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Techland started development on Dead Island in 2005, but the zombie-themed first-person action-RPG hybrid didn’t shamble onto shelves until 2011. Three years later, publisher Deep Silver has finally deigned to grace the App Store with a Mac port, but it’s no surprise that the game’s design, writing, and structure feel a bit dated almost a decade into things.
As the name suggests, Dead Island is a zombie action game set on a sprawling tropical isle called Banoi. Players split their time between a beach resort, a small city, and a research lab, but each area has an open world sensibility that allows players to explore freely and seamlessly. Banoi shows hints of being a responsive, dynamic world — if you don’t help other survivors right away, they may die before you can reach them, for example — but it’s mostly a collection of similar-looking beaches and pool bars, peppered with characters that range from stereotypical to predictable.
Enemy survival increases with difficulty level, but Banoi’s zombie denizens also respawn constantly, making it impossible to clear out oft-traveled zones permanently. This design flub is exacerbated by a constant need to backtrack. While these mechanics are a staple of the role-playing genre, here they combine tediously, and few of the quests are interesting enough to support them.
Dead Island’s enemy scaling affects its role-playing game mechanics, too. Because every enemy gets stronger alongside you, it never feels like you’re actually getting stronger, just keeping up. This takes some of the fun out of gaining new skills and weapons. Dead Island shines brightest during combat, however. Players have access to a variety of attacks and weapon types, and the game places a particular emphasis on keen aiming. It’s a fun and engaging system, even if hit points aren’t all that balanced.
From there, zombies can be poisoned, run over in a truck, set on fire, or kicked into deep water. A nice mix of enemy types, a diverse arsenal, and useful terrain give rise to interesting situations, and Dead Island’s combat stays fresh for most of its remarkably long running time. A co-op mode only makes Dead Island’s hacking and slashing better.
The bottom line. The mix of role-playing game mechanics and first-person combat doesn’t always work, but its B-movie setting and flexible combat keep things lively, even if the zombies aren’t.
OS 10.8 and newer, Intel Core i5 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M 512MB
Combat is tense and varied, with a broad set of interesting, unpredictable interactions. Exploration and online multiplayer are seamless.
Respawning enemies, fetch quests, backtracking, and mission structure make Dead Island feel tedious at times. Role-playing elements are tacked on and don’t play to the game’s strengths.