Get your game on
If you didn’t pay close attention to Mac gaming in 2016, then you missed a mighty stack of must-play titles. We try and keep you informed on the latest and greatest releases each month, but it can be tough to keep track of everything that hits platforms like Steam, the Mac App Store, and GOG. No worries—we’ll make this short and sweet for you.
Looking for some awesome Mac games from the last year? Here are the 20 picks we think should be at the top of your list, which span a wide array of genres and styles, not to mention price points, and should have a little something for everyone. These are the games that’ll keep you happily playing well into 2017, but keep an eye out for our monthly roundups next year, as well!
Sid Meier's Civilization VI
Arguably this year’s biggest Mac release, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI ($60) maintains the series’ knack for keeping fans up way too late while strategizing about historical conquests. At its core, the experience is much the same as it’s always been: you’ll guide a civilization from its early stages through multiple millennia, all in an effort to thrive and ultimately dominate.
Even with the familiar prompt, Civilization VI brings some nice tweaks to the classic turn-based strategy formula. Aside from the brighter graphics style, your cities can now be formed more around the natural environments in the world, plus the Active Research feature lets you gain boosts by meeting various objectives during gameplay. All told, it’s another winner from Firaxis.
Hyper Light Drifter
Even with a graphics style that evokes the mid-90s, Hyper Light Drifter ($20) is easily one of the most stunning games we’ve seen all year. The way it layers hyper-detailed pixels is astonishing, and the dramatic, anime-esque, Nausicaä-meets-Evangelion look is a treat, while the plaintive piano soundtrack is just as memorable and engrossing.
Truth be told, Hyper Light Drifter is an easier game to admire for its aesthetic than its gameplay, which isn’t meant as an insult: this is just a tough game that requires a lot of persistence and skill. It’s sort of a Legend of Zelda-esque adventure with Dark Souls-esque combat and difficulty, and if any of these reference points perked your ears, then go ahead and grab it. Hyper Light Drifter is a masterful homage that should satisfy anyone that can hang with the challenge.
Yes, Rocket League ($20) is cars playing soccer—and it’s delightful, too. It’s such a simple concept, yet it’s one that is incredibly fun and remarkably accessible, yet has a startlingly high skill ceiling available for players willing to master aerial maneuvers and team formations. Just look at the amazing pro players with their seemingly impossible, high-flying antics.
The core three-on-three soccer could be your main fixation, but there are other variations included that are just as fun: ice hockey, two-on-two basketball, and even a wild Rumble mode with power-up attacks. Even after several hundred games played this year, Rocket League is still my go-to game for intense online competition. It’s massively recommended.
Firaxis could well be a Mac player’s best friend this year, as the studio delivered not only Civilization VI but also XCOM 2 ($60). Both scratch a strategy itch in decidedly different ways, and XCOM 2 has you thrust into tense, turn-based battles against freaky aliens as you try to reclaim Earth after things went sour following the events of the brilliant XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Driving back the intergalactic occupiers means honing your combat skills and building up an effective crew, but it also means spending a lot of time between battles as you utilize upgrades and research to boost the human race’s chances. XCOM 2 makes a lot of nice tweaks to the proven formula, including a strong presentational bump, and is well worth obsessing over for dozens of hours.
It’s always nice to disconnect and spend a bit of time in the great outdoors… but your MacBook and some nice headphones will suffice too, thanks to Firewatch ($20). This dazzling indie game is set in a Wyoming forest in 1989, and you take the role of Henry, a new fire lookout, as you wander the gorgeous terrain and chat with your supervisor, Delilah.
Sound mind-numbingly boring? It’s not, surprisingly! A compelling relationship builds between the two over walkie talkies, and then it twists and turns as you find yourself embroiled in a mystery. The fabulous voice acting pairs well with the stunning sights, making this a quiet, yet meaningful adventure worth undertaking.
Our sister site PCWorld called Superhot ($25) “the most innovative shooter we’ve played in years,” so yes, it should definitely be on your radar as we look back on 2016’s best. Most first-person shooters move at such a rapid clip that you can’t take more than a second to catch your breath, but Superhot’s hook is that it moves solely at your own pace.
What does that mean? Well, when you stop moving, so too do all of the enemies and whizzing bullets in view. Take a step and everything winds back up again at the same speed you’re going. It’s a completely new take on the genre, and while short, Superhot is definitely sweet. Don’t start 2017 until you’ve shot a bunch of glowing red guys into shards.
