I love it when a logo explains it all.

You put on your shoes, and turn on the app. In the background, you hear the throaty hum of an engine and the voice of a pilot speaking into her comm. As you walk out the door, she tells you that you're on a mission. She doesn't know what kind, and she doesn't seem to care, either. Your target is Abel Township, one of the last two remaining strongholds within 100 miles of this area. This is weeks, maybe years after a zombie d-day. Right as you hit outdoors and start an honest jog, the story takes a turn. A missile slams into the helicopter. You hear the crunch of metal, warning beacons, and gears grinding.

You're three miles out of Abel, and maybe a quarter of a mile out on your run. You're told to jump, so you do. And then you hear the groans of the undead.

Horror and athletics don't usually mix, but with a heaping of pure passion, these two things can gel just as well as sweat and iron. Zombies, Run, is an exciting fitness app from London-based studio Six to Start. Its goal is to tell you the story of a fractured world as you jog, and put you firmly in the thick of it. You participate as a silent and athletically gifted protagonist that the survivors of Abel dub "Runner 5." Runners have a single job: run -- run to find new materials, or pick up packages, or trade with others. Each mission in the game presents a new piece of scripted story. Each segment is broken into chunks that are cleverly bookended by your own workout playlists.

The stylish Zombies, Run! poster that was given to its backers on Kickstarter.

The effect is sort of like what would happen if Stephen King's The Mist 3-D ever melded with Nike Plus. The narrators, who hiss into different sides of your earbuds as you run, provide a rough context as to where you are and what you need to do. They bump out pieces of story intermittently, as you picture wandering through the bowels of a messed up hospital or explore an air drop outside of Abel base. After each mission, the app turns into something similar to Fallout’s radio stations; it plays your music alongside radio-style commentary and news from two Abel survivors.

There's a much more mechanical game part to Zombies, Run, too. As you run, you'll pick up items that can be used to boost Abel Township's hospital, food stores, communication station, armory, residential areas, or recreational facilities. It's a simple mechanic, but it feels like a treat after an awesome run.

Sometimes, you'll hear the groans of the undead in your ear and have to run faster in the real world to get away from the game's zombies. This specific part of the experience is its interval training, which is an important element that sets this apart. Most fitness games are horrible at getting you to new heights. Even the good ones like EA Active are bad at this. Band exercises have limitations, and running in place isn’t going to get your bigger or stronger or faster. Pushing yourself safely with intervals in a real world scenario is an important component to any kind of serious training, and Zombies, Run has that.

That’s a great element, but what I really think makes Zombies, Run work, and work so well, is its soul. The studio has one experienced runner with a history of using fitness apps and a staff filled with people who dig and understand proper storytelling. They want to deliver something special. As an organization, Six to Start seems like the perfect fit for this kind of app.

The Origin

Adrian Hon is one of the brains behind Zombies, Run. He’s the runner of the office. He tells me that he's wanted a better kind of running game since the iPhone made its debut. He's used a lot running apps, like Nike Plus and Runkeeper, as well as a couple of more visual-oriented apps. The problem he sees with these apps is legion. Running while looking at a screen is dangerous, stopping to see your progress is counterproductive, GPS can send you to bad places, and there's not an element of fun.

Hon says he used to hate running when he was younger. He, literally, "Couldn't think of a worse thing to do." This all changed when he discovered Garmin GPS, which added an element of fun to the mix. Because of this app, he still runs, although its more of a seasonal thing because no-one likes getting out on ice.

There's a Zombies, Run store that sells these.

"One of the things I really liked about the Garmin was the 'ghost mode,' where you could race against yourself." Hon says. "It made me think there was quite a lot that could be done with fitness games. And I think that physical activity -- and of course, sports -- is inherently fun and good, so it really shouldn't be that hard to make a game out of them." He laments what studios are doing now with their fitness games.

"However, developers have been more focused on the more reliably profitable, yet massively competitive, genres of casual games lately. And more experimental folk find it more difficult to combine tech and physical interaction in a way that doesn't make you want to shoot yourself when you try to play."

