Got a new M1 Mac? Here’s five great games to play on Parallels Desktop

Since Parallels Desktop 17 was released earlier this year, we’ve been inspired to try out many games on Apple’s M1 Macs in how they run through virtualization.

With many tests impressing us so far, such as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes running at full speed in 1440p on high settings, we’re still testing more games from other storefronts to see how far these Macs will go.

But you may have already received a new Mac this Christmas, and you’re already trying out Apple Arcade or games from the Mac App Store.

With this in mind, we’ve curated five games that will run great on your new Apple Silicon Mac, but are also perfect to play during the Christmas holidays.

Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair

Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair, on a MacBook Pro through Parallels Desktop

(Image credit: Future)

Released in 2019 by Playtonic, a team of ex-Rare veterans and more, this is the second entry into the Yooka Laylee series after the first game had a successful Kickstarter, and was released to positive reviews.

This entry is 2D based, which is inspired from the Donkey Kong Country games of Rare's past. Here, you run through a series of worlds and levels to collect quills and T.W.I.T. coins, as well as to free a member of the 'Beetalion' crew. These will grant Yooka and Laylee additional 'hit points' to use when you reach the final level.

While you can play this game on Steam, we also saw no issues in playing the game on the Epic Games app within Parallels as well. Everything played well on high settings on both the M1 Mac mini and M1 Pro MacBook Pro, so if you want a great 2D platformer to pass the holidays with, Yooka and Laylee can greatly help with that.

Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain

Playing Ground Zeroes on a M1 Mac mini

(Image credit: TechRadar)

To date, an entry from the Metal Gear series has not seen a release on the Mac, but thanks to Parallels, you can play the fifth game with little issues.

Released in two parts – Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain that are available on Steam, you control Big Boss, or Phantom Snake as he's called here, where you need to infiltrate certain bases to rescue or recruit crew members to build out an army at a base called Outer Heaven.

While there are rumors pertaining to this day of the final game being unfinished, due to a missing chapter at the end, that doesn't make the game feel any less fun. The story, while confusing, is made up of the amount that you can do during a mission, You can drop in or be picked up in certain areas, and complete the tasks in different ways.

On the M1 Macs, you can easily run the game at a 1440×900 resolution at medium settings and have a great time. However, if you have a Mac with the M1 Pro or Max chip, you will be able to run the game on its highest settings with no issues.

Everything runs as expected, and over the holidays, it's a great game to lose yourself in.

Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA 4 on a MacBook Pro in Parallels Desktop

(Image credit: Future)

While many are waiting to hear about a Grand Theft Auto VI, the fourth entry is one that gets overlooked the most from the series.

The first in the 'high-definition' series, its purpose was to remake Liberty City, the location from the third game, into this wide-sprawling city.

You control Eastern European war veteran Nico Bellic this time, where you're on a mission to help your family and friends by working with the local Mafia. Across four districts, you're soon flying helicopters and arranging dates to build up your reputation across the city.

The control is arguably better than Grand Theft Auto V, where driving has a better feel here, with more heft and better variation when you drive different vehicles across the city.

While the multiplayer mode was removed in 2020, the single-player mode available on Steam is still a lot of fun. On an M1 Mac, you can expect to play the game in high settings with no issue, but with an M1 Pro/Max Mac, you'll be able to play the game at a 2540×1440 resolution with no issues.

Tomb Raider: Legend

Tomb Raider Legend on Parallels Desktop 17 on an M1 MacBook Pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

With 2021 marking the 25th anniversary of the Tomb Raider series, you may have a favored entry that you go back to for some Lara Croft nostalgia.

However, while you can play the first three Tomb Raider games in Parallels with no issue, the seventh game, released in 2006 on Steam, is worth a playthrough over the holidays.

It's the first entry created by Crystal Dynamics, where Lara receives a soft reboot in her story and appearance, but with the gameplay being updated for the mid-noughties.

The controls here are much looser here than before, where you can play the game with a keyboard and mouse and have a good time.

Sprawled across 10 levels, from Bolivia to Kazakhstan, you're on a quest to find King Arthur's Excalibur in order to find Lara's missing Mother. It's a simple story, but it's where the gameplay shines. You're given a grappling hook that can attach to ledges and blocks to solve a variety of puzzles, alongside finding secret treasures that can unlock costumes for Lara.

For a game released in 2006, it still plays well today, and especially so on an Apple Silicon Mac. You can play the game at high settings, on a high resolution with no issues here.

Sonic Generations

Sonic Generations running in Parallels Desktop 17 on an M1 Pro MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Future)

This was a game that was designed to celebrate Sonic's 20th anniversary back in 2011 on Steam. Sonic Generations is one of the few 3D Sonic games that's fondly remembered, mainly due to how it honors the series' past.

Every level here is a remake of what came before, from Green Hill Zone in Sonic 1, to Sky Sanctuary Zone in Sonic 3. There are nine stages, with an additional stage of Casino Night Zone, from Sonic 2, where you merely collect enough rings in a pinball machine to complete the level.

