Review: AAARR! AAARRR! Kill Zombies with Zombie ShootAR.

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Zombie ShootAR (get it…AR as in Augmented Reality) is a fun and innovative first-person shooter for Smartphone that pits you against a legion of virtual zombies. You play the game by using your phone’s camera and screen to search for, shoot, chop-up or otherwise destroy the virtual zombies that appear integrated into your surroundings via augmented reality. Just watch the video below of me playing the game at my local library if you don’t understand. Good thing it’s AR—bystanders everywhere in the library. But before you get your hopes up for rocking this little blast-fest on your iPhone, let me get this out of the way right now. This game, which officially launches today, is currently available ONLY for Nokia N95 phones via the Ovi Store. Owners of phones with operating systems like iPhone, Android or Windows Phone, will have to wait a bit longer to play. But it will be worth the wait! The game creator, a Munich based company called Metaio, plan to release this game on other platforms soon. Check back for exclusive information about that.

Why only on the N95? I’ll come back to that.

While Zombie ShootAR is definitely not the first AR game out there (see other titles like Sky Siege, and Pandemica), its concept will appeal to any enemy of the undead. Who wouldn’t want to walk around your house, street or office shooting zombies as they spawn all around you? And when I say zombies, I don’t mean the casual pre-coffee co-worker who closed down the local pub the night before. I mean actual blood thirsty, doll-eye-having, pasty, vicious zombies, visible only in the augmented reality of your Smartphone’s screen. (I guess the first version of the game was a little TOO gory and actually had to be toned down a bit. Too bad.) But what else have you got going on that you can’t spare a few moments of your time in service of all humanity with this excellent mobile “shoot-em up” game?

On a side note, as cool as Zombie ShootAR is, games like this are totally going to wreck my “gaming on the throne” column concept, because you just have to move around a lot to play them. Definitely don’t try this one on the office throne—it might get weird. At least mute the phone. I digress.

Game Dynamics
To reiterate, virtual zombies spawn all around you and as they do, you aim your phone view finder and use the phone controls to shoot them with a variety of weapons. Gradually more and more attack at the same time, so you have to pick up the pace while conserving your bullets.

There is also a convenient 360 degree targeting radar in the lower left corner to keep you informed of the whereabouts of other zombies about to attack.

Interestingly, you can’t run away from the zombies. What I mean is, once they spawn, if you back away from them, they don’t seem to get further away in space. But I guess that is just like in the movies. No one seems to be able to get away from them there either, no matter how slow they are.

User Experience
This has pros and cons. The concept is solid and honestly, it’s how we really want to play games—play them as though we are actually in the environment of the game. But from a user experience standpoint, I worry as much about looking like an idiot while playing in public as I do about arm fatigue from holding the phone up. Even considering those negatives, this concept of game play is undeniably compelling. It’s a first step in a new direction. When integrated eyewear comes along, game play will become more natural and even less transparent to others. So all your friends who irritatingly text 5 people while they are talking to you will soon be shooting zombies over your shoulder at lunch, visible only in their glasses. Nice.

Since this game has actually been available as a private, unadvertised demo for a month or so you may have seen some of the concept videos floating around out there, but today it becomes “officially” available in the Ovi store. Why the Ovi store? Originally, I postulated that it must have something to do with reach. It’s important to remember that, while we are so focused on the iPhone and Android platform here in the U.S.A, Nokia still commands 34% of worldwide handset market share. But after having a last minute conversation with Metaio CTO Peter Meier this morning, there seems to be more to it than that. This is not just a traditional mobile game launch. It’s actually bigger than that. Metaio is, admittedly, not a game company. They are a technology company first and foremost and are focused mostly on pioneering Best of Breed AR techniques. And while Zombie ShootAR may have originally been developed only for N95, due to technical reasons related to image recognition and keeping the zombies firmly planted on the ground, the game really represents an invitation for developers to take Metaio’s Junaio and Unifeye SDKs and use them to create even greater gaming experiences. We’ll see where that goes, but know that they still plan on bringing this game to iPhone and other platforms soon.

Metaio sent me a phone with the demo on it and I have to say IT ROCKED! Zombie ShootAR is the coolest mobile game I have played in some time! I can’t wait to see what’s next for this kind of mobile gaming.

Additionally, I have to admit that the immature part of my personality finds comic value just in seeing zombies alongside people in the real world. It makes me think there is still an awesome opportunity yet to be exploited by this kind of technology. The “have-your-picture-taken-with-a-Zombie” app.
Who’s with me on this one?

Anyone? Hello? Is this thing still on? Hello…

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