Life is Strange
The twists and turns of life can seem monumentally perplexing as a teenager, and we imagine that’s especially true if you also have the ability to manipulate time. Yep, that’s the curious twist at the heart of Life is Strange ($20 for full season), an episodic adventure series that follows a girl who tries to help friends using her abilities, but doesn’t always hit the mark.
You can rewind time during key events to make tweaks and see what happens, but the effects of each scenario ripple through the five-part narrative, and there are multiple endings based on how you choose to play the varying moments. Life is Strange has its awkward elements, but it makes a strong emotional connection and touches on typically taboo subjects for games. And the first episode is fully free to download on Steam.
Stellaris ($40) pulls from the playbook of past Paradox sims like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, but by swapping out the confines of historical warfare for the vastness of futuristic space, the possibilities seem wide open. And you’ll be able to dig in deep with this immense 4X real-time grand strategy experience.
You’ll explore vast galaxies filled with thousands of procedurally-generated planets, and can choose to battle or utilize diplomacy in encounters as you travel through the stars and expand your planetary empire. PCWorld called it “something creative and bold and inspiring” in its review, and the game should only get better through expansions and updates.
World of Warcraft: Legion
It’s an expansion pack, sure, but World of Warcraft: Legion ($50) is a very important one: it revitalizes the legendary massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with several new features and enhancements, and is the most exciting upgrade in years. Key amongst the additions are the new Demon Hunter hero class, as well as artifact weapons.
Legion also introduces the new Broken Isles environment and makes some welcome visual and audio improvements to the now 12-year-old experience. World of Warcraft might be years out from its glory days, but Legion does a fantastic job of reminding fans why that addictive lure remains intact after more than a decade.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
LEGO and Star Wars not only pair together well in the world of toys, but also video games—and much like the first six films, Episode VII has been turned into a silly, yet highly entertaining game filled with faux-plastic blocks and familiar faces. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($40) lets you relive the plot of the film while playing as loads of different characters, complete with cartoonish cinematics.
Better yet, it goes beyond the film’s events to play through other levels that took place around The Force Awakens, effectively extending the movie storyline in the process. It’s pretty simple beat-‘em-up and puzzle-solving fun, but it’s really amusing stuff for kids and adults alike.
People are obsessed with Stardew Valley ($15), and that might seem especially surprising when you realize that it’s a farming game at heart. But much like the Harvest Moon games before it, this indie homage is drawing players in deep. It really is pretty similar to the older Harvest Moon games in approach, but there’s a lot more to the game beyond managing crops.
Stardew Valley offers more options in the world, whether it’s adventuring and battling monsters, choosing how social (or antisocial) you want to be, or engaging in the sometimes strange story twists available. It’s a game you can pour dozens or hundreds of hours into, if you please—and no matter how long you play, it’s sure to be plenty charming.
Despite what the title might imply, Pony Island ($5) isn’t really a game about ponies. In reality, it’s a game designed to mess with you as menus fall apart, you begin chatting with unknown parties, and strange, creepy messages appear on the screen to taunt you as you play. Again, this isn’t a simple game about ponies.
It is, however, very funny and a bit eerie, not to mention awfully clever. Before long, you realize that the game was programmed by the devil himself… but he’s not as great of a coder as he thinks he is, and you’ll work to get past the puzzles and obstacles that emerge to thwart the game-making demon. It’s weird, yet truly wonderful—plus it’s only five bucks.
Shadow Complex Remastered
We didn’t get Shadow Complex back when it originally debuted in 2009, but seven years later, Shadow Complex Remastered ($15) is still very much worth your time. It’s one of the best modern renditions of the classic side-scrolling adventure template established by Metroid and Castlevania, challenging you to unlock new areas and abilities alike as the quest unfolds.
As Jason, a man who stumbles upon a secret research facility while hiking, you’ll need to save both your girlfriend and ultimately the entire United States—and you’ll do so by equipping an amazing armored suit that gains more and more skills throughout the campaign. And thanks to the new graphical upgrades, Shadow Complex doesn’t look the age of the original release.
