Posted by Kell Andersen
The running dead
The endless runner and the zombie are seemingly at opposite ends of the video game spectrum. The former is reserved almost exclusively for smartphone-fuelled exercises in mediocrity, while the latter is usually deployed only in the hardest of hardcore horror games. With ZRun, Beatshapers has attempted to reconcile these two warring ideals, but the Ukraine-based studio has unfortunately been largely unsuccessful in this endeavour.
In a world infested with millions of mindless zombies, there is really only one thing left to do: run. And, unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what you’ll do in this PlayStation Vita exclusive. The campaign sees you attempting to escape from an infested Japanese city, choosing from several different routes through its savage streets.
As you continuously run, hordes of the living dead will attempt to waylay you, but fortunately you’re much more mobile than your repulsive and rotting rivals. By using slide, dodge, and jump manoeuvres, you can quickly outsmart your opponents. However, too many acrobatic affectations will deplete your stamina bar, rendering you helpless. Similarly, if you take too many hits, you’ll quickly lose out. Thankfully, healing soda cans are liberally strewn throughout the levels, meaning that you’ll rarely be wanting for either of these two resources.
Admittedly, dodging between large groups of the undead can sometimes be fairly satisfying, but it’s nothing we’ve not seen carried out with much more competence elsewhere. There’s also an endless running mode, but the insipid mechanics really aren’t interesting enough to warrant anything longer than the campaign levels.
Attempts are made at fleshing out this tired mechanic, to wildly varying levels of success. For instance, the title features a levelling system which allows you to claim various stat boosts. It’s a neat little twist, but the game really isn’t hard enough to warrant putting any serious strategic thought into which categories you plan to level up.
There are also several weapons to be found throughout the runner’s 40 odd levels, theoretically allowing you to bring the smack down to your undead adversaries. In reality, the weapons are maddeningly unwieldy, and essentially useless. In almost all instances, we found ourselves happily using the aforementioned slide to dodge the monstrous horde; there's really no point in attacking your enemies when you can just as easily escape their advances wholesale.
The biggest problem here, though, is in the title’s frustratingly slow pace. Runners ought to be predominantly about a visceral and tangible sense of speed, but Beatshapers' latest is unfortunately far too slow for its own good. There’s just no sense of urgency, and your character’s highly simplistic and uninspired animations do nothing to help remedy this problem.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game is very short. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if there was a bit more variety in the gameplay, but after a couple of levels, you’ll just be going through the motions. What’s more, while the visuals are actually quite solid, nearly all of the levels look exactly the same. Indeed, you’ll find yourself making your merry way down the same few stretches of zombie-ridden real estate numerous times, with only minor alterations to the enemy placement.
When it comes to the musical accompaniment, things are similarly bleak. Ranging from John Carpenter-esque synch rockers to chugging metal monstrosities, the soundtrack is appropriate, but only just bearable, and you’ll probably find yourself muting it more often than not. Oddly, there are some menus in the game that don’t even have music playing in the background. Obviously a lack of sonic stimulation isn’t a total deal breaker, but it definitely speaks to the wider issue of the game’s lack of polish.
With bland gameplay and an alarmingly short running time, ZRun fails to live up to any promise it may have had. While a certain measure of fun can be gleaned from its simple mechanics, the monotonous visuals and overall lack of polish mean that you’ll probably wish that this lumbering undead monster had stayed six feet under.