MAG is an acronym for Massive Action Game and boy is it massive, full of action and erm… a game. Sporting 256 player battles, the only game to do so this generation, MAG offers something truly exceptional to differentiate itself from the rest of the FPS market. Fortunately Zipper has designed the game from the ground up to accommodate the high number of players by dividing them up into squads. Each 128 man team is made up of 4 platoons that consist of 32 players; these are then broken down into 8 man squads, which is what you’ll be focusing on at first. The leaders of these squads and platoons is decided by rank, so the more experienced players will be issuing out the orders to the inexperienced pretty much like a real life army…
To level up in MAG is a similar process to Killzone 2 with experience points being given out for killing, healing and repairing along with completing objectives and certain tasks like getting 10 headshots in a match or repairing 3 gates. Ranking up also unlocks game modes as at first you are not able to take part in the full 256 player battles instead you have to unlock them through a series of smaller sized games until you can participate, don’t worry though as it does not take long to reach rank 8. The collection of experience points offers similar rewards as RPGs like World of Warcraft by rewarding time spent in the game as much as by performing well. Earning more points allows you to spend them on attributes like upgrading weapons or unlocking equipment like gun sights or acoustic sensors. It’s addictive as you always want the next upgrade and what you choose really influences your character’s skills making you specialize in particular areas as you can’t unlock everything until rank 60.
The main problem with MAG though is the guidance through all of this, or lack of. There is a very basic training operation at the start which tells you how to use the controls and that’s it. You’re left to jump into the deep end and figure it all out. They don’t even warn you before choosing a faction that it can influence your weapons you use and the maps you defend and at present they seem to be unbalanced with S.V.E.R. severely holding the upper hand. However, I can see this being balanced out in the future with more people buying the game and the fact that you can change faction when you hit level 60 (something you have to do to earn all trophies). The biggest thing to learn though, which is only explained in some text pages is how to command a squad, I can’t speak about platoons as I have not yet reached the adequate rank to be a platoon leader but I can tell you about leading a squad.
As squad commander you are able to choose what you’re current objective is allowing you to decide which point of interest is of most importance and the ability to call in mortars and cluster bombs. You can access these commands via the d-pad or more usefully through the map by pressing select. By selecting an objective you determine the FRAGO (FRAGmentary Order) which offers bonus experience points to your squad when they operate on or around the objective. This means higher scores so whilst a squad is not forced to obey the leader’s instructions; there is a big reward to do so, which by and large works as I have nearly always played with a tight squad. One of the most satisfying feelings in MAG is when you command a squad and you succeed in your objectives, it might not be down to your leadership but you’ll always feel proud of what your squad has achieved.
The meat and potatoes of MAG are not so highly refined, graphics have been paired down to accommodate 256 players on massive maps, the guns too feel weak with little kickback or tactile feeling and the menus too are a bit bland. The world also feels a little static, whilst there may be billowing smoke and moving leaves the water doesn’t react to anything and there’s little in the way of bullet holes in surfaces etc. Luckily all these problems are small and whilst they never go away and you always notice them the game still shines through. Rarely have I experienced any lag, certainly none that would ruin the experience or render in unplayable and nor was there any notable slow down, even in the most chaotic of fire fights MAG is still perfectly playable and fun.
MAG is a very different game to the other shooters out there, compare it to Modern Warfare 2 and you’ll notice it has a slower pace and is more team orientated. You have to approach MAG in a different way to the fast and frantic shooters but once you understand how it works you can get a lot out of it. I’m very intrigued to see where MAG will be in a few months time, I hope there will be a strong community but with only 4 game modes and a small selection of maps it’s going to need some DLC to help prolong its life. MAG is definitely a lot of fun but ultimately will live or die by its community, if players invest the headsets and time then it can be a real blast and with the fun I’ve had so far I hope the PSN community embraces MAG too.
*MAG was played for 16 hours reaching rank 30 out of 60 for the faction S.V.E.R. Tested all modes, vehicles, using all weapons, equipment and squad leader actions available.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of MAG provided by Zipper Interactive.