The very concept of Running Dead almost sounds like “Game Design by Committee”. It takes several trends in modern gaming, endless runners and zombies, and blends them together. Unfortunately, it gets a few things wrong along the way and as a result doesn’t quite feel like a fully fleshed out experience.
The crux of Running Dead is indeed the running. The game places your character on a vertical path, with running room from left to right. Depending on your choice of control mechanism, you will either tilt the device left or right, or use on-screen buttons to move your character from side to side to avoid various debris such as abandoned cars, buildings, or railings. If you’re not careful to keep a good sprint by avoiding obstacles, the crowd of zombies that is constantly chasing you will catch up. If you’re caught by one of these abominations, that’s the game. As if that weren’t enough, other zombies will block your path, and you will have to use your chosen firearm to blast them before you reach them. These zombies range in difficulty from green (easy) to red (difficult) and present the most obvious sort of “gameplay” in Running Dead.
The debris laid out in your path is done so procedurally, so there’s no level design to speak of. In fact, the lack of an actual level design is probably the hardest obstacle in Running Dead to overcome, more so than the zombies you will be dropping with your weaponry. Often times you will feel trapped by the randomly laid out furniture that blocks your path, which can be incredibly frustrating. It’s hard to plan for that type of situation, but the game does the best it can with some “get out of jail free” type items such as a “Savior Shot” (turn and fire) and land mines which can help clear the zombies that sneak up on you. It helps, but these items aren’t free and can be hard to come by in the game.
There are plenty of weapons to choose from which can be acquired via an in-game currency that you will collect as you play. The currency can also be obtained via in-app purchase, and unless players want to spend hours and hours playing Running Dead, it does seem that this is what the developers intended. Some of the weapons cost way too much money and this game quite simply isn’t interesting enough for players to want to put the kind of hours in that would be required to unlock these without paying real money. There are also character upgrades you can unlock, such as the ability to carry more “savior” items, and additional character models (you have two to start with). There’s even an additional location that you can buy – a farm which changes office buildings into barns and graveyards into fields. The game doesn’t change, but the scenery does.
The presentation in Running Dead is fair, but not particularly creative. There are some cool moments, such as how the roofs of the buildings will fly off as you enter them to give you a clear view of the interior, but most of the set decoration feels like leftovers from any zombie game you’ve played over the past few years (and you’ve probably played quite a few). The audio is equally uninteresting. The best parts of the audio presentation are the weapons, which provide a satisfying explosion upon firing. Most of the rest of the audio is just zombie moans which can get old very quickly.
Running Dead isn’t a bad endless runner, and it’s in-app purchase driven economy isn’t the most egregious of those I’ve seen. The worst thing about Running Dead is that it just feels rote. It’s a crowded genre with a theme that’s been done to death (literally); and I dearly love zombie games. Running Dead doesn’t just have that tension that a zombie game requires, and what tension is there is provided by the road obstacles, not the dead come to life. It’s an average game with a slightly above-average presentation.
Running Dead is out now on iPhone and iPad for $0.99/£0.69. Get it on the