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Portabliss: The Walk


This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.

Gym memberships see a sharp spike in January, due to fitness-minded New Year's Resolutions. Gym attendance typically sees a sharp decline in March, as the Resolute realize how boring getting in shape actually is. Goals like "decrease my chance of diabetes" or "lose 10 pounds" are admirable, but often fall short of keeping people motivated to do enough exercise to attain them.

With that in mind, Six to Start has crafted The Walk, a fitness app (Android, iOS) with a more manageable intent: Get up off the couch, get moving. Not a lot, just a walk down to the corner shop, maybe, or around the block. The Walk's predecessor, Zombies, Run! cast you in the role of a survivor of the zombie apocalypse, sent out on missions to gather supplies, rescue other survivors, and unravel a larger mystery, running all the while. Not everyone can run, however, and many of those who can find the notion utterly intimidating, so The Walk is a compromise. All you have to do is walk.

The story of The Walk begins with a shady group called The Burn setting off an EMP in Inverness. A bit of mistaken identity leaves you holding a unique package that could quite literally save the world if you can manage to get it out of the city, but police have put up checkpoints everywhere and they are serious about defending those borders. A handler communicates with you via a special earpiece, giving you instructions and guiding you towards your ultimate destination. Episodes take as much as an hour to complete, and you'll receive an achievement for completing them in one go, but you can do them in whatever size chunk you like. Story-advancing audio clips unlock every few minutes, so even short jaunts feel worthwhile. The Walk's goal is to increase the amount you walk every day, easing you into a more healthy lifestyle; I haven't had it for long, but can vouch for its ability to suck you into its narrative.

You can watch your progress on an overhead map, unlocking scenery items mentioned in the story by tapping small squares on the screen as you pass them on your route. Choosing longer, more out of the way paths will reward you with collectibles that fill in a bit of back story or add to the world's lore in some way, and snagging everything in a chapter gets you yet another achievement. The visuals aren't particularly interesting, but you're not really meant to be looking at them for long. Unlike Zombies, Run!, which integrated your playlist into the story's audio, The Walk isn't something you're meant to pay attention to the entire time you're moving. It's best suited to urban commuters, hoofing it from subway to work, or students ambling across campus. The Walk acts as a pedometer, measuring how much time you spend walking, then applying that to the mission you're currently on. The best way to experience The Walk is to turn it on, go about your business, get to your destination, check in with your progress, listen to the audio clips you've unlocked, and put it away again.

The Walk's story and rapid rewards do a good job of encouraging you to keep going, and more importantly, the app makes you mindful of how inert you are over the course of your day. The one big downside to The Walk is that you can't turn off the app mid-chapter or you'll lose your progress in the current mission, and keeping it running in the background drains your battery. Not dramatically, but if you're hitting Twitter or texting friends over the course of the day while The Walk is active, you'll notice the hit on your battery life. The solution is simply to finish off missions in one fell swoop, and a slider allows you increase or decrease the amount of time it takes to complete an episode.

The Walk probably isn't enough by itself to get you active, but for those already interested in being less sedentary, it's a fun way to track your progress and feel good about whatever movement you've managed to squeeze into your day. If you already do a lot of walking or use a pedometer, The Walk's story and awards spice up your step-tracking with some danger and intrigue: Who are The Burn? What's in the package? What on earth is a curly wurly and why would I want one?
This review is based an iTunes download of The Walk, provided by Six to Start.

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