just for the first nail-biting mission alone. Oh, and it’s free. What are you waiting for?