Every level is as entertaining as the last, where you play a 3D and a 2D version of it, depending on the type of Sonic you pick. There's also plenty of collectibles that you earn by finding hidden red rings across the stages, which can unlock music, skills and more.

Running the game on an M1 Mac, it can stutter if all settings are on high, especially with the shaders. But when running in medium settings on a 1920×1080 resolution, you'll be running across Chemical Plant Zone with no issues.

However, playing Sonic Generations with an M1 Pro / Max Mac, you can easily play with high settings at a 2560×1440 resolution with rarely any stutters.

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We try gaming in Parallels Desktop again with an M1 Pro MacBook

Gaming through virtualization on an Apple Silicon Mac is getting better with every M1 Mac release from the company.

Back in August, we tested games in Parallels Desktop, a popular virtualization software, on an M1 Mac mini, to see how certain games would run. We were surprised by the results. Many would run at almost a full speed in framerate, while others would run at an unplayable speed.

With the announcement of the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, we were curious to see how the same games we tried back in August, would perform on the new MacBook Pro models.

As I upgraded to an M1 Pro MacBook Pro 14-inch in November, I decided to try the same games from August, to see if there’s been a significant improvement already.

Metal Gear M1 Pro

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes running on M1 Pro, Parallels Desktop 17

(Image credit: TechRadar)

As Apple Silicon chips run on a different architecture to Intel and AMD, apps need to be rewritten on macOS in order to take full advantage of the M1 chip. While Apple offers an app called Rosetta 2 to emulate apps that haven’t yet been rewritten, this doesn’t reap the speed and power benefits that a native app can bring.

With Parallels Desktop 17 fully compatible with M1, this means that we can run certain apps on Windows, within the app to see how games can run.

Since our testing in August, Windows 11 has been released, alongside an ARM version, so we installed Steam, Epic Games, Rockstar Launcher, and the Xbox app to see how these would run on the MacBook Pro.

We tested the same games as before:

  • Sonic Adventure
  • Sonic Generations
  • Streets of Rage
  • Sekiro
  • DOOM
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Quake
  • Half Life: Source
  • Half Life 2: Deathmatch
  • Tomb Raider II (1997)
  • Golf it!
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ
  • Tekken 7
  • Resident Evil 3 Remake
  • Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy

Again, DOOM and Dragon Ball FighterZ refused to work, mainly due to the DirectX framework they’re built on. This is a graphics engine, originally created by Microsoft, that allows developers to run their games on certain machines.

Trying to load up Halo Infinite through the Xbox app also refused because of the same reason. Resident Evil 3 is running worse this time, with more graphical issues, making it unplayable, regardless of everything in graphic settings on ‘low’ or ‘off’.

I tried the same settings with each game as before, in a resolution of 1440×900 at medium settings, and it resulted in full speed across the board. While Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes would run at 40 FPS on medium settings with the m1 Mac mini, it was full speed on high settings here.

Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy was another surprise. While it would struggle with the Mac mini with graphical glitches everywhere, here there was no issue. This was also the only time where I could hear the fans, while more graphically intensive games wouldn't summon them, so it could be a glitch with Parallels for the fans.

With the games running this well, I decided to go further in my testing with the M1 Pro.

Going the M1 Pro distance

Resident Evil 3 Remake on an M1 Mac mini through Steam

(Image credit: TechRadar)

With every game on medium settings at a 1440×900 resolution running at full speed, I decided to go for a high setting preset, with a higher resolution at 2560×1440 running the same games listed above.

The results surprised me yet again, with almost every game at full speed. However, Sekiro struggled 

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes ran at the high settings preset at a constant 60FPS, all within the window of Parallels Desktop.

Tomb Raider Legend on Parallels Desktop 17 on an M1 MacBook Pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The only attribute stopping me from playing more games was storage. But while this was impressive, we reached out to Dmitry Geynisman, Product Manager at Parallels to see what the plans were for the future in gaming for Parallels Desktop on Apple Silicon.

While we had noticed that DirectX 12 wasn’t possible, the team has confirmed that this is in the works. “The priority, for now, is DirectX 12. More games are solely running on this API, so we don’t want our users to be cut off from this, so this is the priority.” Geynisman clarifies. “Eventually down the line, we want to support Vulkan, but that partly depends on Apple as well.”

Some of the big games, such as Halo Infinite and Fortnite, will want to be played on these Macs, and we asked whether support for this will arrive.

“With Halo, that’s up to Microsoft due to the API again, but Fortnite is a different one.” Geynisman explains. “It crashes due to the anti-cheat system that’s built-in, but we’re investigating whether that can be enabled within Parallels.”

With the impressive results, we asked if another tier of Parallels, focused on gaming, would be in the company’s future.

“It’s not something we’re considering for now, but in the meantime, we want to make sure that we can offer the games that people own on their Windows PC, on the Mac. Geynisman continues. “We’re as shocked as you in how well some of these games are performing, and we just want to keep this going.”

As more games improve and Parallels works on more compatibility with M1 Pro and M1 Max, time will tell how the future Macs will run these games.

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