The age-old sore point of Mac gaming has been performance. Ports from Windows versions would often run significantly slower for no apparent reason. Interestingly, this seems to be less of an issue as of the last couple of years – whether because the games are being optimised better or Mac hardware is just better able to keep up with them. For example, it’s rare now that I run a game at less than native resolution, with other graphics settings at or near their maximums, on my 27″ iMac.
Unfortunately, performance appears to have come at the cost of reliability. And boy is it a high cost.
Take Driver: San Francisco and Rage, for example. Both these games will crash at launch if you have anything other than “English” as your first language in System Preferences. WTF. How the hell did they ship a game that won’t even launch if you dare not speak American English as your preferred language? It’s especially bizarre when you consider that Ubisoft, the publisher of Driver: San Francisco, is headquartered in France.
The fun doesn’t stop there for Driver: San Francisco, oh no. Even if you can get it to launch at all, it will then not accept any input of any kind while you have a graphics tablet plugged in. That’s right, any time I want to race around the virtual streets of San Francisco in a crappy 70’s muscle car, I have to not only screw with my system-wide language settings, but disconnect my graphics tablet. Please draw a schematic diagram indicating how the hell any of this makes any sense.
And the latest crashtastic game I’ve come upon is Company of Heroes. Once again we get the crash-on-launch mini-game as soon as it’s installed. Turns out it is allergic to Perian – a Quicktime plug-in providing playback support for a variety of esoteric audio & video formats – and said plug-in must be uninstalled in order for it to run. Ugh.
Even once you get it running, you’re then faced with periodic hangs. Sometimes these hangs are so hard they require a hard reset of the entire computer. Of those that don’t, that I’ve managed to escape from so far, the spindump profile indicates deadlocks in the AI code.
Since that game offers no form of autosave, I’ve lost several hours gameplay already, just in the first week that I’ve been playing it. It’s getting close to the point where I return the game and demand a refund.
In fairness, I should state that there are other examples of non-existent quality control predating these. The Civilization series, not to be outdone by these newer games, has been a pillar of both horrible performance and depressing unreliability since version 3. They’ve also managed to include, in versions 3, 4 and 5, a growing lineage of graphics flaws, including the infamous black ice that foreshadows an imminent crash. It boggles my mind that Civilization 5 is the top-selling Mac game on Steam, and has been for months and months. Does that ranking not consider returns? (does Steam even take returns?)
And Unreal Tournament 2004 had a very special ability to hard freeze my previous iMac. Although in that case I let the blame slide down to NVidia; as far as I could tell it was their horribly buggy drivers that were the culprit there.
Which brings up NVidia. I used to at least be impressed by their hardware, but in recent years it has been – even on paper, from a performance perspective – only on par with AMD’s offerings, and the quality has been abysmal. And their drivers have always, always been terrible. After having my old iMac die thanks to what I believe is fundamentally a bad GPU, the camel’s back has finally broken. I will probably never buy another Mac, for myself, containing NVidia hardware.