Here’s some Murphy’s Law for you: Your helicopter has crashed in a cornfield in the middle of god-knows-where. You’ve survived, but it’s cold as heck and there are zombies everywhere. With no end to the rural sprawl in sight you sprint forward, dodging undead assailants and hoping there’s an end somewhere beyond the rows.
Well, kind pilot, Into the Dead makes no bones about the end of your short, sad life. You will die. The only questions are how long you’ll survive and how many zombies you’ll take down along the way. Games in the runner genre generally aren’t my favorite, but one did enough things right to keep me hooked — something hard for a game to do to this jaded old reviewer. If you like mobile gaming at all I suspect you’ll get a good kick out of it, too.
Beautiful Final Seconds
The game’s commitment to quality art direction shows from the start. Everything from dev logos to menu screens to the game itself shows a lot of visual flair. Sprinting through the fields and forests that make the game’s landscape was a smooth, beautiful experience on my Galaxy S III and an above-average one on my Iconia Tab, especially considering the number of zombies it puts on the screen at once. This is due in part to the developer PikPok’s creative use of fog, which works well with the whole “dystopian rural farm” theme so well it looks more like an art decision than a foil for technical limitations. I can only hope the genius who suggested the early-morning sky color got a nice bonus. Things would look a lot less creepy if you had to cut through the mist under an afternoon sun.
If the visuals have a weakness it comes by way of model quality. As good as the background looks, the zombies populating it look like they could have shambled straight off an N64 game from up close. The people behind the game made another smart decision in limiting the amount of time you see a full-fledged brain-muncher, however, which helps negate the effect; usually you only see your assailant a fraction of a second before his head goes offscreen or vanishes under a blood splatter. They still don’t look good up close, but it’s good to see a developer work with the platform’s weaknesses so creatively.
A Solid Core
The same dedication to craft is immediately apparent in Into the Dead’s gameplay. Instead of cramming features to go with the way-above-average graphics, PikPok — and yes, I do realize what a dork I’m going to sound like here, thanks — lets the simple stuff speak for itself. In less embarrassing terms: All you do is run forward, shoot, and dodge zombies, and it’s fun as heck. Expansive control options mean everyone from joystick-and-button fans to tilt-the-screen masochists can slay zombies in a way that best suits their needs. Ping-ponging off the undead is incredibly stressful when you’re close to a high score, but it never feels cheap.
Even better, the game’s three modes (Classic, Massacre, and Hardcore) cater to all types of runner fans. Classic, of course, works as a standard runner and judges you on the distance you cover before becoming a dead guy’s lunch. Massacre counts kills instead. Hardcore goes back to running and adds a bunch of straight-up nasty little curves like randomized ammo in gun pickups and thicker zombie coverage. It’s hard to get bored when you can get achievements and win currency from killing or running depending on your mood.
Pro Zombie-Slaying Equipment
Ready for another gushy paragraph? Good, because I got one right here: The armory is awesome, with eight distinct firearms like rifles and machine guns plus a chainsaw. There’s some solid balancing, too: My opinion of the combat was not nearly so glowing when I unlocked the first item, a pistol, but each successive upgrade made things a little more fun. Three weapons later I found the shotgun and instantly understood the vast strategic differences… and found myself a little sad that more games didn’t progress their unlocks in such a way. Many titles on the mobile platform save the good weapons for those with enough time or money to amass an insane amount of in-game currency. I’d be lying if I said the game didn’t feel like a pocket-grab towards the end of the gun unlocks, however (See below). You just get access to a fair number of weapons before it reaches that stage.
Always A Catch
Yes, kind reader, I do have one semi-serious complaint. The game’s achievement system is relatively fair… at first. Right around the time you get your bearings it becomes a whole lot less so. Something about the spike in both numbers and content irked me with their blatancy. I can see running X miles or killing Y zombies, sure. Beating your distance record five times in a row is a whole lot worse to the point of being unbearable when you’re deep in the game and you know you’ve pretty much peaked. The same thing applies to challenges like the ones asking you to go a certain distance without killing. By the time you hit two-thirds completion the motive goes from obvious but acceptable to insulting.
The Awesome Dead
Go download this title now. No, seriously. This game is so good it practically forces you to sound like a shill when you describe it. I don’t care if you love runners or think they’re the plague of the Play Store. Seek it out, download it, and give it a play. If you like zombies, guns, running, fields, helicopters, or pretty much anything else you’re going to love it. If you hate all those things you’re still going to love it. If you hate fun you’re still going to love it. Just pack a wallet if you lack self-control. Those final levels are a beast.