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Feet-on with Zombies, Run! 2 jogging game

Part RunKeeper, part "Walking Dead," this unique app turns your everyday run into a virtual run-for-your-life adventure. But is it any fun?

Zombies, Run! 2 sends you on a variety missions, then lets you use collected supplies to build and expand your base.
Zombies, Run! 2 sends you on a variety missions, then lets you use collected supplies to build and expand your base.
Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Out of steam? Can't bring yourself to finish that last mile? Maybe a zombie horde breathing down your neck will give you the adrenaline boost you need.

That's the idea behind Zombies, Run! 2 (Android | iOS), which bills itself as an "immersive running game and audio adventure" for your smartphone.

It works like this: Before you start your run, you load the app, choose a mission, put in your earbuds, and then hit the road. Along the way, you're treated to audio segments that gradually reveal the story of Abel Township and the zombie apocalypse that has runners like you on the run.

Interesting premise, no? Think RunKeeper, but with a "Walking Dead" plot woven in. Each mission has a basic goal (fetch supplies, rescue other humans, carry news to another base) directed by radio operators, with occasional shout-outs from other runners. It's all very virtual; there's nothing tied to your exact location or speed or anything like that. Basically, it's theater for your ears.

And, I'm sorry to say, mediocre theater at that. Perhaps it's because the actual "Walking Dead" set the bar so high for zombie-fueled drama, but for me, Zombies, Run! comes across as pointless, silly, and not very scary.

I base this on having run the introductory mission and listened to a couple others. Much of the radio-operator chatter is just blather, and when there's talk that does drive the plot, it's just dull. "C'mon, Runner Five, you've got to get to the hospital to retrieve the CDC files. Now go!" Try as I might, I never felt engaged by these (sorry) disembodied voices who can somehow see me and track my "location." The whole experience just felt hollow, even with the occasional zombie groans scattered in.

To make matters worse, these radio communications pop up between songs in whatever playlist you've chosen, and it's unintentionally hilarious to go from a gravely serious warning ("They're right behind you! Run as fast as you can!") to a cheery pop hit like "Boogie Shoes." Any drama or suspense that might have been established gets instantly erased when you next find yourself jamming to "Livin' La Vida Loca." (Before you laugh at my song choices, I'd just picked up this cardio collection, and it's actually really good.)

The app does offer some interesting post-run activities in the form of base-building, where you can trade supplies collected during your run for new buildings, building upgrades, and even base expansion. A bigger base means more missions, but ultimately you'll end up paying real money for them: $1.99 for a "season pass," which entitles you to all 40 Season Two missions as they're released (three per week). The game comes with over 20 missions from Season One and the first four from Season Two.

One important thing to note if you bought the first edition of the game last year: Because the whole base-builder system has been revamped, your original base and collected supplies won't transfer over. Based on the iTunes user reviews of Zombies, Run! 2, players are pretty unhappy with this outcome.

The app normally sells for $7.99, but for the next few days it's on sale for $3.99. I understand the pricing given the extensive collection of missions and the need to hire writers and voice actors to create them. Still, RunKeeper costs nothing, and if you want a story on your run, you can always listen to an audiobook, podcast, or whatever.

Make no mistake: I think this is a really cool idea, and I genuinely dig zombie drama. But Zombies, Run! made me feel bored, not motivated. Perhaps if the developers move to a freemium model, you can judge it for yourself without spending any cash.