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10 Best Old Mac games: Revisiting the classics

Before digital downloads, finding the best Mac games wasn’t always easy.

They were out there, but the Mac section of the computer game stores (they used to have those) seemed to stock nothing but “Mario Teaches Typing,” and the games that included Mac and Windows versions would inevitably be scattered around the “PC” sections of the store.

As such, compiling a list of the best classic Mac games is pretty tough.

That didn’t stop us from doing it. And because we want you to actually play these games, we made sure you can still buy them all in either their original form or as enhanced editions (not remakes). It also means some of our favorite old Mac games—such as Myth, Red Baron, and Fallout—didn’t make the list.

Don’t worry, though; there’s plenty here to keep you entertained well into the summer.

The 10 Best old games for Mac: Revisiting the classics

For the record, old-school classics are not exclusive to older gamers. These classics are famous and still supported for a reason. You’ll be surprised how much fun these games can even after all these years.

Avernum: The Complete Saga

When this turn-based fantasy RPG from Spiderweb Software arrived in 2000 it already looked and played like throwbacks to RPGs of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But it did so in the best ways possible.

Avernum is an underground prison, and of course, your adventure begins when you’re exiled there from the surface world, known as the Empire. But Avernum isn’t simply a prison; an entire culture exists in this subterranean world, presenting you with myriad options on what to do next. With numerous quests, spells, and party members to customize and control, Avernum unfolds with the freedom of pencil and paper adventures.

Avernum: The Complete Saga gives you a ridiculous amount of content and a cohesive story arc that’s tremendously satisfying. The graphics are rudimentary, but Avernum is very satisfying if you can overlook that.

Escape Velocity Nova

Another name synonymous with Mac gaming back in the ‘90s was Ambrosia Software. You simply didn’t know a Mac user who didn’t have at least one Ambrosia game on her PowerPC.

Perhaps their most fondly remembered title is EV Nova, the third game in the Escape Velocity series. A space exploration and combat game, EV Nova is set amongst warring factions scattered throughout the Milky Way. Consider it Divergent amongst the stars, as you will select your faction then find your role in it.

Gameplay involves jumping between star systems to accept and execute missions, upgrade your ship, and wreck havoc. There are six major storylines and plenty of branching missions, and how you get involved is up to you. That leads to plenty of replay options.

It’s still easy to get overwhelmed by EV Nova despite its age, but Ambrosia offers plenty of resources at the company’s website.

System Shock 2

Our second sci-fi first-person shooter to make the list finds you waking from cryostasis to a ship full of unknown aliens, a screwed up AI, and your now zombified companions. Fair enough. We’ve been through this before, so pick up the weapons and health packs and have at it, right?

Wrong. System Shock 2 doesn’t give you a lot of weapons or health packs. Rather, it gives you an RPG-like system of upgrades that forces you to use strategy, stealth, and the environment to survive.

What really separates System Shock 2 from its peers is the ship itself. It’s creepy and oppressive, and you’ll be more afraid of what could be around the corner than what actually is. Story elements are revealed through logs left by the crew, limiting your knowledge of what’s going on in a manner that reinforces how alone you are.

Syndicate Plus

Another game produced by Peter Molyneux, Syndicate Plus is a real-time tactical action game in which you lead a team of cyborg mercenaries in the “problem-solving” department of the Syndicate.

When you hear the term “cyborg” you just know there are going to be plenty of customization options via augmentations. You will use these to create a team that moves through futuristic locations to achieve your employer’s objectives.

Although there’s plenty to address between missions, it’s the execution of those missions that is most fun. The citizens and their belongings (cars, for example) are there to suit your purposes, should you need them. Your radar tells you where you need to go, but the direct route isn’t always best. If you need some extra help you can “persuade” the people around to help get the job done.

Best of all, the music and sound effects were incredibly effective for the time. The music that suddenly kicks in when you’re spotted will follow me for the rest of my life.

Star Wars: TIE Fighter

I gave up on the Star Wars movies about 25 minutes into Return of the Jedi, and I’ve never been able to get back into it. I still quite enjoy the games, however, and my all time favorite is 1994’s TIE Fighter from LucasArts.

This is because of the excellent story that drives the mission-based flight-sim combat, because of the smooth graphics, and because it was the first time I got to serve the Empire. The missions are what you’d expect from any competent flight sim, asking you to engage in dogfights, take down freighters, protect your own vessels, etc. But because you’re now facing off against the whiney Rebellion, there’s a certain evil glee that goes along with it.

I’m also impressed by TIE Fighter’s staying-power. The gameplay is every bit as intense (and difficult) as it was in the mid-90s, and the space combat graphics are still very cool to view. Just make sure you play it with a joystick. Trust me on this.

