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Mac gaming - The state of play

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Call of Duty is undoubtedly one of the kings of the Mac gaming world. Photo / Supplied
Call of Duty is undoubtedly one of the kings of the Mac gaming world. Photo / Supplied

Apple has long been dismissed by the younger, geekier gamer set as not a decent platform for gaming. And this criticism has long held water.

Not just on game availability, but also from the pure specs/performance of Macs. For years - decades, even - PC users have been able to trick out their machines with better sound and video cards to crank games to the max, so Apple's constraint of what goes into each Mac is cited as the problem.

But it's a bit chicken and egg - if game developers took Macs more seriously, there'd be more games available, and if there were more games available, Apple might take the hardware specs more seriously. In particular, the hardware criticism is on video cards, as Apple's sound-tech is pretty good. Apple's video cards have often lagged what's available for PCs.

Now, of course, there are record numbers of people out there using Macs, so there is a market. That noted, there are certainly more games available for Macs these days, thanks to online delivery.

GameAgent

One such delivery service is GameAgent, an online portal for buying games delivered over the net from big games companies like Aspyr and Feral Interactive.

The Mac version shows Mac games you can buy for as cheap as $4.99 (Sid Meier's Civilisation V Bayblon & Nebuchadnezzar), up to more fully-fledged (and priced) games like Bioshock, US$29.99 (the prices in GameAgent display in US dollars, so CoD 4 here is not as cheap as it looks) and the Game of the Year edition of Borderlands (US39.99). But most games are around US$20, so currently under NZ$25. GameAgent is good because it gives you options with price variations, and analyses your Mac to make sure it meets the system requirements.

Steam

Another avenue is Steam, a PC delivery platform that embraced the Mac world last year. Any PC games you own, you also own for Mac if there are Mac versions, so you don't need to buy them again.

Which is good for switchers. Games are often really good buying, but you have to put up with fairly elongated download times - and on my system anyway, some stops and starts - before you can play the games you acquire this way (once loaded, they start straight away from then on).

You download Steam and use it with a free account, and it has specials and even freebies - a few weeks ago, the hit game Team Fortress 2 became free to play, for example.

Be warned, some games are PC only (but fine if you are running Windows on your Mac) and some look available but may be pre-orders - pay now and download when they become available. Others, like EDGE and Portal, get simultaneous Mac/PC releases, and there are demos available, too.

For me, the biggest problem with Steam is seeing all the great games that have not come to the Mac platform.

Mac App Store

On Apple's side, the Mac App Store has made software delivery much easier and cheaper if you have decent enough broadband (do we need to write 'if you have broadband' any more?).

To be sure, many of the games aren't exactly inspiring, compared to full-blown PC and console epics, anyway. Many are just riffs on board games, animated question-and-answer type quest/riddle games or games that look like they have been ported from legacy games and little platforms like Nintendo.

But there are a few notable exceptions - Battlestations Midway is available. This full-fledged World War Two game developed in Hungary lets you take personal control of boats and planes in the Pacific Theatre; you can also issue orders to whole fleets and squadrons of fighters and bombers. It also has a multiplayer mode. It's not bad at all, apart from having too-long cut scenes and, when you sink a ship, after the first couple of times I no longer need long-winded films of the thing sinking, I just want to get on with it.

There's also Star Wars Jedi Knight ($13.99), Lego Batman, Civilization, and games that are so cheap they're worth a look, like Time Strike ($13.99 here), as well as some galactic-style shoot-em-ups, including the eponymously named Gratuitous Space Battles (NZ$20.99 here).

It's actually hard to display and count all the games available - I tried for an A-Z list and got 36 items, but I realised Call of Duty wasn't on the list, yet if you search on that, it's there. The Mac App store doesn't seem to have the capacity to just list every single game, but I would guess there are over a hundred available.

On Call of Duty, version 1 is there too (NZ$24.99), plus Call of Duty 2 ($38.99). These are both based in World War Two, had excellent graphics when they appeared rather too many years ago, and have great multiplayer modes.

The much better Call of Duty 4 is there too - the controversial game ($64.99) is set now-ish, but even this is looking old these days when PC and consoles have had the more recent Black Ops version for ages, with no signs of a Mac version.

And if a Black Ops version did emerge in a Mac version, by then the PC/console crowd would no doubt already be embarked happily on its successor.

(If you do play Call of Duty 4 on a Mac, the Mad Macs clan plays on a private server every Wednesday night - send me an email for more info. For once you can be assured you're not playing PC users toting hacks and cheats.)

There's actually an alternative that's much cheaper - Modern Combat Domination, by Gameloft, is only $16.99 (here) and is also set now-ish, and it's okay, but doesn't come near CoD 4's graphics chops and sense of reality.

But there are many other excellent shooters and sci-fi, noire and even Western-themed games on the App Store. Check out Blitzkrieg, and the rather gorgeous X3 Terran Conflict.

So that's three online delivery models that often lets you compare prices for the best deals, and they all seem to have specials at different times, and a few good games that might really push your buttons.

iOS

I am not going to go into that here, as it deserves a post of its own, but if you know of any interesting NZ games either already developed or being developed, please let me know - and about anything else for iOS, for that matter, being developed here: I'm all ears.

If I was to sum up the Mac gaming space, I'd have to say it's not fantastic, but it's definitely a lot better than it was, having made up some lost ground. If Apple keeps almost any attention on Mac gaming, it can only get better.

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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