We continue our list of the best games for Mac. The next category is:
The Banner Saga
A template for how to do a lot with a little, the 3-man team behind The Banner Saga created one of the most beautiful indie games ever made. Who needs fancy 3D graphic engines when you have this kind of gorgeous hand-drawn artwork? Team Stoic has proved you don't need a monster-computer to have your breath taken away by graphics.
Visual treats aside, the core gameplay is very fun. Taking clear inspiration from the Oregon Trail (but with Vikings and monsters) you lead a caravan across a dying world in search of safety and supplies. Gameplay takes place across different sections of travel, decision-making and combat, which all blend smoothly together.
Combat is turn-based and deceptively challenging. You are free to manage your war party and different characters and classes have varying stats and special abilities. Just consider your options carefully, since a wrong choice in a decision-making phase can rob you of a major character or valuable warrior. Special mention must also be made of the music, which is haunting and epic by turns, as required.
The story is quite intriguing and the many characters are well developed. We also found the dialogue to be witty and humorous, adding some levity to the grim surroundings. The final battle and events set the stage for even more to come in chapter 2. If the 8-10 hour journey doesn't satisfy you the first time around, you can play again and make different choices, ending up with significantly different outcomes and endings. Jon Carr
Read our full review of The Banner Saga for Mac
J.U.L.I.A. Among The Stars
We missed J.U.L.I.A. Among The Stars first time around, when it was originally launched as a relatively simple puzzle game for iOS devices. However, the iOS version isn't around any more - the tale of CBE's travails with its original publisher is an epic all by itself - and the current version of the game has been updated and expanded into a more complex adventure game for Macs and Windows PCs.
You play Rachel Manners, an astrobiologist who is part of a mission sent to a newly discovered solar system that shows signs of intelligent life. But as your ship approaches its destination you are woken from cryogenic sleep to discover that the ship has been damaged and that the rest of the crew are dead. That leaves you on your own to repair the ship and then to uncover the mysteries of this new solar system.
Although J.U.L.I.A. is an adventure game, it has a wider scope than many traditional adventures. Instead of simply wandering from room to room and using the standard point-and-click control system to manipulate objects, the game also allows you to interact with J.U.L.I.A. - the ship's built-in artificial intelligence - and to control Mobot, a reconnaissance 'droid that can be sent down to explore the planet below. You can also use your computer systems to examine the solar system around you, to upgrade Mobot, or make repairs to your ship. And, of course, there's the central search for alien life that keeps the plot moving forward, eventually presenting you with a dilemma that will determine whether or not you ever return home to Earth. Cliff Joseph
Layers of Fear
Aspyr has been a mainstay of the Mac gaming scene for many years, and is responsible for bringing A-List PC titles such as the Civilization and Call Of Duty series to the Mac. However, Layers Of Fear is Aspyr's first original game, and was developed in conjunction with Polish developers Bloober Team, who claim to specialise in 'psychological horror games'.
In many ways, Layers Of Fear is a fairly conventional point-and-click adventure game, in which you take on the role of a painter who wanders around his creepy mansion as he attempts to finish his great masterpiece. And, like many adventure games, Layers Of Fear throws you in at the deep end, with little information about what's going on, or what you need to do next. That leaves you to wander from room to room, clicking on various objects that act as clues to the story that unfolds around you.
What isn't so conventional is the nightmarish atmosphere that the game conjures up during your explorations. Doors slam shut behind you, or may even vanish altogether, trapping you in a room or forcing you to keep moving forward. It's a bit tricky to discuss the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but it soon becomes apparent that there's something weird going on - either in the mansion itself, or in the mind of the painter.
