Macs aren't often thought of as gaming machines, but a savvy gamer can set themselves up with a terrific gaming Mac with a few wise choices or compromises. Here we discuss the state of Mac gaming, and the best ways to enjoy games on your Mac.
The Mac games scene may have been overshadowed by the iPhone and iPad for the past couple of years, but strong Mac sales mean that there are now more games being released than ever before.
There’s been a steady stream of A-list titles, such as Portal 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dragon Age II, arriving recently, and the launch of the Mac App Store also gave the Mac games scene a lift. There are other online stores too, including Steam (store.steampowered.com), OnLive (www.onlive.co.uk) and Deliver2Mac (www.deliver2mac.com), which make it easier than ever to find the latest games.
The Mac App Store has given a new lease of life to some older games too, with titles such as Call Of Duty 4 and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic hitting the charts again years after their original release. A word of warning though – we’ve heard from a number of game developers that Lion ‘broke’ quite a few games, especially older ones, so check on game compatibility and updates if you’re running it on Mac OS X 10.7.
In the not too distant past, Macs were widely regarded as useless for playing games. Although this is something of an overstatement, Apple’s computers were indeed lacking capability and choice for gaming, when compared to their PC counterparts. This was due to a variety of factors – chief among them Apple’s own reticence to embrace gaming.
Play OnLive games on your Mac or iOS device
Another reason was the closed hardware architecture that turned off gaming enthusiasts who like to tweak their machines. There was also Apple’s reliance on the PowerPC processor, that some felt lagged behind the Intel-based competition.
Despite the hurdles, there was a small dedicated community of Apple enthusiasts and developers promoting the Mac’s appeal as a gaming platform. Titles like SimCity and Railroad Tycoon were hits, and Blizzard supported Macs with World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft.
Mainstream shooters like Wolfenstein, System Shock and Duke Nukem 3D were also ported over, but the Mac’s gaming catalogue was abysmal when compared to the varied selection available on the PC and the rapidly growing console sector.
All this changed in 2005 when Apple switched to the Intel processor and PC games could more easily be ported to the Mac. Now top game developers, including Electronic Arts, Aspyr and Feral Interactive, are bringing their titles to the Mac. Popular titles such as Civilization, Call of Duty, the Lego series, and Batman: Arkham City are available on the Mac platform – and Apple says that many more are on the way.
In the meantime there are options for getting games onto the Mac. One is to run Boot Camp, Apple’s dual-boot facility that allows Mac users to load Windows on a partition, but more are currently emerging.
Gaming specs & system requirements: Is your Mac powerful enough?
The switch to Intel wasn’t quite enough to pull Macs into the gaming space. Early Intel Macs shipped with underpowered graphics cards, and even some new entry-level Macs may not be up to the job if you want to play really power hungry games.
However, if you have an Intel Mac running Snow Leopard, Lion or Mountain Lion, with at least 2GB RAM, a selection of modern games will run natively on your Mac.
To find out what’s inside your machine, navigate to the Apple menu > About This Mac > More Info > System Report (OS X Lion) and locate which graphics card your Mac contains under Graphics/Displays.
Hard-core gamers should opt for Macs that have ATI, AMD or Nvidia graphics cards, rather than the integrated Intel cards that feature in low-end Macs. If you want to be completely futureproof, a Mac Pro will allow you to update the graphics card in the future. Many visually detailed games require a dedicated graphics card on your machine to render smooth, lifelike images. Without one, some games may not be compatible with your machine, or may play at a sub-par level.
Many games rely on abundant RAM and fast processors, so it’s a good idea to make sure your computer is well above the minimum requirements. Inadequate RAM and/or a slower processor can make your game look choppy and perform sluggishly.
If your Mac’s specs aren’t up to scratch, you might want to partition your hard drive and use Boot Camp to install Windows just for gaming. Most games are optimised for Windows, so even a low-powered Mac should be able to run them.
While an entry-level Mac laptop won’t outperform a custom-spec PC gaming machine, at least it involves minimum effort and time spent setting up. Even older Macs still have some great old games available to them by employing Boot Camp and Windows.