Steam, the popular PC gaming network from Valve, recently released a Mac client. Is this the beginning of the gaming revolution that Mac users have waited years to see or yet another disappointment? Read on to find out!
Today we’ll poke around the application a little, discuss how Steam for Mac performs relative to its PC counterpart and end with a brief look at a few of the games currently available.
What is Steam?
To clarify, Steam is not a game, it’s an online gaming platform. In fact, it claims to be the world’s largest gaming platform. Using Steam you can purchase and download games, meet other gamers and play with them online, and chat with friends.
A decent (though not perfect) metaphor for Mac users is iTunes. iTunes is an integrated music player, marketplace and more. iTunes doesn’t make it’s own music, they’ve just created iTunes to be your all-in-one music hub. Steam occupies a similar space in the gaming industry with a lot more of a social aspect thrown in (though Valve does in fact make games).
Steam was a major pioneer in both the digital distribution of games and the creation of networks of gamers that can communicate and interact, but has previously been a Windows only platform. Now that a Mac version has finally launched we couldn’t wait to try it out. Let’s dive in!
After you download and run the Steam installer, you’ll be taken through a quick sign up process to get your account up and running.
At this point you essentially only need an email address and screen name. The entire process takes a few minutes at most so you’ll be up and running in no time.
The Interface and Features
For PC users, the Steam interface holds no surprises as it’s nearly identical on the Mac. For newcomers, it’s a beautiful dark theme with nice gradients and smooth sliders; not unlike many AIR apps we’ve seen. The primary interface is essentially a custom web browser that helps you interact with both remote and local content.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the app opens with four different sections: Store, Library, News and Community. Let’s briefly look at each of these.
The Steam store is where you buy and download all your games. You can also download demos and watch trailers for upcoming titles.
There are currently 64 titles for Mac ranging in price from $3 to $40. There is also a single free game called Portal available directly from Valve. If you’re used to the iTunes business model, you’ll likely be disappointed in the lack of other free offerings.
I think finding some developers willing to put out free content would be a great way to drive new users to the platform. However, for now, this remains a fairly serious gaming community aimed at providing quality content. If your budget is low, there are plenty of games for $9.99 and below that might be a good place to start.
If the number of available games seems low, remember that the Mac version is still very new – so you can expect to see that offering grow and approach the huge library of PC games available. Expect plenty of games from both indie developers and from big names like Sega, Square Enix, Capcom and Lucasarts in the near future.
Your library is where all the games, videos, etc. go when you download them. The files can be huge (several GBs) so there’s an integrated download manager to help keep an eye on and control your downloads.
To launch a game, simply double click on it in your library. The library tracks detailed information regarding achievements earned and recent news regarding each of the games that you own.
The news section is basically a blog that keeps you up to date on all things Steam.
Here they announce special offers, game releases, new versions, etc. If you’re the kind of gamer that wants to keep up on everything new, old and coming soon, you’ll want to stop by here daily.
The community section is where you connect with other gamers on Steam. Just like any other social network, you can set up a profile, add friends, and join groups. Steam keeps track of your gameplay stats and will tell other members if you’re online, in a game, or offline.
If you see your friends online, you can send them a message, leave comments on their profile pages or join them in a game.
First Impressions and Considerations
Remember that this review is targeted at Steam for Mac as a platform and not at any specific game. For this, Steam works fairly well (but not great, yet) and Mac users should be thrilled they can join the party. I found the application to be a little sluggish at times but for the most part it handled pretty well.
On the positive side, you definitely get the feeling you’re jumping into a huge community and can instantly get excited about the prospects.
Without a doubt, if you’re a serious gamer, you should join Steam. The impressive network of players and fast growing body of available titles is more than enough to keep you strapped to your chair for months on end (if you can handle the drain on your bank account).
However, before you run off to start your download, you should have a look at your System Profiler. Games this intense and large-scale require some heavy machinery – so if you’ve got one of the lower-end MacBooks, you can forget about it. The only system requirements I saw on the Steam website were OS X 10.5 or 10.6 and a two button mouse, but each game has its own set of system requirements and will not hesitate to tell you that your video card isn’t up to snuff.
