M.A.G. Review (PS3)

MAG: Massive Action Game is one of those 'does what it says on the tin' titles (like Gratuitous Space Battles, for instance), so it's perhaps unsurprising that MAG actually is a massive action game. And in MAG's case, massive has never been more appropriate a label, with online multiplayer support for up to 256-players, across its four equally enjoyable objective-based game types.

MAG's immense online battles that pride themselves in catering for such a vast number of players could have so easily been a foolhardy and potentially disastrous experiment in expanding the FPS genre. But somehow Zipper has managed to nail it by simply dividing teams into manageable squads of eight all working towards the same objective. Each team (or company, to adopt the correct lingo) consists of four of these eight man squads, which are themselves split into platoons of four. So, that's four times four squads of eight, which equals 128-players per team. Are you paying attention, soldier? Good.

MAG looks the part, although the colour palette rarely strays from the typically drab. But then, this is war.
This is the Raven squad. The black garbed techno-mercs, who make up for their lack of battlefield experience with all the best gear.

Key to your enjoyment in playing MAG however, will likely depend upon how effectively you're able to communicate with the rest of your team, and therein lies one of MAG's most potentially damning flaws. While MAG mostly succeeds in delivering quantity, the level of quality inherent in the overall game experience proves to be another thing entirely.

MAG is comparable to Battlefield: Bad Company from a gameplay standpoint, especially since it appears that Zipper Interactive has been playing a lot of DICE's celebrated multiplayer shooter. Very similar in terms of visuals, game objectives and controls MAG liberally plucks these components from Battlefield, but somehow makes them its own. This no bad thing and indeed, it is by no means a problem. MAG's biggest issue really emerges when you're trying to communicate and co-ordinate tasks with the other members of your team.

Zipper can hardly be blamed for this, but communicating with the rest of your team, with so much going on, is nigh-on impossible. Forget trying to properly plan a strategy with perfect strangers and forget trying to call out for help when you get shot. It might have been far more preferable - especially given the frenetic nature of a battlefield inhabited by 255 other players (128 of which are out to get you) - to have been given a context-sensitive prompt to repair or heal. Instead, having to fumble for a healing adrenaline shot is too fiddly for anyone to bother helping you back to your feet. Thus being doomed to lie on the battlefield, writhing around like a beached fish waiting for someone to revive you becomes an all too regular occurrence as no one bothers to respond to your vain calls for rescue.

MAG's controls blend BF's and Modern Warfare 2's, mapping sprinting and melee attacks onto those the PS3's L3 and R3 analogue stick buttons, but with Bad Company's awkward item selection nonsense attached to the L1 button. The number of times we were killed while fumbling for a grenade or accidentally aiming down the sites because we brushed L2 as we vainly grasped for a reviving adrenaline shot was cause for much grinding of teeth and tearing out of hair. It's a control setup that's simply far too ham-fisted for this kind of game. And no quick access to a fast grenade throw means that attempting to select one from your gear is suicide.

The level design in MAG is uniformly superb, with enough vantage points, hidey holes and cover for everyone.
S.E.V.R (pronounced sever) are the rag-tag bad asses of the game. They're essentially the most balanced team falling somewhere between Raven and Valor.

MAG's clunky gear selection is so annoying, given the pace and bustling nature of the action that it almost breaks the game in our book. But the solid and robust FPS action wins out and saves MAG from ultimately being ruined by its irritations. Zipper deserve to be congratulated for looking beyond the success of the SOCOM franchise to craft a supremely slick and intuitive FPS that's as bravely ambitious as MAG.

Yet, where genre stablemates such as Battlefield: Bad Company and Modern Warfare 2 offer single-player campaigns and other gameplay options alongside their respective multiplayer modes, MAG is quite happy to give you its uniquely numerous multiplayer and send you marching to war. But given the variety of game types available in MAG, a lack of any sort of single-player never really registers as a concern. There's more than enough longevity in MAG's online battles and it never hurt Warhawk to stick to online only. Having said that, it would have been a nice bonus to have an offline mode of some description, even if it had been a series of isolated missions to play alone or in splitscreen co-op.

MAG's four central match types are strong enough to keep you playing for some time with 64-player Sabotage, 64-player Suppression, 128-player Acquisition and 256-player Domination each providing differing challenges and objectives, whether it's capturing command posts or apprehending the opposing team's vehicles, there's always always something fresh to keep you on your toes and challenged.

There are also three factions to choose from, each with varying attributes that add a further layer of variety to MAG. S.V.E.R are a rag-tag band of moderately experienced soldiers that are notorious for fighting with unmatched fervour while Valor is an army of seasoned veterans, adept in communication and tactics. Finally, Raven, who will no doubt prove to be the popular choice, simply because what they lack in experience they make up for in their cool black technologically advanced apparel and all the best battlefield gear.

The obligatory story of the game's three PMCs (Private Military Companies) is a largely irrelevant one. All you really need to know is that MAG takes place in 2025 where PMCs fight for contracts in a conflict known as the Shadow War. Your individual character - who can be customised and is able to switch between five bespoke weapon loadouts before each match and during respawns levels up persistently from round to round, earning increasingly higher ranks that better your chances in being selected as the leader of a platoon, or indeed an entire company if you put yourself forward for consideration.

Massive chokepoints where huge battles occur are a frequent event. Sometimes, the result can be complete chaos.
MAG has certainly progressed since its open beta. It really does look great and plays exceedingly well. Shame about the annoying gear selection.

Levelling up also grants skill points that can then be put towards purchasing new skills (obviously) and upgrades or attachments for your weapons. None of these bonuses take the form of ridiculous, ability enhancing perks (a la MW2). Instead, weapon upgrades and squad buffs or bonuses for faction leaders reward skill over persistence or the number of hours you pump into playing the game. Every action you perform on the battlefield grants XP, which acts as your currency in purchasing additional upgrades for your character.

MAG may seem like just another military FPS with little more than an impressive multiplayer gimmick. However, MAG succeeds as an enjoyable and enormously playable online FPS title that's worthy of your time. It might not be to everyone's taste and the control system takes some getting used to, but when the core mechanics are as polished as MAG's, you'll be willing to overlook the niggles. The question is, if you really want to get the best out of MAG, will you be able to round up enough mates with a PS3 and a copy of the game? Best get onto Facebook sharpish, methinks.

Top Game Moment:
Scoring your first kill streak. It might be quite rare, but that just makes it all the more satisfying.

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By Kres (SI Elite) on Jan 26, 2010
Oh Mag is out, lovely! Wait... I don't have a PS3... :\
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Jan 27, 2010
Me neither :( But this is the game that makes me want to get one.
By Revan (SI Elite) on Jan 27, 2010
Zipper's SOCOM series were all really good games. I just wish they would put a SP mode in their games again. Since my net sucks I guess I'll be missing another Zipper game. :(