We continue our list of the best games for Mac. The next category is:
Virtual Programming is best known for bringing a long list of PC games over on to the Mac, including A-list titles such as Bioshock: Infinite, and the popular Dirt series of racing games. They've recently started to branch out with some original titles of their own, and while Atom Splitter is a fairly modest start it still manages to provide some enjoyably retro arcade action.
The game puts you inside a tiny (very, very tiny) ship that has to blast its way past a series of atomic particles. You start off with a simple particle such as Hydrogen - with just one electron and one proton - and work up to more complex elements like Lithium or Nitrogen, which are packed with additional neutrons and quarks that all have to be zapped in order to clear the screen before your atomic clock counts down to zero.
Initially, your ship is only equipped with a basic laser, and limited shields that can protect you from collisions, but as the game progresses you can unlock more powerful weapons to help you out. There's a Sentry ship that provides faster firing rates, and an Attractor weapon that sucks in and destroys nearby Quarks.
It's a simple enough idea, but it's good mindless fun, and the pace keeps increasing until you need really fast thumbs to survive the sub-atomic bombardment. It's cheap too, costing only £3.99 for the Mac version (and £1.99 on iPhone and iPad), and the 2D graphics should run well even on older Mac models.
Electronics Arts has had the city-building genre pretty much sewn up for years, with the popular SimCity games going back decades. However, Finnish outfit Colossal Order, has managed to carve its own niche in this popular genre with Cities: Skylines.
Like its Sim rival, Cities: Skylines starts you off with a blank slate, allowing you to choose various plots of land, each with differing resources and geographical features, such as rivers, lakes and forests. Then you create some simple roads to connect you to the outside world and wait for people to come flocking to your little homestead. As people arrive you'll need to start 'zoning' the town, allocating areas for housing and businesses, and also providing essential services such as water and power.
Admittedly, the format of the game isn't drastically different to that of SimCity, but Cities: Skylines puts a lot of detail into systems such as transport as you're building things up. Larger roads can cause pollution, and lower property values, so you have to think carefully about where you build them. You can even put roads underground to avoid spoiling an area of natural beauty - although you'll need to make sure your underground roads don't collide with metro trains down there as well.
Our only real complaint is that the game could use a more thorough tutorial to help complete beginners. But if you're already a fan of city-sim games then you'll find that the sheer detail and control provided by Cities: Skylines will provide a real challenge. There are also some good expansion packs available, such as the After Dark pack that lets you develop your town's night-life, and the recent Natural Disasters, which will see how you manage to cope when the town is hit by a tidal wave or even a meteor strike from the sky. The game's system requirements are pretty high, though, so check before you buy.
Website: Dear Esther
Where to buy: Steam
System requirements: Mac OS X 10.6.7 or higher; Intel Core Duo processor (2GHz or better); 2GB RAM; 2GB storage space; ATI Radeon 2400 or higher/Nvidia 8600M or higher/Intel HD Graphics 3000 video card
Dear Esther is a game unlike any you've played before. It offers beautiful graphics and glitch-free gameplay, although the word "gameplay" doesn't seem quite right.
There are no weapons in Dear Esther. No crowbar or shotgun. The first-person environment you explore feels like open terrain with barren moorland and rocky cliff tops. It's a billion miles away from the test chambers of Portal. While other games reward the completion of puzzles or the destruction of zombie hordes, Dear Esther unravels in its own sweet time. Exploration brings its own reward.
This is a collaborative work of art; a blueprint for future creators of interactive fiction.
Gone Home is a casual game in almost every sense of the word. There are no puzzles to solve, there are no enemies to fight - you simply explore, and experience. (The game even bills itself as an "interactive exploration simulator".) However, the core themes at the heart of this game are anything but casual, for Gone Home tells the greatest video-game love story we have ever found.
It is 1995. After a year abroad, you arrive home, expecting a family welcome, but the house is empty. Where did everyone go? What happened to everyone? This mystery slowly unravels as you navigate your way throughout the house. The themes at play here - uncertainty, fear, romance - can be found in many games, but such things feel often feel tacked on or not wholly believable. In Gone Home they come off as organic and relatable.
The excellent writing is engaging, but so is the atmosphere of the house. It just begs to be explored, and it is a joy to do so. Since you are a family member, it doesn't seem odd or creepy to paw through drawers, shelves and books. Everything can be picked up and examined at your own pace.
While it is a tad pricey for the short length, the superb atmosphere and story at play here make it hard not to recommend. Children are likely to find the game boring, but anyone who has gone through growing up, or has fallen in love before, will find a thoroughly engaging title to play. Jon Carr
Lego Jurassic World
A Lego game based on Jurassic World was pretty inevitable, given the unending stream of Lego movie adaptations in recent years. And, to be honest, the format will seem very familiar to anyone that has played any of those other games, consisting mainly of running around and solving puzzles and switching from one character to another as you explore the various areas within Jurassic Park.
