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Into the Dead review

A zombie auto-runner? Yep, sounds like the end of days.

Admittedly, the concept isn't all that promising. A zombie-themed auto-runner is an unholy union of two of the most tired trends in games right now, and that's before you consider the small matter of micro-transactions. Happily, it is a small matter thanks to sensible monetisation, while the game itself turns out to be a surprisingly smart little time-waster, suggesting someone at Pik Pok one day wondered how Left 4 Dead might play with the sprint button stuck down.

Good idea number one: it literally cuts to the chase. There's no scene-setting CGI cinematic, no comic book panels or tedious text intros to tap through. Instead, once you've hit play, there's the briefest of loads before you're stumbling to your feet, facing a crashed helicopter surrounded by the undead. You spin around and start sprinting through plains, forests and cornfields until you collide headlong with a zombie. At which point you hear the screams, guttural moans and squelchy chewing noises that mean it's game over. Three more taps and you're back in play, trying to beat your previous distance.

Your runner's panicked puffs and gasps add to the tension, particularly when you're weaving through the cornfields that frequently obscure their undead inhabitants.

Before long, you'll run into your first weapon crate, which ostensibly marks the point at which the scales are tipped in your favour. In practice - at first - it changes very little. Your starter weapon is a feeble little pistol that packs all the firepower of a NERF gun and only has a handful of bullets in the chamber. Even once you've unlocked further perks - one makes crates appear more frequently, another gives you 50 per cent more ammo - it's only ever a brief respite from the bobbing and weaving. Chainsaws and shotguns, when they arrive, offer such a cathartic release of violence that you'll probably exhaust them within seconds.

These weapons are your prizes for completing the three objectives that increase your mission rank. You might have to run a certain distance without a kill, or destroy 20 zombies with a particular weapon - a fairly uninspired selection, perhaps, but what do you expect in a game that's entirely about running and shooting? You can pay some of your in-game coins to skip any missions you don't fancy (hey, 'kill five zombies with a chainsaw while vaulting a fence' was taking a few goes too many) but it's not an unreasonable cost, and you start with a fairly generous supply of coins. Skimping on perks isn't necessary, either: a half-decent run should earn you enough for all four with change to spare.

Extrinsic motivators would mean nothing if the action wasn't up to snuff, but everything moves at a decent lick and it looks pretty good, too. The world is shrouded in a grey-green mist, which is a handy excuse to keep the draw distance fairly short so everything can motor along without any technical hitches - and it has the knock-on effect of allowing zombies to lurch up out of the fog and force a hurried shift in direction. It's forgiving of the odd misjudgement too: glance off the shoulder of a walker and you'll be jolted sideways, but the controls are responsive enough to allow you to recover easily. It's only when you run into the arms of a zombie that you'll get a screenful of the obligatory raspberry jam splatter.

As with most of its kind, it's shallow and ultimately forgettable, but it's also smarter and more generous than the average auto-runner. It does, however, raise one nagging question: if there are this many zombies ahead, wouldn't our hero be better taking his chances on the other side of the chopper?

7 / 10