StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty ( ) is an opus of violence, fire, and flawed humanity. After years of development, Blizzard has delivered one of the best real time strategy games of all time and one of the most powerful single player campaigns in recent memory—a story with surprising narrative weight and varied, compelling gameplay. Thanks to an equally strong multiplayer, StarCraft II has once again raised the bar for all others to meet. And this is only chapter one of the trilogy.
StarCraft II picks up four years after the events of Brood War, the expansion to 1998’s StarCraft. Jim Raynor, the embittered Terran hero from the first game, has now been reduced to mercenary work for a company seeking mysterious alien artifacts. The game’s story follows the exploits of the cowboy-like Raynor’s Raiders as they try to find their place in a galaxy torn apart by Zerg invasions, cruel emperors, and fragile alliances.
After playing ten years of games trying to be StarCraft, it’s nice for Blizzard to come back with StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and once again raise the bar on sci-fi real-time strategy. The multiplayer is similar enough to the original to keep the puritans happy, while the single player campaign is a beautiful, complex, replayable, and epic journey into a world that gets more interesting every time I enter it. Oh yeah, it was worth the wait. ($60)—CHRIS HOLT
The Steam online gaming service is more than just an iTunes Store–like place for games; the free service from Valve offers exemplary social functions and demos of many of the games. Steam has become the go-to place for gamers to shop for and try out everything from blockbuster releases to indie hits, find new friends to frag with, and stay up to date with the latest patches. A Steam buddy list lets you see which of your friends are online, what games they’re playing, as well as invite friends into your game or quickly join them on a campaign already in progress—all with a click or two.
Fortunately, Valve spared no expense in bringing Steam to the Mac. This isn’t some duct-taped Java port that limps along with a fraction of its Windows counterpart’s features. Valve used native Cocoa tools, even going so far as to re-engineer the Steam client and store on Windows to use Apple’s WebKit rendering engine.
We were tempted to award eddies to all five of Valve’s marquee franchises (Portal, Half-Life 2, Left4Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Counterstrike: Source) as they only arrived on the Mac this year, but felt more comfortable giving the nod to the service that brought them all here to the Mac platform. It’s an exciting time to be a Mac gamer thanks to not only Steam’s impressive list of games now available on the platform, but also because the promise of future titles making their way to a MacBook, iMac, or Mac Pro near you. (Free)—CHRIS HOLT
In 2010, a great app—Smile’s TextExpander—just kept getting better. Of course, the text-expansion utility (which inserts saved “snippets” of text wherever you want with a quick keystroke) has been around forever. But in March 2010, Smile (formerly known as Smile on My Mac) released TextExpander 3.0 ( ). That rev added a bunch of nice new features, including keyboard shortcuts for creating snippets; “fill-in” snippets, which could incorporate user input; and the ability to sync snippets between Macs via Dropbox or MobileMe.
But Smile didn’t stop there. In June 2010, it released 3.1, which brought more hotkeys, search improvements, and interface tweaks; that same month, the company also released an iPad version of TextExpander touch, the Mac utility’s iOS companion. In October 2010, version 3.2 added improved backup and restore functions and yet more keyboard shortcuts. By the time you read this, I’d bet Smile will have released another version or two.
What makes TextExpander a great app isn’t just that it’s so handy and so capable, but also the fact that it’s constantly evolving—refining its core tools, adding new ones, and adapting to an ever-changing technology landscape. That’s how a venerable utility like TextExpander remains fresh and vital, and why it’s one of our favorite apps of the year. ($35)—DAN MILLER