The game recreates scenes from all four dino-movies, going right back to the original Jurassic Park. Many people will remember the 'raptor raid' scene from Jurassic Park, and that scene works well here as your little Lego characters sneak around and try to hide from the raptors that have invaded the science lab on Isla Nublar.
Unfortunately, the later films weren't anywhere near as good, so being able to play some of the uninteresting characters from those films doesn't seem like much of a reward as you try to progress through the game. But, as with the new Jurassic World film, it's actually the dinosaurs that deliver the goods, and this latest Lego game adds a new twist by allowing you to play as a dinosaur as well. In fact, it's a shame that the dinosaur scenes are relatively limited, as stomping around and crushing the scenery is one of the best parts of the game. There are also plenty of good visual gags to keep the fun going, as well as some tricky puzzles to get you thinking as well.
Lego Star Wars Saga
Company: Feral Interactive
Where to buy: Mac App Store, Origin
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5.8; 1.5GHz Intel processor; graphics card with 128MB VRAM
Price: £13.99 (on sale at Origin at time of writing for £6.99)
No home should be without at least one Lego game, and if you pick up the Saga version you get the six games based on the Star Wars films for just £14.99.
The sheer fun of playing with the Lego versions of Luke, Han, Yoda and Darth Vader will appeal to both adults and children. The six games in this pack offer a variety of different scenarios, including space battles, lightsaber duels, and the famous battle on the ice planet of Hoth. If you're a Star Wars fan, Feral has also released a new Lego game based on the Clone Wars cartoon series, and there are other Lego games based on the Batman, Harry Potter and Indiana Jones films as well.
Lego The Incredibles
The first Incredibles film was released way back in 2004, so it’s a bit surprising that the cartoon adventures of the super-powered Parr family haven’t been made into a Lego game before now.
Released around the same time as The Incredibles 2, this Lego game incorporates elements from both films along with guest appearances from characters taken from other Pixar films as well.
The Incredibles is ideal for a Lego game because, of course, each member of the super-team has their own abilities for you to experiment with, such as Mr Incredible’s strength, and the stretching abilities of Elastigirl. Your job as you take control of The Incredibles team is to patrol the streets of Municiberg and tackle the various super-villains who are trying to take over the city.
And, as with all Lego games, you’re allowed to switch from one character to another as you use their different powers to solve puzzles and defeat your enemies. The game also has a two-player co-op mode that will be great fun for families as it allows you to team up and tackle crime with another player
Along the way, you’ll meet super-powered allies from the films, such as Frozone with his ice powers, and learn how to cope with the unpredictable super-powers of little baby Jack-Jack. There’s also a guest appearance from Edna Mode - the costume designer from the Incredibles films – who offers a Customiser mode that allows you design your own costume and tweak your super-powers so that you can play the way you like.
The game’s 3D graphics look great, but they do require a reasonably powerful graphics card and the latest version of the macOS, so make sure to check the game’s system requirements before you buy.
Should this be in the casual section? Possibly not, since most people's definition of casual gaming involves piecemeal play sessions you fit in where convenient. Minecraft, if it gets its hooks into you, will consume your free time to the point where your job is the casual game, squeezed in between marathon Minecraft slogs.
Those in the know call Minecraft a "sandbox" game, part of an emerging class of entertainments that offer users a set of tools and few rules. After that, it's up to you how you play. You can build in this world by collecting materials and assembling blocks, but whether you want to use your building skills to simply create, or to defend yourself from zombies, is up to you.
Minecraft may appear primitive compared to the current generation of first-person shooters, but the gameplay is gloriously cutting edge. You could happily play it forever. And might.
Company: Hemisphere Games
Where to buy: Mac App Store
System Requirements: Mac with OS X 10.4.1 or later
Osmos is a puzzle/action game by Hemisphere Games that is popular on the iPad, although it first appeared on the Mac and PC. You play the part of a lowly Mote, which looks like a single-celled organism. The goal is to become larger than all the other Motes on screen.
Accomplishing this is simple - but not easy. When you collide with another Mote that is smaller than you, you absorb them and become that much larger in mass. Colliding with larger Motes, on the other hand, has the opposite effect and you quickly get swallowed up by them.
The original Overcooked was something of a surprise hit when it was released in 2016, with its frantic cooking-against-time co-op action proving to be great fun for people playing at home with their friends. That first game was never released for the Mac, but Overcooked 2 has just been released for both Mac and PC, so Mac users can join in with the food-based fun as well.
This time around the action is even more frantic, as the Onion King has raised the hungry hordes of the Unbread – yep, zombie bread – which now threatens to over-run the Onion Kingdom. So it’s up to you to learn more recipes and race against the clock to prepare enough food to keep the starving Unbread under control.
The single-player game has a story mode that puts you in control of two chefs in your kitchen, allowing you to switch between them as they select, prepare and cook the different ingredients required for each dish (the keyboard controls feel a bit clumsy, though, so we’d recommend using a gamepad if possible). That’s challenging enough, but the real fun comes when you play with a friend in co-op mode and have to work together in order to complete each challenge within the time limit. And, just to keep you on your toes, Overcooked 2 makes things even more challenging, with constantly changing kitchens that include moving walkways, platforms and other obstacles.