For many games, it’s recommended that you have an (ATI): Radeon 9600 Video Card or (NVidia): GeForce FX 5200. You’ll also want at least a couple of gigs of RAM and a powerful processor to avoid choppy game play.
Is Windows Still Steaming Mac on Gaming?
Though Steam looks promising, there are still plenty of problems to be worked out. As we all know, Macs have almost never been the ideal choice for gamers due to several factors, the largest of which is perhaps a simple lack of available options compared to that of Windows. Even now as more and more offerings become available, there are lots of other hurdles.
In a recent article, Gizmodo conducted speed tests that showed the Windows version of Steam blowing away the performance of the Mac version (even when both were run on a Mac!).
The article suggests that slower GPUs, graphics drivers and OpenGL’s poor gaming performance are likely to blame for many of Steam’s downfalls on a Mac. Further, many games are simply being ported to the Mac version of Steam from their Windows counterparts, resulting in hasty bug-filled implementations that lack the finesse and performance of the originals.
Hopefully we’ll soon see lots of games built from the ground up to handle well on the Mac version of Steam but until then, we Mac users might just be forced to withstand the jeers of Windows users regarding our inferior experience.
To finish off our review, here are a few games currently available for both Mac and PC on Steam.
“Portal is a new single player game from Valve. Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, Portal has been called one of the most innovative new games on the horizon and will offer gamers hours of unique gameplay.”
“With over 6 million units sold and unprecedented critical acclaim from fans and press around the world, Sid Meier’s Civilization is recognized as one of the greatest PC game franchises of all-time.” Also be sure to check out Civilization IV The Complete Edition for $39.97.
“The adventure is set in the mining settlement of Torchlight, a boomtown founded on the discovery of rich veins of Ember – a rare and mysterious ore with the power to enchant or corrupt all that it contacts. This corruptive power may have dire consequences however, and players set out into the nearby mountains and depths below to discover the full extent of Ember’s influence on the civilizations that have come before.”
“In an apocalyptic steampunk future, you are a privateer ferrying goods across treacherous airspace. Protect your airship and yourself from an onslaught of pirates, and safely reach your destination to reap the rewards. Guns of Icarus combines aspects of first person shooters with time management in a richly detailed steampunk setting. The effect is a thrilling, frenetic aerial showdown that quickly takes hold and doesn’t let go.”
“Experience a new dimension of puzzle action game fun in QuantZ for the PC; a fabulous adventure that goes beyond the Action-Puzzler, Match-3 and Marble Popper genres. The gameplay is simple yet addictive: you have the power to control a cube with your mouse and drop marbles onto it. Create explosions of colors, chain reactions and win special rewards. Explore an immersive universe and become the QuantZ Oracle! With 24 unique and beautiful worlds to go through, 100 puzzles to complete and innovative game physics, QuantZ will amaze you!”
“World of Goo is a multiple award winning physics based puzzle / construction game made entirely by two guys. Drag and drop living, squirming, talking, globs of goo to build structures, bridges, cannonballs, zeppelins, and giant tongues.”
To sum up, Steam for Mac is off to a promising start. It’s only been out a short while and already has over 60 games available and is receiving daily updates. The giant existing network of gamers provides newcomers on the Mac with the ability to join the fun and take part in the community without any compatibility issues.
The main problems that will need to be addressed in the long run are the performance issues. Until the complex equation of hardware and software balances well enough to provide a smooth, relatively glitch-free experience, I predict that many Mac users will be turned off and therefore continue to look to dedicated consoles for their primary gaming experiences.
The popular gaming network Steam has finally come to the Mac. Though it shows a lot of promise, it currently suffers from a small offering of mostly ported games and some serious performance issues. However, there are some great titles currently available so if you've got a powerful Mac, you should absolutely give Steam a shot.6