Best Invocation of Ancient Gods
Age of Mythology:
What It Is: A real time strategy game set in ancient times.
Who It’s For: Anyone who’s ever wanted to open up a can of Minotaur whupass on their enemies.
Why It’s a Hall of Famer: Empire-building strategy games are part and parcel of the strategy game genre, and MacSoft has made it their mission to bring their best to the Macintosh over the years. Age of Mythology continues this fine tradition, and it comes from the same developers who created the beloved Age of Empires series.
Age of Mythology differs from the Age of Empires games because it narrows the number of unique civilizations you can choose from: the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Norse, and makes the differences between each one more than mere window dressing. Each civilization features unique ways to gather and use resources, build structures and wage war. The mythologies of each civilization plays a crucial role too, because your patron gods can bestow upgrades in armor and weapons and the ability to tame mythological beasts, which you can then send into battle to help defeat your foes. A map editor also helps extend the challenge.
Most Attractive Game
Aspyr Media, $50
What It Is: A real-time strategy game set in outer space.
Who It’s For:Strategy gamers looking for a 3-D challenge.
Why It’s a Hall of Famer: How many times have you watched really great visual effects in a sci-fi movie and said to yourself, “I can’t wait until games look that good?” Well, your wait is over, because Homeworld 2 is on the Mac. This is without question one of the prettiest-looking games that popped up on the Mac this year, with graphics that some people mistook for pre-rendered cinematics when screenshots of the game first circulated. They look like they’re straight from the cover of sci-fi pulp fiction novels, with richly colored nebulae and bejeweled planetary surfaces serving as the backdrop for massive fleet battles that look like swarms of angry insects.
Homeworld 2 is the sprawling saga of the Hiigarans, a spacefaring race of humans far in the future who return home from an interstellar exile only to find themselves hunted by the Vaygr, a warrior clan with a penchant for the total subjugation of their foes.
Now, plenty of strategy games use sophisticated 3-D engines, but the vast majority of them play out on two-dimensional maps: You may need to climb mountains or ford rivers, and you may have fleets, armies and squadrons of ships, but essentially you’re thinking in X and Y dimensions: You’re not expecting your opponents to burrow underneath the earth and attack you from below. That’s what makes Homeworld 2 so appealing—in space, there are three dimensions and six degrees of motion you need to consider when it comes to mining resources, deploying your fleets and defending yourself from the enemy. This adds a new twist that makes Homeworld 2 one of the best games of the year.
Best New Twist on an Old Favorite
Bigger Planet, $20
What It Is: Old school gaming with some new tricks up its sleeve.
Who It’s For: Anyone who thinks Missile Command and Rip-Off are classics worth preserving.
Why It’s a Hall of Famer: Sometimes going back to basics is important. The dawn of the video game era, back in the ice age of the late ’70s and early ’80s, gave rise to some of the most addictive and thoroughly satisfying games in history—ones that still rank among true gaming enthusiasts’ favorites, despite their primitive graphics and repetitive gameplay. To that end, Bigger Planet culled ideas from two of the era’s titles—a somewhat obscure vector-based game called Rip-Off and the more widely remembered Missile Command—and combined them together to create a thoroughly modern little shareware gem.
You’re cast in the eponymous role as you defend your starbase from an alien invasion bent on stealing your base’s power cores, towing them away with tractor beams. Expect hostiles to fly in from all sides as you use your base’s cannon and other defense to repel the attack. The quicker you are with the trigger and the more accurate you are with your targeting reticle, the more likely you are to win the favor of starship captains who will help you quell the onslaught.
Times and tastes change, so Bigger Planet has enveloped this old school gaming goodness in a thoroughly modern package that uses 3-D graphics and great-looking particle effects, as well as an electroclash soundtrack, to help evoke that feeling of 1980’s nostalgia that will take hold as soon as the missiles start flying.
Best Use of a Steering Wheel
Total Immersion Racing:
Feral Interactive, $45
What It Is: An auto racing game with uncanny AI.
Who It’s For: Auto racing enthusiasts who want to bring their Macs in on the action.
Why It’s a Hall of Famer: First of all, there just aren’t enough auto racing games on the Mac, so it’s always great to get them, and this has become a niche for Feral, with titles like F1 Championship Season 2000 and Ford Racing 2. Auto racing games are always better with a steering wheel, but Total Immersion Racing is fun even without it.
What makes TIR unique and particularly noteworthy is an artificial intelligence (AI) system where the computer controlled players remember who you are from race to race. If you bump them off the road or cut them off on hairpin turns, they’ll keep that grudge—which makes for some interesting races after you have a few wins under your belt.
Additionally, TIR features real-world cars and tracks. So if you’ve ever wanted to race a BMW at Monza or an Audi at Sebring, here’s your chance. You can even go head-to-head with someone sitting at the same Mac right next to you (no network play here—latency is a killer for racing games).