The best games for MacBooks and iMacs
Whatever else you may say about 2018, the year proved that plenty of developers still take the Mac seriously as a gaming platform. I’m fond of saying that we as Mac gamers enjoy quality at the expensive of quantity, and standout titles like Subnautica and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire—both of which released at the same time as their PC counterparts—serve as proof of that. Nor did I have to struggle for this list: There are plenty of new enjoyable games like The Banner Saga 3 and The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset that deliver hours of entertainment but fall a tad short of the greatness of the following entries.
Whether you’re looking for blockbuster action or retro-styled platformers, this year’s crop of games has many wonders to choose from.
Rise of the Tomb Raider ($59.99)
Rise of the Tomb Raider is easily the most graphically impressive of this year’s Mac releases, to the point that I now frequently use its built-in benchmarking tool to judge the performance of MacBooks and eGPUs.
Fortunately, it’s a fantastic game as well. This sequel whisks Lara Croft off to the snowy wastes of Siberia, where she hunts down the legendary city of Kitezh while finding time to rummage in plenty of tombs and solve a plethora of puzzles. And of course, Lara being Lara, the number of bullets that fly here almost certainly outnumber the words in our favorite tomb raider’s doctoral thesis. It’s full of literal cliffhangers, and it’s more fun than a summer blockbuster.
The Return of the Obra Dinn ($19.99)
I never wanted to be an insurance adjuster until I played The Return of the Obra Dinn, and frankly, I have a feeling that it overstates the appeal. It’s 1807 and a ship has wandered in with a dead crew after years of being lost at sea, and it’s your job to figure out what happened.
You do this, though, by whipping out a stopwatch that shows the exact second of someone’s death along with a few snippets of dialogue surrounding the moment. And, to put it lightly, that’s just the beginning of the weirdness in this masterpiece of deductive sleuthing. As a special bonus for Mac users, you can change the retro interface to look as though it’s running on an early 1980s Macintosh.
Training to climb a mountain can take years, so I’m not surprised that this marvelous platformer about climbing a snowy peak is about as hard as climbing Everest. You’re a little girl named Madeline—Celeste is the mountain—and you’ll subject the poor thing to a thousand deaths while guiding her through retro-styled dead cities and menacing ridges. Thank goodness the phenomenal soundtrack makes the pain more bearable.
But Celeste is never so rough that its challenges feel sadistic; on the contrary, it lifts you up. Madeleine’s journey to the summit is an allegory for her personal betterment as she rises above the surrounding adversity toward the stars, and by the end, her triumphs become your own. Excelsior, indeed.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire ($49.99)
The first Pillars of Eternity clung a tad too tightly to the fantasy RPG traditions of isometric Infinity Engine games like Baldur’s Gate, but Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire sees the series finding a voice of its own. It’s an improvement in almost every respect.
This time around, there’s a god tromping around the countryside like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. As for you, you spend a lot of time in a boat exploring a tropical archipelago where the local politics are as difficult to navigate as the seas. Multiclassing enriches the real-time with pause combat, and the story mercifully sidelines the glum of its 2015 forebear. It’s a fiery reminder that old-school roleplaying is anything but dead.
Survival games tend to focus on living off the land, but not Subnautica; in fact, there’s not a shovelful of dry dirt in sight. You’re the sole survivor of a starship that crashed on a planet enveloped with an ocean without end, and all you’ve got at your disposal is a damaged escape pod. Never before has "watered down" sounded so hardcore.
But gosh, it’s lovely. The wholesale shift to the real world down under revitalizes the survival genre in ways unmatched by rival games with dinosaurs and pirates. And if you don’t want to rough it so much? Set Subnautica to exploration mode and bathe in the beauty. It’s a reminder that one of the most alien landscapes imaginable waits just beyond our beaches.
Dead Cells ($24.99)
The name Dead Cells works on so many levels. For one, you’re literally playing as a mass a mass of cells that reanimates the bodies of dead prisoners in order to escape a prison. For another, the cells of that dungeon are stuffed with dead bodies, giving you plenty of options to choose from when you fail.
And fail you will. Unlike its inspirations Metroid and Castlevania, though, Dead Cells kicks you back all the way to the beginning when you die, and then the levels randomly rearrange themselves with new enemies and rooms when you revive. It’s not as mean as it could be, though, as it lets you keep the upgrades you earn along the way.
There’s a boss fight near the start of Cuphead that serves as a metaphor for the game as a whole. When you first see it, it’s an animated flower that’s adorable and inviting. It’s got rosy cheeks and a sly smile. But then it morphs into an avatar of death, its petals resembling crown of flames and its teeth looking larger than small houses.
Cuphead, which can be played solo or in co-op, wants you dead. It’s so hard that you may not even finish. Even so, it’s worth enduring the pain this intense platformer dishes out as each Fleischer Studios-inspired boss fight is more creative and outlandish than the next. It’s punishment with panache, and somehow that makes it appealing.
Total War: Warhammer 2 ($59.99)
Total War: Warhammer II is a welcome reminder that the Warhammer series can back away from its most beloved races and conflicts without losing its soul. In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable strategy games in years. The emphasis here isn’t so much on orks but on elves and anthropomorphic rats and lizards who rush at each other’s throats in their struggle to control of a gigantic purple tornado at the heart of the world. Sound outlandish? Good. That’s Warhammer for you.
But it’s not just about personality—there’s also some great real-time strategy in play here with four distinct races that are all fun to play. And at least for the Total War series, the presentation of the story has never been better.
If you think being marooned on a desert island is rough, imagine being a space explorer who’s marooned on a planet that’s still stuck in its Middle Ages. That’s the concept behind RimWorld, which sees you struggling to maintain a society while scrambling to repair your damaged ship so you can return home.
Raiders may attack. A lightning strike could ruin years of hard work. Some settlers go nuts and need to be cast out. Indeed, unlike many other resource management sims, the settlers have distinct personalities here and motivations, which adds a necessary dose of humanity to a genre that tends to wallow in abstractions.
Into the Breach ($14.99)
If you’re going to save the world from monsters by using gigantic mechs as in Pacific Rim, you’re going to want to make sure you don’t also trash our cities in the process. That’s the idea behind Into the Breach, a chess-like tactical RPG from the same team responsible for the beloved roguelike starship simulator FTL: Faster Than Light.
It’s tough, but saving Earth from squids the size of Godzilla probably should be. But the procedurally generated campaign is never boring. Once you figure out how to thwart a monster’s attacks by studying its telegraphed moves and responding with the best of the three mechs at your disposal, you happily head into the breach again and again.