After months of anticipation, Steam for Mac is finally here marking a new era in gaming on the Mac. Even better, developers Valve are allowing new Mac users to play Portal 2 for free (pictured in action below) until the 24th of May!
There are initially 57 games to choose from on the Steam platform which should keep Mac users busy for a while including Torchlight, Civilization IV and Football Manager 10. However, some games are still only available to Windows users at the moment so there's no Team Fortress 2 yet. Valve promise that new batches of Mac games will be released every Wednesday meaning it should eventually match the Windows collection.
Mac users should be aware from the start however that X3100 or 900-series Intel chipsets (the integrated graphics chipsets in older MacBooks) are NOT supported. However, the good news is you will not be required to purchase separate versions of Windows and Mac games. One purchase will work on multiple platforms thanks to SteamPlay. In addition, Mac and Windows users will play on the same servers and join the same lobbies. Most games run very well on the Mac although with some high graphic intensive ones, you may need to bring down the graphics settings a bit to prevent sluggishness.
Installing and setting up a Steam account is really easy, and the download manager is very stable. Whatever your internet connection speed, you don't need to worry about stopping a download partway through. If you exit Steam, it will continue your downloads the next time you start it without complaints.
The simple interface is mostly unchanged from the Windows version. Categories along the top are used to navigate through the Virtual Store, Games Library, Patch and Update News and Community Functionality. There are occasional pop-ups which are usually either adverts or invites. This slick, fast interface allows you to quickly navigate between games, available demos and videos. There's also a game wishlist feature, and your game library has real time search and customizable categories.
While you miss out on a box or instruction booklet by buying games from Steam, you do get all the latest patches and updates downloaded automatically. There are often exclusive demos and offers available through Steam too, and there's a great community service which allows you to join groups and find people to play online. On Windows, its major downfall is that the client auto-updates far too often although it remains to be seen if this will be the case on Mac.
Steam may not sell every game under the sun and the Mac version may lack some of the games available on Windows but overall it's an excellent application and may finally launch gaming on the Mac in a big way.