Zombies, Run was the answer to Hon's issues with fitness apps and a riff on Ghost mode. It's a viable one, too, because it treats your phone as if it were an iPod Nano. It only spits out audio when you select a mission, and it never asks you to take a gander at it while you exercise. Aside from random zombie horde events, it also lets you decide when you want to push yourself. A lot of fitness games, if they're not taxing, they're just screaming at you. It can be a really counterproductive factor in a workout. It's easier to get hurt this way. Zombies, Run allows you to take care of your body while also torturing your mind.

Zombies, Run was a project that floated around in Hon's head since his Garmin days. He and Six To Start had a lot of ideas bouncing around, but they settled on this one, as it artfully combines super simple play alongside an actual story. The narrative is something Hon obviously enjoys, too. "It's a shame that so few developers have made more than a token effort to put proper stories in their games," Hon says. "I understand that Triple Town and Bejeweled don't need stories, but then again, I quite liked Puzzle Quest, so there's a lot of room in mobile for innovation, but we're still seeing the same old stuff, even from indie developers."

This is the first promotional image for the game on the App Store.

Six to Start is all about story. If it isn’t obvious from the fact that it created an audio-based running game about the end of the world, check out its web site.

"We are next-gen storytellers," the studio proudly states. "Great storytelling and great gameplay is at the heart of what we do. Storytelling is a huge part of the world’s culture, and great stories have always had the ability to move and excite us, whatever the medium. Play means a lot to us, too. We draw inspiration from video games, boardgames, casual games and playful applications and services."

Six To Start believes that through play, people can learn and discover new experiences. When story and play are combined, it gives Six to Start "the opportunity to deeply engage with our audience get them to do new things -- as a large single group or individually." It's getting me to run away from zombies, and think about the world they exist in as I kill my body, so this place is obviously doing something right.

Six To Start and Hon's baby became 3,464 people's baby, too. Zombies, Run was funded via Kickstarter. The team put up the game's idea, asked for $12,500 and then received over $70,000 in return. The project was funded in six days alone. Backers received all sorts of neat prizes, including their names in the game's credits, a poster, or the chance to name something in the game after themselves.

Hon has prior experience with Kickstarter, so it wasn't a big moment when the idea of putting Zombies, Run on the popular crowd-funding service came to him. However, the decision was also a great way to vet the game's core idea. "Plus, we thought that the public would be easier to convince Zombies, Run was a good idea than the usual gatekeepers."

Everyday I Hear Zombies Moan

I usually stick to high-impact weight lifting. I don't run because I'm afraid that I'll lose my precious muscle mass. Call it a tic. The truly awesome thing about this app is that it is capable of embracing your routine, no matter how weird it is. I normally use the elliptical for my needs, for example, and I can use Zombies, Run. All I have to do is turn off the GPS features and turn on its experimental accelerometer functionality and I can play just like a runner might. Conversely, I can also just chill with it, and listen to the story, although this method isn’t preferable.

I'm taking Zombies, Run into the gym every day. That's huge because it's proving to be a tool. On my calf and thigh days, it's pushing me, reminding me not to fall into casual or relaxed grooves. I need that because I’m usually only interested in sweating if I’m lifting something spectacularly heavy.

I guess games end up changing a lot when the budget suddenly skyrockets.

Plus, the story is tremendously well told. This isn’t a blown-up, bombastic tale of a few survivors just making do. There’s subtlety to its characters and its world, and just like The Walking Dead, there are moments of intense action, bookended by periods of drama and character building. Zombies, Run wants to actually tell you a story. It isn’t afraid to do so, and that comes across, even if you might be slightly too tired to care in sections. I never feel like an idiot while listening to it, either. It’s told with a straight face and with enough touch to make it feel like an honest story, and not just some weird nerd fantasy running app. There’s interesting stuff tucked into each mission -- stuff you want to tune in order to learn more about the world Six to Start is building.

Also, of note, this isn’t a trainer. It doesn’t scream at you. It might nudge you with the zombie horde attacks, but the app doesn’t get in your face. It let’s you do your own thing in your own way. It was designed specifically to do this.

"We want to enhance people's lives by making their workouts fun, not turn into nagging machines," says Naomi Alderman, the writer of Zombies, Run. Mission accomplished, I think.