The Banner Saga 2
The Banner Saga 2 ($20) isn’t a big shift away from the original, but when we’re talking about one of the best turn-based tactical role-playing games in recent years, it’s hard to be disappointed. We had strongly positive words for the original game when it released on Mac and then later iOS, so if you dug the first game, don’t hesitate to continue this grim tale.
The familiar concoction of methodical combat, caravan wrangling, and conversational choices continues on in The Banner Saga 2, and if you played the first game on Mac, your decisions from the first time around can carry over into this quest. Greater combat variety and a richer storyline make for a more accomplished sequel, but it’s still just as gorgeous as ever.
Stephen's Sausage Roll
A strange thing happened this year: an intensely difficult puzzle game about flipping and grilling slabs of sausage hit Steam, and it received startlingly glowing praise from critics and players alike. What’s even stranger is that the creator doesn’t seem very interested in its success: Stephen’s Sausage Roll ($30) has a one-line description on Steam (“A simple 3d puzzle game”) and slapdash page art to match, along with a Geocities-esque website.
No matter: the game itself is a treat for die-hard puzzle gurus, building off of the box-pushing Japanese puzzle premise of Sokoban while looking like a first-wave 3D game and being delightfully strange. If you only play one sausage-related game from 2016, make it this one.
Enter the Gungeon
Shooting games don’t have to be dark and serious: Enter the Gungeon ($15) certainly proves otherwise. Inspired by beloved games like The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne, this top-down, four-player cooperative shooter challenges your team to blast through loads and loads of floors in the ever-changing Gungeon and claim as much loot as you can.
It’s bright and colorful, and is packed with flashy enemies and even flashier guns: you’ll find some that even shoot rainbows and bees, for instance. Enter the Gungeon isn’t easy, as fans of the “roguelike” genre expect and will appreciate, but bring along a few friends and some sweet guns and you’re sure to have a great time.
Day of the Tentacle Remastered
LucasArts’ beloved point-and-click adventure did see a Mac release in 1993, but after 23 years, it gets a fresh coat of paint with Day of the Tentacle Remastered ($15). As you might guess from the title, it’s a pretty kooky adventure: one that features a toxic sludge-drinking monster, time travel via high-tech port-a-potties, and puzzles that take advantage of those split timelines.
It’s weird, no doubt, but the classic humor and brain-bending puzzles still shine after all this time, as our reviewer exalted in his glowing review of the iOS release, and the Remastered edition lets you switch between the old pixel graphics and more cartoon-like modern look on the fly. It also has a creator commentary track and other bonus goodies for mega-fans.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition
Sleeping Dogs ($30) doesn’t have the name-brand appeal of a Grand Theft Auto, but this similarly crime-centric open-world action game is an underrated gem from a few years back on other platforms. It arrived late on Mac this year in an updated Definitive Edition, which bundles in extra content with the main game, but it’s still well worth checking out today.
The game’s biggest hook is Hong Kong itself, which looks and feels a lot different than the cities we typically see in these games, and it’s teeming with activities: loads of missions, street races, and even cock fights. Also, you play as a cop who winds up deep, deep undercover and is faced with some interesting moral dilemmas, which gives the narrative an interesting angle.
VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
With a name like that, how can you go wrong? Sure enough, VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action ($15) is a true original on this list: a game in which you mix drinks for patrons, but not in a frenzied rush or to hit high scores. No, it’s just part of the narrative experience, as you interact with the interesting clientele, keep the bar afloat, and pull together story threads.
What makes VA-11 HALL-A especially interesting is its world and characters. As noted, it’s set in a grim cyberpunk future—one in which corporate powers rule and humans are oppressed by the nano-machines pumped into their blood. But really, it’s the conversations and the emotions that resonate. Still, given the setting and theme, anyone who dug last year’s Read Only Memories should give it a look.
Dungeon-crawling role-playing games can be incredibly tense and stressful for players, but what about the brave heroes giving their all in those grim battles? Maybe you’ve never thought about it, but Darkest Dungeon ($25) certainly has. In fact, it’s the most unique part of this acclaimed indie, which finds the leads fighting not only monsters, but also mental ailments.
Characters emerge from dungeons overwhelmed with stress and dealing with feelings of paranoia and masochism, but at the same time, the tough foes will rough you up a bit if you’re not smart about managing your party. Aside from that neat feature and the savage-but-satisfying challenge level, Darkest Dungeon also has a fantastic hand-drawn look to it.