When I was asked to review Into the Dead, I wasn't terribly keen. If the title doesn't make it clear enough, the logo and app store art make it pretty damn clear that New Zealand developer PikPok's latest iOS creation contains zombies. A lot of zombies.
I'm not opposed to zombies as a concept. I loved Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide, and Capcom's Dead Rising 2 filled me with zombie-slashing glee. However, zombie games are ludicrously overdone as a concept. It's got to the point where zombies are almost a requirement in any game, whether zombie-related or not - just look at Mass Effect, XCOM, or Saints Row III, all of which shoehorn in zombies or zombie-like creatures. Zombies are as stale as their own rotting flesh, and I'm sick and tired of them. Or so I thought.
Wellington-based developer PikPok's Into the Dead is one of the best mobile games I've ever played. While it doesn't really freshen up the zombie concept, it does make excellent use of the shambling monstrosities. This is not a zombie game for the sake of it, where swapping out the zombies for any other creature would work equally well. No, Into the Dead is the best kind of zombie game, despite - or perhaps because of - its exceptionally simple mechanic and lack of plot.
In Into the Dead, you start facing a helicopter crash. It's first-person, rendered in pretty good 3D. The fact that it's nighttime probably helps with that - reaching a 'pretty good' level of graphics requires a lot less detail and accuracy when it's dark. Anyway, helicopter crash. Zombies everywhere. Silly zombies, helicopters don't have brains. Oh wait, you have a brain. Well, damn. You turn, and you run.
You have precisely two controls at the beginning of the game: veer left, and veer right. You can never turn around completely - you're always running toward a radio tower in the distance. There are several available control schemes, but I found the accelerometer controls worked best on my iPad Mini. Leaning left or right is the closest to how you'd actually veer to the side whilst running at full clip, and it feels incredibly natural.
There are zombies everywhere. Your goal is to veer around them, and run as far as you can. If you run directly into a zombie, they will eat your face, and you will lose the game. There's no health, or lives... having your face eaten once is a pretty clear game-over sign. I mean, you only have the one face.
Weapons caches marked with burning flares are spotted around the place - there aren't many of them, and the weapons you can pick up have limited ammunition. The first weapon you have access to is a semi-automatic pistol - additional weapons are unlocked by completing gameplay challenges, or can be unlocked early via in-game purchases.
Tapping the screen fires the weapon directly in front of you - there's no free-aiming, you just run directly toward a zombie and make sure you take them down before you barge into them and lose your delicious brain. Once the ammunition is gone, you drop the weapon - no inventory system here.
After each run, you're awarded in-game credit based on how far you travelled with an intact face. That credit can be spent on perks, which make your run easier - such as a 'head start' (beginning the run 1500 metres from the chopper), starting with a weapon, or the ability to carry a bit more ammunition than usual.
Altogether, graphics are great, the price is right (free, with the option of fairly-priced in-game purchases), and gameplay is enjoyable and fluid. It's pretty much 'free-running with zombies'. If that's not the best thing you've ever heard of, you should probably seek medical attention.