Zombies, Run is available now on the App Store for $7.99. An Android version is coming down the pipes, too. Currently, the game has a total of 20 missions. More missions are slated to come down the line as IAP. Check it out if it even vaguely interests you. I think you'll be surprised by its purity -- and its scares.

  • http://twitter.com/mtkr Mary

    I used it for the first time last night and loved it. There are still a few minor bugs to work out, like you sometimes can't understand what it's saying when you are picking stuff up along the way. But the main storyline comes through loud and clear. I can't wait to get back out there to find out what happens next.

    • http://twitter.com/Merekdavis Merek Davis

      Everyone dies.  Disclaimer: I'm fat.

  • http://twitter.com/Neumannium Dave Neumann

    How useful would this be to someone who is just starting to run?  I just started the couch to 5k program, so running for me now consists of run for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds kind of stuff.  Is this app going to freak out because I'm only walking, or will it still work?

    • http://twitter.com/daroga28 Tim Shrimpton

      Not even a little bit.  I'm the opposite of a runner, and this app has gotten me to do several amazing workouts on the elliptical thus far.  I'd recommend it to anyone if, for no other reason, than to keep you motivated to do the work with a little bit of a game to go along with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neal-L-Ensor/1664689766 Neal L Ensor

    I love the concept, but the price is a little high for me.  I would have jumped on it at $4.99 probably, but this is double what I generally give up for impulse apps.  Especially considering future story is going to be IAP on top of that?

    • http://twitter.com/aquaristocrat Aquaristocrat

      I've played through quite a few missions now. The story is great and the characters are wonderful. I usually run a few times a week but this app has made me get out every day since release. Just think - you probably wouldn't think twice about spending $8 on a book, a meal or a movie ticket. Zombies, Run will last longer and get you fitter than any of these!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

        book is physical and resellable, the overhead on a game vs food is huge (and food happens to be a necessity), and a movie is most often going to cost a lot more than this game to make. I wish people would drop that tired argument.

        Your case would have SOME legs were it not for the 800-lb gorilla fact that there are tons of cheaper iOS games with the same or better value.

      • http://www.aprilmaclean.com/ April MacLean

        Yaaa...you may want to consider a good cup of tea.

  • UnderSiege2

    Looks interesting. Logo makes me think of D.R.I.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fatthunder Ryan Orlando

    As someone that runs 4-5 times a week, I more than likely only be using it as my fun run day once a week. It still feels a bit pricey. That and the fact that it does not keep track of  any run data or record it.

    I like to be able to see my times improving. Or to know if I am slowing down or speeding up off of my pace a bit.  I would also like to be able to keep a record of the distance and time it took.  This app just feels like an audio book with some creative ways to get me to sprint, which only ended up happening twice in a 3.5 mile run for about 20 seconds.

    • http://twitter.com/angeftw Ange La Chin

      As someone that runs 4-5 times a week, you're probably not exactly the target market of Zombies, Run!  Your wishlist for the game (that's right, this is meant to be for FUN first and foremost) sounds right up Runkeeper's alley.  I wonder if you could start a Runkeeper session at the same time as a ZR one?

      For those of us who are just starting out with running/walking/regular exercise, and who still understand the desire to get stuck into a game for the sake of immersing oneself in a fictional world if only as a means of temporary escape from the real one, consider giving Zombies, Run! a try.  If you're the sort of person who finds stats a la Runkeeper and nagging a la Nike+ not quite your bag, the money is worth it if you can even put a price on fun and fitness.

      As for me, I'm not a frequent runner, and although I exercise about 4-5 times a week I find it hard to maintain a regular habit of running.  I've trained in the past for multiple half-marathons, and have to run every now and then for work (I'm serving full time in the military), but it's hard to make running fun enough to do it when I really don't feel like it.

      For those who do end up taking a chance on Zombies, Run! despite the relatively high price for an app, all the best to you. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6706174 Jared Castello

    Considering they raised $70k on Kickstarter (and probably didn't use the full amount on this project), you think they could have offered the game at a lower price than $7.99...

