OS X Gaming Journaled: The Mac Steam Singularity

Games are fun.

You know what’s not fun? Moving house, for the second time in six months.

Between that, a demanding day-job, and some other work that I’ve been involved with, I’ve had less time than usual for games. Actually… it’s a little more complicated than that. I’m ashamed to admit it, but, well, I’ve been eschewing the Mac OS and enjoying more than a few games in Boot Camp. Said games include Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was supposed to be coming to the Mac, but then suddenly wasn’t, Shadow of Mordor, which seems to be as good as everyone says, and Remember Me, which isn’t new, but I only recently discovered it and seems to be a lot better than the reviews at the time indicated (as an aside I’m particularly drawn to dipping open world games at the moment, a genre which I have never really been interested in, and so, so many of them are Windows-only).

That’s not to say there haven’t been any decent games on the Mac, of course. I feel like now I’ve reached the singularity in my Mac game library in Steam, where I have more games than I could ever hope to possibly complete in my lifetime, a feat previously exclusive to my Windows Steam library (and soon to happen to my iPad, I shouldn’t wonder). I even have a bunch of games in my review queue that deserve mention, but that I’ve been struggling to get through thanks to my drastically reduced patience level. More on those in a moment, but what it means is I’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time categorising games in my library to an excruciating degree, but at least now I feel organised.

Meanwhile a bunch of games that were previously in Early Access got released, games that I was specifically waiting for the Early Access to end before reviewing it, and it seems like most of these got released without any sort of fanfare at all, which makes me rethink my voiced sentiments in the MacGameCast’s podcast on the subject. So that’s Door Kickers, Wasteland 2, Jagged Alliance 2, and Ziggurat that won’t get reviewed because I now feel like I’ve missed the boat on them (there are plenty of reviews on each of those elsewhere, and the only thing I’ll add is that the performance of each of them on Mac is just dandy), and I don’t have enough motivation to spend any time with them (critics get caught up in the hype as well, sad but true).

So, moving on to Mac games that I did actually play for a significant amount of time; first there’s Double Fine’s Hack ‘n’ Slash, a game that is commendably original, pulling back the curtain on itself by allowing you to change the properties and rules of the code that it runs on. However, it suffers from some of the worst pacing I’ve ever seen, something which should be inexcusable given that it was in Early Access for a while (or maybe not, it seems Early Access games have a tendency towards myopia when it comes to new players). The game is complex, and it limits your abilities, gradually unlocking new abilities for you to play with, but it does so in an extremely haphazard fashion. Rather than give you a new tool and then gate your progress until you’ve demonstrated an understanding of it, it gives you enough power to progress rapidly through a process of trial and error, so that you find yourself overwhelmed with the possibility of re-programming the idle animation for a turtle, without necessarily having figured out how to do something more simple, like pull a rock towards you. As if that weren’t enough, you don’t really have any sense of what you’re trying to accomplish in the larger sense, leading to confusing scenarios like getting inexplicably electrocuted when trying to open a door.

It also seems rather buggy. There’s two problems here: first that you can mess about with the so many parameters that you can actually just break the game in strange and interesting ways, but also that you’ll run into problems just moving around the levels, with your character getting stuck at various points, or the edge of the mountain not being where it seems to be. Coupled with this is that there’s an excruciating number of places to fall off the world, be they in the forms of lakes or cliffs. The game puts you straight back without any penalty, but it gets plenty annoying when this keeps happening because you spawned too many turtles and now you can’t move in a straight line. Being a Double Fine game, there’s a degree of humour to it, but it’s a cutsey humour along the lines of Costume Quest, and it wasn’t enough to get me to keep playing, and I gave up on after my fifth failed attempt to record a gameplay video without getting lost or stuck somewhere for five consecutive minutes.

More recently, I was playing Space Hulk: Ascension. Ascension comes as something of an apology for last year’s somewhat disappointing Space Hulk. I don’t think I was alone in having high hopes for this revised edition, with Full Control facing criticism head-on and making a board game adaptation that actually plays like a video game instead of a board game minus other people. This too is commendable, but this too falls flat on its face.

There are numerous issues abound with the game, but they mainly boil down to the decision to hide as much of the interface as possible from the screen, relegating it to multi-level radial menus that shrink as you zoom out, iconography lacking any sort of explanatory text, and various affordances like buttons and tabs that don’t look clickable. And far, far too much transparency.

Then there’s the fact that you can’t bloody see anything. I don’t mean that the Genestealers are all stealthed up, but that everything is so dark. Most of the time I could only get a sense of the map when the GUI was telling me where I could move to, unlike in say XCOM, where you see the lay of the land at all times (just not what’s on it). I appreciated the RPG elements of levelling up and having a persistent squad, but the actual game was just too frustrating. And then Dragon Age 3 was released and there was no competition. I knew what I’d rather be doing with my time.

Still there are good things on the horizon. Civilization: Beyond Earth got released for Mac today, albeit with enough of a delay for the Windows folk to unanimously decry it as “not as good as Alpha Centauri” in one way or another, Blizzard has some interesting things in the pipe, not least of all Overwatch, a free-to-play team-based FPS that the MacGameCast’s Jon Carr has been praising to high heaven. Then there’s more future Early Access alumni to come, not least of all Clockwork Empires and Pillars of Eternity, and finally new Telltale games series’ based on Game of Thrones and Borderlands. Will they be any good? Will they stick to the tried and tested formula? More importantly, will they actually run well on Macs, or like The Wolf Among Us, crash to desktop on every scene change. Only Father Time has the answers.

Oh and one more thing, whilst researching the possibly imminent release of Torchlight II for Mac, I found out that Inside Mac Games is shutting down after nearly two decades. That made me more sad than the thought of selling my Mac Pro.