Like the recent horror film, The Babadook, Layers Of Fear emphasises atmosphere over action, and may be a bit slow for people who like their horror games to come with hordes of shambling zombies. But if you enjoy the slow unfolding of more psychological horror stories then you'll find plenty of chills to savour in Layers Of Fear. Cliff Joseph
Company: Feral Interactive
Where to buy: Mac App Store | Steam
Requirements: Mac with OS X v10.11 or later, 2.0GHz dual-core Intel processor, 8GB RAM, 512MB VRAM
Price: £16 for all five episodes (first episode available for free through Steam)
At first glance, Life Is Strange looks like a fairly conventional adventure game. You play a teenage girl called Max Caulfield who is having a bit of a bad day at school. Max ducks out of class and heads to the bathroom for a time-out, and as you wander the school corridoors you can click on objects or people around you to gather information that guides you through the game. That's routine adventure stuff, but life starts to get strange when Max witnesses the murder of her friend Chloe - and discovers that she has the ability to turn back time.
Saving Chloe reveals a deeper mystery concerning a missing student called Rachel, so Max and Chloe set off to find Rachel and uncover the dark secrets of the sleepy town of Arcadia. That's straightforward enough, but Chloe's time-travelling abilities add a whole new dimension to the standard point-and-click adventure format. Sometimes a conversation with another character will reveal some useful information, allowing Chloe to go back and replay recent events so they have a different outcome. However, changing past events can have unexpected consequences, leading to some difficult - and dangerous - decisions.
The story unfolds in five separate episodes, but you can check it out for free by downloading the first episode through Steam and then deciding if you want to explore the mystery further. We enjoyed its haunting, Buffy-esque depiction of the dark side of teenage life, and our only complaint is that the keyboard-and-mouse controls felt a bit clumsy so you'll progress more smoothly if you have a proper game controller to help you out. Cliff Joseph
Generally I am not a fan of what are often termed "old-school" graphics, or pixelated games. I don't mind playing older games, but games intentionally made to look bad (i.e, pixelated) usually annoy me. But somehow this is not the case with Lone Survivor, a psychological-horror-survival game by indie Jasper Byrne.
"The masked protagonist must escape from a city ravaged by disease, by any means necessary. Starving and exhausted, he has begun to question how much of what he sees is even real."
Much of the fun from Lone Survivor comes from making your own choices as you play. Do you cautiously explore the ruined city, creeping past monsters, or do you charge forth, shooting everything in your path? Do you talk increasingly to your stuffed cat? Do you take those mysterious pills before going to sleep at night? What do those wacky dreams mean anyway?
Blending stealth, adventure, horror and survival together is a heady mix, but one that works well. Haunting and moody music follows your every move as you descend further into madness… or out the city. Which it will be is truly up to the player.
A free update entitled 'directors cut' added new effects, areas, endings, quests, music and more. Indies certainly care about their games and it shows here. Lone Survivor is a masterpiece in its class, and one I recommend to anyone, even if you aren't normally into pixelated games or horror titles. Jon Carr
There's been some debate about whether the Mad Max game is a sequel or prequel to the 2015 film reboot, but it seems that the game is actually a standalone adventure that isn't directly connected to the events of Fury Road at all.
In any event, you take on the role of Mad Max Rockatansky, who discovers that his car, the Interceptor, has been stolen by the warlord Scabrous Scrotus and his band of Warboys. Fortunately, Max is aided by Chumbucket, a mechanical genius and religious fanatic who believes that Max is some sort of motorised messiah. Chumbucket offers to help Max build a new vehicle, called the Magnum Opus, so starting with a basic old rustbucket of a car, this odd couple strike out into the post-apocalyptic Wastelands, looking for upgrades to enhance the Magnum Opus, and fighting their way through rival bandit factions as Max seeks vengeance against Scrotus.
Much of the game concentrates on reproducing the car chases and action scenes from the Mad Max films, so most of the time you'll be in the driving seat of the Magnum Opus, crashing into your enemies and firing harpoons and other weapons along the way. As well as hunting down Scrotus, there are also plenty of side quests that allow you to explore the vast open world of the Wastelands, and which reward you with additional loot, weapons and upgrades for the Magnum Opus. And, to add some variety, you do occasionally jump out and get stuck in with some hand-to-hand combat as well.
