Saturday, August 8, 2015

Inventory Item: Zombies Run: Couch to 5K and Season 4

Zombies, Run! from Six to Start was, in many ways, my gateway into health, and my experience with it is part of why I created this blog. Zombies, Run! is a run tracking program as it's core--a stripped down version of Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, etc. On top of this basic feature you have two elements that make this a game. The first element is a sim-like mini game where you use the fruits of your exercise to put together a base and keep it from falling apart. The second element is that while you work out you are able to set up a playlist of music you love which is then shuffled between an evolving audio drama where you are the protagonist.

So how are the basic features, the stuff you need to actually get out and run? The app separates it's audio drama into seasons. I've been using the app since it first released and way back then it had a fair number of bugs. Now in the fourth season the game represents a massive amount of content and polish. In its current incarnation, the running features are the weakest point. To be clear it works very well at what it does, but is missing the frills of dedicated apps. We don't really have bluetooth connectivity for heart rate monitors or fitbit. There is an interval training workout, but this is a side feature and can't be used with the main plot line. Accuracy of the GPS, detail in the map, number of crashes, and flexibility of use with other apps has improved massively and I expect the last few bugs will be squished.

The base mini game uses the same kind of mechanics that has launched a thousand freemium games on the apple store--you gain resources from running and use these to make a bigger base. The bigger your base gets the cooler it looks and the more buildings you need to build to keep it up. If you wait too long between runs then the zombies will assault your base and start breaking things. This is a big draw for certain kinds of gamers, and gives the player another cue to go out and run. Just to clarify, it has a check-this-occasionally turn-based strategy feel as opposed to an arcade zombie blasting feel.

The best part of this game is hands-down the audio drama part of the game. The characters draw you into a narrative of your character being shot down in a zombie post-apocalyptic world and has to find a place in a small community. The people of Abel township are brought alive with excellent voice acting. Tensions are high right out of the gate (literally) as your efforts are the key to helping this community survive. The recent addition of "next time on Zombies, Run..." and recap features cement the urge to do another episode, worthy of a certain cable dramatic TV series. Snippets of the unfolding plot and weaved between your music, just around when you'd be getting bored. You can even elect to do zombie chases, where you have to up to pace in order to keep ahead of the moaning dead.

Overall, this app has a cocktail of features that are surprisingly addictive. That's good because the only way to access them is to get out and run. If you are living a sedentary life and looking to start running, its going to be really unpleasant to run, possibly for a long time. When I was pushing 270 pounds it was torturous at first, then it got easier by inches as the weeks went by. This app is great for giving you the slightest push to come back the next day and run, even when it's much easier not to. If I skipped a day, as silly as it sounds, I was worried about the people of Abel and knew I needed to get supplies before the next zombie attack. For me Zombies, Run! was an important part of my success in learning to run.

Though now I tend to use running apps with more features for workouts and heart rate monitoring, I still come back to this one on my easier runs. For 90% of runners, and 99% of runners going out primarily to lose weight, Zombies, Run! is a fantastic choice.

If you are interested in this application, there are two versions that you might consider:

Zombies, Run! 5K training is a good choice for a first-time runner. It doesn't have the base mini-game, but the running app and audio portions are identical. This takes you through some back story to the main game while following a plan to get you up to completing a 5K race from no experience. It does a few interesting things like getting you to play with pacing and stretches.

Zombies, Run! is the full app, and is currently free with an option to unlock all content for a subscription price. It will let you unlock one episode a week without the premium price, and you can run generic missions while you wait. This is a little slow, but there is enough content to keep you going, and there are hundreds of episodes now.

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