I Am Runner Five

My skin prickles. I can feel each individual hair on the back of my neck start to lift, and I know something is up. My senses go into overdrive, and my feet start to hesitate. And then I hear it. The low, guttural, throaty moan. All of my training has lead to this and, without hesitation, I sprint forward and turn to fire. But there is no gun at my hip. There’s nothing. I am cold, exposed and alone. Experience has told me that there’s never just one, and instinct takes over; I run.  Only, in reality, there aren’t any zombies. I’m not really out on a supply run, and the town of Abel is only part of a story fed to me through my headphones. And yet, here I am, running as though my life depends on it, through the pissing rain. Why is this phone app changing my life? Because it’s a really addictive game.

Those who know me will know that I have a special love in my heart for zombies. Left 4 Dead, to this day, remains one of my most enjoyed multiplayer games, and I even based my university dissertation on it. So when I heard of the chance to ‘play it’ for real (minus the guns and pill hoarding counterparts) I couldn’t help but jump at the chance. Zombies, Run! both scratched a gaming itch, and helped me to turn my life around.

By this point you’re asking yourself what a fitness app has to do with gaming, right? Well, that’s the thing. Zombies, Run! is both. It’s no different to fitness games that you get on the Wii, only instead of jogging on the spot in your living room through a computer generated park, you’re outside in the elements. I get back from a run covered in mud, water and all manners of mess (I like to run through a nature reserve for added authenticity), but I’ve also progressed further in the story and unlocked the next chapter. Sure, you actually have to run, but as you’re running you’re unlocking further parts of the game. You’re collecting items that can go towards the building of Abel – the town in which you’ve found yourself residing.

And herein lies the cool part. You actually build the town. It’s nothing fancy – just a basic town-building sim type thing on your phone, but while I’m building comms towers and housing, all I can think is ‘if I run a little longer next time, I’ll be able to expand the town’. It’s genius. Where in other games, Jurassic Park Builder for example, I’ve only been able to afford new dinosaurs/food through tapping the screen and collecting coins, or waiting for something to build; here I am actually earning it for myself, and the sense of accomplishment is just amazing.

It’s not just the in-app town builder that’s addictive either – the story is fantastic and incredibly engaging, the acting so believable, and the ‘gameplay’ immersive. I could be running along a packed motorway, surrounded by traffic, and yet when I hear a voice crackle in telling me of the fuel dump up ahead and the twenty zoms behind, I am alone in the abandoned wilderness and given that shot of adrenaline necessary to pick up my feet and shift forward.

Were it a console game, I don’t think I’d be able to easily turn it off and walk away.  But here’s the rub – if it came to playing it on a next-gen console with the highest graphics known, a warm blanket and bowl of popcorn, and actually getting up and outside, I’d choose the outside every time. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sofa session with a controller in one hand and snacks in another, but imagining yourself escaping zombies in woodland while running through a wooded nature reserve is akin to, if not better than, the first time I played Borderlands in HD. It may just be me, but feeling that rush for real – seeing the trees rustle and feeling the pang of fear as you hear the groans getting ever closer. It may not be the console make or break game, but I’m going to be ploughing many hours into Zombies, Run! in the foreseeable future, and I am perfectly okay with this.

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