Steam for Mac review

Every now and then we get a piece of software in the office that we know will change things for the Mac. Computer game download service Steam is one such piece of software.

Steam has been transforming the way games are distributed on the PC for seven years. To get games to customers, developers no longer need to print labels and burn hundreds of CDs (that will more than likely end up as landfill in the future). With Steam, everything is digital. Curiously too, games live longer on Steam. PC users can still buy classics like the original Quake II, for very little outlay.

If you've used Steam in Windows, the Mac version will be familiar to you. It's exactly the same. That's because the front end is built using web technologies and the Steam client is effectively a browser. You can shop for games in the Store, access your purchases in a Library and - for some the killer feature - interact with other gamers. The PC version boasts over 1,000 titles. The Mac edition launches with a mere 63. Crucially though, Valve - the brains behind Steam - has promised to roll out new games on a weekly basis, every single Wednesday. A big clue that they'll stick to this promise comes in the form of Portal, the award winning and critically acclaimed 3D puzzler that Valve generously gave away at Steam for Mac's launch - up until the 24th of May. Portal is built on the Source engine for Half Life 2. In fact, hover your mouse over the dashboard icon and the label is "hl2_osx". That means games like Half Life 2, Team Fortress and Left 4 Dead can't be far away.

It's not all silver lining though. Steam's interface is notoriously glitchy, whether you're on a Mac or a PC. Try running 3D games like Portal on your old Mac Mini with GMA and you won't get very far either. With Nvidia GPUs in the newest Macs, our machines would be perfectly capable of playing many of the games that PC users enjoy though. If only someone would port them over... And now, they will.

OUR VERDICT

The closest thing to iTunes for games has finally come to our platform - and it'll change Mac gaming forever. Signing up for and downloading Steam costs you nothing - though game prices vary. If you're a Windows user you can synchronise SteamPlay labeled purchases between PC and Mac, without needing to repurchase your games.

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