If there is anything to be said about Z-Run, it’s that it’s certainly eye-catching. As such, this zombie-themed endless runner with nice graphics and a great soundtrack will certainly get crowds around your PlayStation Vita. It’s a shame, then, that the appeal doesn’t last long at all.
You have to avoid zombies, vehicles and obstacles on an unstoppable run forwards – that just about sums up Z-Run. There is no plot to speak of and there are two playable characters – Alex and Claire, very Caucasian-looking people, who are, for some reason, running through the zombie-infested streets of an East Asian city. That’s it. You select “New Game” and you start running.
The problem is that this, the core of the entire game, simply isn’t satisfying. Instead of actually running, awkward animations make your character look like he’s jogging clumsily. There’s just no sense of speed or manoeuvrability, and as a result the game feels maddeningly dull.
Sprinting, jumping, sliding, rolling, attacking – every action you carry out requires stamina, represented by a blue bar at the bottom of the screen. The red bar next to it is your health, which at the start of the game can be wiped out with just a few zombie hits, making the opening couple of levels tough to get through. Pick-ups of various sizes refill different amounts of each bar, but they don’t do enough to solve this early problem.
The stamina system makes sense, and it adds a slightly strategic nuance to the gameplay, but more often than not it simply gets in the way of the fun. Considering how much you depend on it to do pretty much everything in the game, often you will deplete the bar entirely and leave yourself a sluggish, inoperable mess. The character slows to a crawl, unable to perform any basic evasive actions, the zombies swarm in and it’s Game Over in seconds. It becomes an arduous task of micromanagement as you try to survive until the end.
Using the Vita’s touchscreen to wipe away the blood left by fallen zombies is a nice idea, although it results in far too many cheap deaths where you are trying to juggle movement, attacks and dragging your thumb across the screen. Before long I gave up on trying to attack the zombies. It drains so much stamina and impedes so much of your vision that the extra few points at the end of the level just aren’t worth the liability.
Blunt weapons, blades, firearms and crossbows make up the wide selection of weapons, although the aforementioned slide and roll actions already allow your character to dive past unscathed. Gradually more difficult zombie types are introduced to keep things interesting, but the formula doesn’t really change.
Indiscernible “upgrade points” help boost your stamina and health levels, your weapon effectiveness, and how many items you can carry amongst other things, but it is not clear how exactly upgrade points are earned apart from an arbitrary XP number.
On the other hand, while its graphics are nice, the game’s three different environments all look exactly the same. You can choose to take different routes around the city which offers the slightest hint of choice, but the differences between the areas are so negligible that there’s almost no point in doing so.
Although the rock-inspired soundtrack suits the game well, some of the zombies’ more laughable death cries sound like they were taken from a pissed off cat. The music also suddenly and roughly cuts out as soon as a level finishes – something which never stops being jarring. Rocking up to an undeterminable finish line, then being treated with a burst of silence just doesn’t sit well, and it’s bewildering as to why the soundtrack wasn’t carried over to the menu screens.
The zombie designs are basic, but serve their purpose. The levels are far too dark and offer no variety. The simple gameplay mechanics are immediately gratifying but quickly become a chore to manage. It’s not like there’s anything overtly bad about Z-Run, but it doesn’t manage to do anything particularly well either.
This review is based on the PS Vita title, which we were provided with.
In trying to combine the challenge of a zombie apocalypse and the accessibility of a smartphone-esque endless runner, Z-Run developer Beatshapers has touched on an idea full of potential but lacking in performance.