Announced at E3 2008, MAG focused on one thing: 256 players. Developed by Zipper Interactive, the team behind the SOCOM series, MAG attempts to take console online gaming into a new area. Question is whether Zipper can really make it work, or will this be one of the countless examples of developers trying something new only to fail horribly.
MAG takes place in 2025 where nations across the country have agreed to keep their militaries within the nation's borders, thus beginning a time of peace. At least, that is until greed came into the equation. Instead of having their own armies fight other countries, Private Military Corporations (PMCs) are brought in to do all the dirty work. The three major PMCs - Raven, S.V.E.R., and Valor - compete for the valuable contracts that will cement one as the premiere PMC. Don't expect any more story than that being that MAG is online only.
Gameplay in MAG is fairly standard for FPS games. You create your soldier and decide which faction you wish to be a part of. Each faction has its pros and cons. Deviations among the PMCs lie in the available weapons and maps. Although there is a debate on balance between the PMCs, fact is, all three of them are even.
Once your character has been created and faction chosen, what's left is to select your soldier's setup. At level 1, you will only have access to the starter weapons (assault rifle, machine gun, sniper rifle) and starter items such as RPG, med kit, repair kit, and grenades, but more will be unlocked once you gain levels. After you've selected your characters load out you can then join in a battle. Just like you have limited choices with your weapons/items, you will also have limited choices with the game types yet that will change over time.
There are four game types in MAG. Suppression is the first type that is available to you when you start, and it's also the simplest. Contrary to the other game types, Suppression is the only time you will fight with fellow players within your faction in a 32 vs. 32 player team deathmatch. Sabotage will be your first taste of going up against a rival faction. In Sabotage, the goal is to destroy your opponent's datacenter, or defend it, in a 32 vs. 32 player battle. Acquisition has 128 players total, 64 vs. 64, in a capture the flag type game in which your side has to capture, or defend, two specialty vehicles. Finally, we have Domination where 256 players will go at it trying to takeover, or defend several points on a map. As every game type can have your side defend or attack, the map will change depending on whose attacking and who's defending thus making for less map variation, but that's really not needed as the maps are so big, you may not be in the same area of the map the times you play it.
Your placement on the map varies on where your squad is placed. Squads are comprised of 8 player and 4 squads make up one platoon. Each squad will have a leader that can specify what objectives to do. This is where the chaos of all those players become somewhat organized since doing the objectives as ordered will give you bonus xp. Squad leaders also have area of affect abilities to improve those around them, and tactical support that can be called in to help (UAV, Cluster Bombs, Mortar Barrage). Along with squad leaders, there are platoon leaders and one Officer-in-Charge (OIC) who has even more abilities to help those around them as well as more tactical support.
So how do you get all the weapons, abilities, and leadership roles? Got to level up. Gaining xp is real slow at first because you have only team deathmatch meaning xp will only come by killing other guys and winning, of course. This is where you have to push through because these first few levels of only deathmatch are simply boring. Once you unlock the other game types, another way to gain xp opens up and that's repairing. If you have a repair kit in one of your load outs, you can go around repairing gates, AA guns, sensor arrays, and various other tactical points that have been destroyed by the enemy. Far from exciting, it's still easy xp. Another big xp gainer is healing other teammates. Once you gain the ability, your med kit can not only heal you, but heal your teammates and even bring them back to life.
With each level you gain, you will receive a skill point. Skill points can be spent on gaining abilities, new items, or new weapons. So instead of being given all this equipment with each level like in Modern Warfare, you can pick and choose how you want to shape your character. If you want a pure sniper, you can spend you points on unlocking new sniper rifles, abilities to help sniping (faster reloading), and equipment to improve your sniping (scopes, bipod, grip). Or, if you're a run and gunner, focus on machine guns and so on. Also, you can focus on support abilities such as the healing abilities, better repairing, and so on.
What I found great about MAG is Zipper's focus on giving players the tools to survive these large battles. Med kits, as said before, can be used heal yourself, others, and even revive players. Resuscitating players is incredibly satisfying because it keeps the player away from being in the �dead pool� for longer periods of time. Being dead all the time is what really kills the experience for a player, especially if another 127 players are still alive and well. Not only that, but healing other players is actually beneficial to you. Yes there will be the douchebags that won't heal anyone, but most teammates will gladly revive you in exchange for the xp they receive in the same way that they'll gladly go along with whatever objectives that are chose by the squad leader for extra xp. Got to love Zipper taking advantage of the greed of online players to make them work as a team and help each other out.
Where Zipper needs to direct their attention to is longevity of the game. You have limited game types and only a few maps, so there can be a point where you get you want something new. DLC is going to be vital to keeping MAG fresh and continue bringing in new players to keep the game alive. Hopefully, Zipper has a lot in the works to make sure the game doesn't get old.
Visually, MAG is a good looking game. Maps are filled with buildings, barriers, environments, and debris that gives you a lot to look at. Far from jaw dropping, the game offers an eye-pleasing experience without any slowdown. You have these moments in the game where there are bombs in the air, soldiers parachuting in from the sky, bullets flying all over, and there's no point where the game chugs along as it tries to show all these elements.
The sounds of battle are loud and realistic accompanied with a military score. At least sometimes it's a score, other times it's a hard rock sound which seems to change on the fly. Aside from that, the only worry is that being an online only game, you're either on a headset listening to all the people around you or on your squad (not the other 120 players thankfully), or you have those guys coming in through your TV speakers. Either way, if you keep it on very low, or mute it like I do, you're not missing much.
All in all, did Zipper come through with their promises with MAG? Yes. They've created an almost lag free 256 player online FPS game that works on the consoles. They addressed the major concerns of all gamers (i.e. spawn killing, no action, long distances to travel), and created a game that works. Problem is whether the game will be sustainable to make for a somewhat long lasting game, or will it be a flash in the pants game that dies out in a few weeks. As of now, the buzz among gamers is that if you're wanting some hardcore online shooting action for the PS3, get this game. Everyone else should keep far away because this game is not for you.