Marathon: Trilogy

There was a time when Bungie Studios was the shining light of Mac gaming. With Mac-only (or at least Mac-first) games such as Myth and Oni, they were the one company that made Windows owners jealous of Mac gamers.

But then Microsoft bought them to claim Halo, and that shining light was snuffed out forever.

Mac gamers can still see what made Bungie so special by playing the Marathon Trilogy. This revolutionary series of sci-fi themed first-person shooters introduced features such as real-time voice chat and the ability to wield two weapons at once. The multiplayer options may not do you much good today, but the action and the story are every bit as entertaining as they were in the ’90s.

Honestly, Marathon would be higher on this list were it not for the steps required to grab it. The games are free, but you’ll need to install Aleph One (the free, open source continuation of Bungie’s Marathon 2 FPS game engine) to run them.

Alpha Centauri

“But what if this was set in space?” is a valid question for every video game ever made…even games that are already set in space. That’s because space makes everything so much bigger and more imaginative. And the time this worked best was when Sid Meier took Civilization interstellar with Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

The turn-based strategy elements all remained. You choose from seven factions, then research an unexplored planet, build new technologies and customize your units, and conquer anything hostile (or friendly, if that suits you) to claim victory.

The fun thing about Alpha Centauri is that none of the factions are bad guys. No matter which you select, you feel like you’re doing the right thing when you conquer the others.

Still, why bother playing this when there are many modern alternatives available on the Mac? Because the only thing missing in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri are the flashy graphics. The writing, voice-acting, and depth of gameplay options are still among the best the genre has ever seen.

Populous

For our next game, we go all the way back to the ’80s with Bullfrog’s Populous from Peter Molyneux. If it’s not the first “god” game out there, it’s the first that made god gaming so gleefully fun.

In Populous, you’re given an isometric view of your world and tasked with manipulating this world to help your “followers” wipe out the enemy. More followers lead to more mana, more mana leads to more powers, and more powers mean earthquakes, volcanos, and all kinds of fun ways to punish the non-believers.

There are many similar games available now, most of which are much more involved and rewarding. So, why bother going back to 1989 for the original Populous? Because it’s still fun. It also contains a whopping 500 levels, and the rudimentary graphics create an odd connection with your followers. It’s more like developer and programs than God and subjects.

Planescape: Torment
Enhanced Edition

Those looking to relive the original adventure in this real-time fantasy RPG are in for a treat. The enhanced edition—released in April of this year—comes with the original version from 1999.

No matter which version you’ll play, you are the Nameless One. A name like that means life isn’t good, and the horrors of lives you can’t remember are coming back to haunt you. Worse, a floating skull named Morte is leading your adventure that will take you to the very depths of Hell.

The characters you can recruit in Planescape: Torment are highly non-traditional, including a crossbow-wielding cube and a haunted suit of armor. You’re free to change your class and alignment throughout the 50+ hour adventure, so you’re not stuck with one way of thinking as with most RPGs of this time.

Baldur’s Gate 2:
Enhanced Edition

Here’s a case where the enhanced edition of a game expertly accomplishes its goal; it reminds fans of why they loved the original while making the game accessible to modern gamers.

Why? To start, the remastered graphics lovingly reflect the look of the original, serving mainly to make them look sharp on today’s much larger monitors. The enhanced edition also adds four new characters you can simply ignore if you want to remain faithful to the original, and it builds Shadows of Amn and Throne of Baal right into the package. There’s now a multiplayer option, too.

The reason Baldur’s Gate II is so fondly remembered is because of the excellent story and well-balanced combat. As you’d expect from a Forgotten Realms-based game, you can play through as the good guy, the bad guy, or someone in between. Your actions affect how NPCs and members of your own party see you and will open and close quests and other options.

Good RPGs create worlds you don’t just want to play through, but live in. And in that regard, Baldur’s Gate II is one of the most successful of all time.

Your turn

The thing about putting together a list of the best classic Mac games is that it’s constantly changing. More games become “classic” each year, but it’s more than that. Countless games bubble just under the surface, waiting to be rediscovered or to get their “enhanced” edition to lift them back into the consciousness of Mac gamers. And with the ease of digital distribution, don’t be surprised if we’re soon talking about more of our favorites.

In the meantime, can someone remind me why the Mac versions of Fallout and Fallout 2 disappeared again?

This article comes from Kirk Hiner from Public Access Gaming.

  • Melangell ATC

    Sorry, Ambrosia is no longer answering mail nor will the website allow you to buy…

    • Stephen Beat

      Really, that’s sad. I always hoped there might be an EV2. I still install EV every so often. 🙁

      • Ric

        It is sad, I guess we should try to find another game to replace it guys?