The plot does feel a little thin at times, but the action sequences are as fast and furious as Fury Road itself - and fully deserving the game's 18 rating - so if you enjoyed the film then this Mad Max game is the closest thing you'll get to a sequel, while we wait for the real thing to come along. Cliff Joseph
Kickstarter has given a home and a helping hand to quite a few unusual indie games that might otherwise never have got off the ground. Pulse started off on Kickstarter back in 2013 but has recently been completed and is now available to purchase on Steam.
Most adventure games rely very heavily on visual cues, as you have to search the screen to locate objects or information that will help you to solve puzzles and progress through each stage of the game. Pulse is awash with dream-like psychedelic visuals and lighting effects, but you actually rely on sounds to guide you through the game. You play as a young blind girl called Eva, who sets out on a cryptically unexplained quest and uses sound to navigate her way through the world. The game doesn't treat you as though you're completely blind, instead using strobe lighting and other effects to create the sort of radar-vision used by Daredevil - the blind superhero in Marvel's comic books (and the excellent Netflix TV series).
Sometimes you'll only realise that you've bumped into something when the ambient soundtrack erupts into jangling chimes and other sound effects. You can also 'explore' the world around you by chucking around cute little critters called Mokos, just to see if they create any sounds when they hit something. It's a strange experience - and, at £10.99, a little pricey for what is really a kind of sonic experiment rather than a fully realised game - but it exerts a kind of hypnotic fascination, similar to that of games like Monument Valley and Limbo on the iPad. The system requirements are pretty high, though, so check the game out on Steam before downloading. Cliff Joseph
The Secret Of Monkey Island - Special Edition
This Special Edition is an update of the original classic Monkey Island. It tells the same story, but decks it out with up-to-date graphics and music.
The game casts you in the role of Guybrush Threepwood, a swashbuckling young pirate searching for hidden treasure on the legendary Monkey Island. Along the way you have to solve all sorts of puzzles, defeat the ghostly pirate LeChuck and win the heart of the beautiful Elaine Marley. This version also includes a new help system that can give you the occasional hint for solving puzzles. Fans of the original will appreciate the option that allows you to switch between the original graphics and the new version whenever you want.
The Walking Dead
Where to buy: Steam
Requirements: Mac OX X 10.6 or later; 2.3GHz Intel processor or better (Core 2 Duo recommended); 4GB RAM; 2GB free storage space; 512MB nVidia or ATI graphics card (1024MB card recommended); not recommended for Intel integrated graphics or Mac Minis or early-generation MacBooks
We've included this in the action games section, but it's much more about telling a story: difficult decisions and attendant horrible consequences. Choices such as who to side with in an argument or who to save when the undead inevitably break through the barricades have to be made incredibly quickly, and the pressure and the presentation of the consequences reliably masks the game's simple nature. Meanwhile, the comic art-aping visual style gives it a look that's all its own.
What could have been an ugly mess of quick-time events and inappropriately abstract puzzles turns out to be a sober, moving study of making difficult decisions at the end of the of the world. Impressive, distinctive stuff.
This War of Mine
This War of Mine is notable in several significant ways. For one, it's based on real-life events and the experiences of war survivors. Secondly, you actually play as civilians attempting to survive a war, not the gung-ho action hero or strategic commander you usually find yourself as in war games. Lastly, this game is not meant to be fun - it is meant to be engaging and thought-provoking, and it accomplishes both.
This is a survival game. You start with nothing in the way of supplies, and must scavenge for everything to stay alive. The pace of the game is dictated by a day/night cycle. By day, snipers prevent you from going out, so you reside in your shelter, taking care of your civilians, building new things and upgrading your shelter's defences against looters. By night, you choose a survivor to send out on a scavenging run at a location of your choice.
This game is hard, and especially brutal if your first try starts you off in midwinter. Wood must constantly be burned to prevent people from freezing to death, yet you also need wood to cook food so you don't starve. However, wood is also needed to build and upgrade essential items around your shelter. This delicate balance of resource management is one of the things that make this game so desperate, in addition to the psychological effects various actions and decisions have on your group.
Will you kill and steal to survive? Will you try to trade instead to get by? Will you sacrifice a survivor to keep others alive? These harrowing choices are the core of the games experience and will keep you playing a long time. Jon Carr