This is the year Mac gamers bid farewell to the ghosts of Christmases past.
In holiday seasons gone by, their choices consisted mostly of poorly ported PC hits. But so many first-rate titles for Macs have appeared in recent months that the challenge is deciding which to buy.
Topping many lists will be Aspyr's Mac version of EA Sports' "Madden NFL 2000." While this game has existed for years for the PC platform and stand-alone game systems like Sony's PlayStation, this is the first time you can play it on your Mac.
In fact, the arrival of "Madden" ends a long drought during which no major sports simulations were released for the Mac. If the game sells well -- and I predict it will -- we should see more EA sports titles migrating.
Meanwhile, savor "Madden." Now we Mac users, too, can partake of the legendary "Madden" detail and accuracy: full rosters of each NFL team with each player's abilities meticulously included; stunning 3D graphics that include each NFL stadium and depict the players in sizes that reflect the heft of the real specimens; gameplay choices that range from a quickie arcade match to a full season; the capability to build a franchise, player by player; even network play (but only Mac-to-Mac for now).
As you'd expect, better-equipped Macs yield the most satisfying experience. The minimum requirements are a 180 MHz 603e PowerPC or better, 4x CD-ROM, 32 MB of RAM and (ulp!) 100 megabytes of hard drive space. A G3 and a 3D accelerator card such as the ATI Rage series or one of 3Dfx's Voodoo cards certainly help the visuals. Any iMac should handle "Madden NFL 2000" nicely.
Another significant release is MacSoft's "Total Annihilation Gold." In this real-time strategy game, you develop resources of energy and metal so you can construct air, sea and land forces to wipe out your foes (either computer-controlled or humans on a network).
As with "Madden," "Total Annihilation" has been out for PCs for some time, but this release proves that Mac gamers sometimes get the last laugh. Since the PC version appeared two add-ons for the game, "Battle Tactics" and "The Core Contingency," have come out. Both CDs are included in the Mac version of "TA" -- a heckuva deal.
Be warned, however, that "Total Annihilation" is terribly absorbing. In other words, you'd better have a lot of spare time for this one.
If you prefer arcade-like action, there's the racing game "Tanaka" from Pacific Media WorX. You have a fixed amount of money with which you buy a vehicle and equip it with the best engines, shields and weapons you can afford.
Then it's off to race (and fight) your opponents on a tube-like 3D course (a graphics accelerator card does wonders for this game). Assuming you survive the race, and depending upon how well you finish, you earn more money with which to upgrade your vehicle for the next race.
There's even a Mac-only contender this year. Pangea Software, which had given us "Weekend Warrior" and "Nanosaur," now gives us "Bugdom." This game, which Apple bundles on new iMacs and iBooks, stands apart from most other 3-D games for its minimal violence.
You control Rollie McFly, whose mission is to rescue the Lady Bugs from the ruthless Fire Ants. Visually breathtaking, this game requires an ATI 3D card, which is built into all new Macs. If you own a G3-equipped Mac that didn't come with "Bugdom," this is a good one for the whole family.
A few quick looks at other games available for the Mac this holiday season:
"Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six" (MacSoft): The sequel to this game is already out for the PC, but patient Mac gamers can get the Eagle Watch Expansion Pack for free. In this realistic tactical combat simulation you have to choose your team and map out your mission carefully before taking on terrorists. If you're tired of cartoonish first-person shooters such as "Tomb Raider" and "Duke Nukem," try this.
"Falcon 4.0" (MacSoft): This jet-fighter simulation offers remarkable graphics but has equally remarkable system requirements (300 MHz G3, 128 MB RAM and a 3D accelerator card). Not to mention the demands on the player -- the manual is more than 600 pages!
"FLY!" (Gathering of Developers): If you'd rather fly without getting shot at, this simulation is for you. Unfortunately, its system requirements are just as high as "Falcon 4.0's." Maybe you should ask for a new PowerMac G4 first.
"Railroad Tycoon II" (Gathering of Developers): "SimCity" on rails. As the title suggests, the object is to build a railroad empire. The good news is that it requires only a 132 MHz PowerPC, but the bad news is that it gobbles 130 megs of hard drive space.
"Star Wars Episode I Racer" and "Star Wars Pit Droids" (Lucas Learning): After a hiatus of several years, Lucas Learning returned to the Mac platform this year. "Pit Droids" is an educational puzzle game for children in which you guide the awkward droids toward holding bins. The long-promised Mac version of "Episode I Racer," a simulation of the dramatic pod race in the movie, should be available by the end of this week. Information: MacGamers Ledge (www.macledge.com) and Inside Mac Games (www.insidemacgames.com).
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