  • jeffyg3

    I think they should make it so that if you buy the $25 T-Shirt, you get a promo code for the game to go along with it. That would be great advertising as a lot more people would probably buy that shirt and wear it around and advertise it, more people would have it due to the combo pack, and I would have been totally down for that..totally :)

    • Telltales

      I second this motion

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    My first thought was whether this can also be "Zombies, Walk!" as I'm not a runner and never expect to be since, frankly, I hate it (I flunked running in junior high -- true story).  But walking I like. :-)

    I'm not sure how I manage to escape from the zombies if I walk to Abel, but looking at the website it sounds like you can use it at any speed, including walking.

    Question: how is the length (in time and/or distance) of the workouts set?  Can you set the length you want when you start a mission?  Can you do part of a mission and then finish the rest later?

    • http://reiseohneende.blogspot.com Reise-ohne-Ende

      Yeah, it definitely still works with walking.  They do say "run" and "jog" sometimes, but when I'm tired I just interpret that as "walk fast", lol. :D  As for the length, I think they're generally 25-35 minutes, depending on the length of your music tracks. You can pause missions, and also if you continue your workout after the mission is complete, it switches over into 'radio mode' with two post-apocalyptic DJ's throwing in a little banter during your playlist.

      I'm a huge fan of this app, as you can probably tell^^

      • http://twitter.com/jengrunwald Jen Grünwald

        I freakin' love those DJ dudes! (Though of course, I'm blanking on their names right now.)

  • Jen Budnick

    I only have an iPod Touch w/o wi fi outside my house.  Will this work for me?  It looks interesting & fun.

    • Justln Mo

      Zombies, Run! can use the accelerometer instead of GPS but you can't enable zombies mob with it on. 
      You can try emailing them for more info at 
      orders@zombiesrungame.com

  • Swampthing

     I see LEGAL TROUBLE coming.  I don't think the Developers ever successfully answered how they chose the exact same name and concept of an EXISTING ANDROID APP.  A comment was posted on their page which they ignored.  Too many similarities to be coincidences IMHO...  Watch for yourself:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhqn1PHMTZY&feature=youtu.be

  • Swampthing

    How long before we these two developers start slugging it out in court?  Two developers come up with the exact same concept and the exact name but release two products on two different platforms.  When someone mentioned the already existing Android App on the iPhone developer's Kickstarter website and asked about the similarities, they got no answer.  http://www.lifeofandroid.com/news_detail/video-zombies-run-android-app-to-provide-apocalypse-themed-workout/

  • http://twitter.com/Swampthing Swampthing

    There is already an existing Android app with the exact same name, exact same concept for several years now.  Just Google it.  How long before they slug it out in court?  When this developer was asked about the similarities on their Kickstarter web page, they ignored the comment and left it unanswered. It would have been nice if Touch Arcade had dug a little deeper into the true "history" of this app, and asked them about the amazingly similar name and theme.

  • Rob Cunningham

    What about those of us who prefer to bicycle? Is there a mode for that?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ken.hanson Ken Hanson

      Hey Rob, just got done trying the app tonight while riding with a friend. It was SO fun, and I definitely got eaten by zombies once (which resulted in losing gear I had picked up along the cycle). At one point, right before being eaten, I'm screaming at my cycling partner "GO GO GO!" because we were trying to stay together as a team haha. GPS + Zombie Attacks are a 100% go for cycling! Just translate "RUN!" for "PEDAL REALLY FAST!" haha. I think it may look at your pace and adjust the zombie attacks accordingly? Not sure TBH, but I loved it!

  • http://twitter.com/jengrunwald Jen Grünwald

    I absolutely love this app! The actors are fantastic and the story is fun! So far my favourite are the Abel Radio guys!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IXATCAC6GBEC6IVVHUPBGUAJLY Robert

    The opportunities to build on this app are amazing.  As Ryan said above, being able to track & monitor data would be a big bonus.  Now imagine that your city has a number of runners (some are injured, some are good, some are just slow walkers) that you are ranked with.  They track your performance and you move up in the ranks with some sort of reward.  Runner 5, you'v been out for over a week and frankly we've lost people.  Let's start you out slow today with something easy... or Runner 5 you've logged 25 miles this week and we think you're ready for something big!  Not to mentioned if they could use the GPS together with real data to start adding story to real locations on your run. Okay, maybe I'm dreaming but let's have more before we're overrun.

  • A G

    How does the app know that you are running quickly if you use an ellyptical?