The developers at Team17 – who also gave the gaming world the Worms series – say that online multiplayer was the number one request from fans of the original game, so Overcooked 2 adds a new multiplayer mode that allows you to play online with three other people. There’s also Versus mode where two teams compete against each other, and Arcade mode where you can just drop in when you fancy a quick fix of cooking action.
Plants vs Zombies
Tower defence classic Plants vs Zombies puts you in the shoes of a home owner with a zombie problem. The undead want to invade your back garden and get to your delicious brains. Your best defence is to plant peas, mushrooms, squash and other deadly flora and fight back.
The beautiful cartoon artwork is on the right side of zany and the zombies are silly, distinctive enemies that vary in character and battle skills. It's also, at times, very funny indeed.
This is fun for all ages, but don't let the cartoonish art or light-hearted atmosphere throw you off; this is one of the cleverest and most original strategy games out there.
Read our full Plants vs Zombies review
The onslaught of the old-school, side-scrolling games continues with the release of RunGunJumpGun. The game has a nominal storyline about collecting life-saving 'atomiks' from three evil warlords, but that's little more than an excuse to throw you into a series of high-speed scrolling screens that require trigger reflexes in order to avoid the various traps and obstacles that lie before you.
The name of the game encapsulates its simple-yet-hard approach, as you only have two buttons that control your movements and weapons. You're constantly running forward (left-to-right across the screen), and pressing the Left-Shift button fires your gun in front of you, while the Right-Shift button points your gun down at the ground in order to propel you up into the air so that you can jump over obstacles. You can't get any simpler than that, but the sheer pace of the game is so relentless that your fingers will be worn to a frazzle by the time you've sped through the first few levels.
Fortunately, the game understands that too much frustration will simply scare people away, so it's quite forgiving when you die. There's a series of red flags dotted throughout each level that act as save-game points. This means that instead of having to go right back to the start of each level when you die, you only go back to the most recent flag and can get right back to tackling that one obstacle that you need to get past. That helps to reduce your frustration levels a bit - but make no mistake, RunGunJumpGun is a real challenge, and will mainly appeal to serious arcade addicts rather than casual gamers.
The Sims 4
There's a lot to take in with the latest addition to The Sims line-up: deeper customisation, more variety with actions, new careers and new places to explore. The Sims 4 had a lot to live up to after the success of The Sims 3, but it fills its predecessor's shoes beautifully.
You get a deeper level of character customisation than in previous generations. While you can still browse and select preset eyes, mouth, hair, etc, The Sims 4 allows you to fine-tune your character's looks and build by clicking and dragging the area you want to tweak. Does your Sim's belly protrude a little too much for your liking? Clicking on the troubled area and dragging it in will make your Sim thinner - it's as easy as that.
The build & design mode in The Sims was the basis for the game as a whole - it started off as a simulator that architects could use. And it's fantastic here. It's a great experience being able to design a home exactly how you want it to be and really gets your creative juices flowing. With more design options (like the ability to build "in the air" with no support below), houses in The Sims 4 looks more breathtaking than ever. You can pick up and move whole rooms whenever you fancy a change, and buy whole rooms of same-style furniture. For those of us without an eye for interior design, it allows us to really appreciate the game and the design process.
Day-to-day life in The Sims 4 is more enjoyable, too. If your Sim is hungry, simply click on the hunger bar and the Sim will automatically feed themselves - the same applies to all their other needs too. It takes the effort out of the more mundane tasks and allows you more time to do the fun things with your Sim.
The Sims 4 is a great game with so many options that you'll lose yourself for hours at a time. Lewis Painter
If your kids are fans of Minecraft then you might want to take a look at Trove, a new massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that's clearly leaping on the Minecraft bandwagon. However, Trove does bring in a few other influences as well, and manages to create an intriguing kind of Minecraft-meets-Lego mash-up.
It has the same blocky, pixellated graphics style as Minecraft, and gives you a 'cornerstone' area where you can create your personal online home, just like in Minecraft. You can create anything you want in your cornerstone - castles, dungeons, a leafy forest to stroll through - and it's also possible to form a club with a group of other players in order to create and develop really large-scale worlds where you can go adventuring with your friends. And, like Lego MiniFigures Online, Trove also includes lots of additional content that has been created by the game's developers. There are special locations, called realms, where you can explore and go on quests, including the rolling hills of the Medieval Highlands, the icy Permafrost realm, and the Dragonfire Peaks, which are crawling with monsters out to get you.
There's a role-playing element as well, so you can choose character classes such as the Gunslinger, the Neon Ninja, or Boomeranger, who all have their own special weapons and skills that you can use in your adventures. Like most MMOs nowadays, the game itself is free to download and play, but there are starter-packs that cost £15.49 each, and which provide access to new classes, as well as extra weapons and costumes for your characters.