posted 3/2/2010 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
Usually, I can get through a FPS quickly and offer up my review on the game soon after it's released.. Seeing as MAG was one game that needed some extra attention, I decided to take my time on this one. It's a good thing too as my opinion on the game changed as I progressed through the ranks. MAG is a flawed game but it has potential to be a good one.

MAG stands for Massive Action Game and it's the product of Zipper Interactive. These are the guys behind Mechwarrior 3, Crimson Skies, and a boat load of SOCOM games so they have some experience in creating war games. MAG is a pretty ambitious project in that it offers up a first person shooter with up to 256 players on a single map. Built just for the PlayStation 3, MAG looks to recreate massive battles in large open areas.

You start out by choosing between one of three factions . Each faction has their own specific weapons so they offer a slight difference in equipment. Here's the first issue with the game as S.V.E.R.'s just overpowering and a lot of folks in the game are gravitating to that faction. I know that there needs to be some different strengths and weaknesses to the three but I think Zipper either needs to tone down S.V.E.R. or boost the other two to make it a little more competitive. You're able to customize the look of your character somewhat with different faces and clothing as well but don't expect anything too extensive in this department. For loadouts, you can customize up to five different types. To prevent people from just maxing out on everything, there's a load limit with each item given a score. You won't be able to go past the limit in customizations so this forces you to pick and choose the items you want the loadout to specify in. Each weapon customization also adds onto the score so this is a nice setup for making different custom loadouts and not have it be overpowering. There are other ways to customize your character with certain skills and such. As you earn experience points and level up, you can upgrade attributes that will open up new abilities and enhance abilities. The character level and customization is more in depth than Modern Warfare 2 and something I do prefer over it.

After you setup your character, you're then allowed to be placed in a queue to be deployed. When you first start out, you're limited to smaller group games. It's not until you get to level eight where you can then participate in the large scale 256 man wars. This is put into place to try and have you get used to how MAG is played and to develop the necessary teamwork skills needed to do well in the game. You can't just run around and play it like a traditional FPS if you want to succeed. Teamwork is the key and the early levels are there to try and teach you to work as a team. I like that Zipper made it so you don't just jump into a 256 game server as forcing you to work your way up should help make for better teammates later on. This isn't always the case but I'm going to guess that it does have some affect in providing better quality players on the larger scale battles. I know from experience that I was running around like a chicken with his head cut off in the first few levels but as time went on, I learned to follow and coordinate with my squad.

Even though MAG lets you fight against a large number of human enemies, you are always placed in a squad. Four squads make up a platoon four platoons equals a company. Up to eight people can be in a squad and one of the higher rankings members can be squad leader. The squad leader can help direct objectives and offer up bonuses. Following close to a squad leader (who is playing correctly) can help you a lot as they can provide such bonuses as faster reloads, increased resistance to damage, and increased experience points. It's another way to encourage team work and to follow your squad leader and, hopefully, the rest of your squad mates around.

Before the battle begins, you start out selecting a spawn point and the loadout you want to equip yourself in. As the game progresses, new spawn points can open up making it easier to get back into the fight. One of the cooler things to experience is to parachute into the battlefield. You have some control of your parachute so you can try and place yourself down in a safer area. Of course, you're also susceptible to gun fire as you float down but I found that it was uncommon for me to take damage this way.

If you are not careful though, you'll die a lot. Like Modern Warfare 2, it sometimes can take but a few shots to bring you down. It can get pretty damn frustrating if you're not used to this. Even though I have a lot of experience in first person shooters, it still took me some time to know how to approach areas and spot the enemy without being picked off easily. There are still many times where I would just be walking and a machine gun from out of nowhere hits me two times taking me down. I think I was even more frustrated with my first few hours of MAG than I was with Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer experience. I had to force myself to work through the nuances and instant death scenarios that I encountered during my early playing hours and I feel bad for newcomers going up against seasoned veterans with enhanced weapons as dying might be the norm for them for a while.

Now in the age of FPS games, MAG deviates from the current norm and goes back a few years by making you actually heal yourself if damaged rather than waiting around to regenerate health. Thank you, Zipper as this is one of the things I truly miss in the world of FPS games. You have 100 health and it can get whittled away by gunfire, rockets, or grenades to name a few. Each soldier can carry a healing kit which is a syringe that you inject yourself. In the beginning, it won't heal you completely if you are down in the single digits but you can get multiple injections from one syringe. Later on, you can pick up the ability to heal others as well as revive them. You can't use it forever though but there are supply crates around where you can refill your syringe as well as reload on ammo.

Let me talk about reviving for a second. In MAG, you not only die but you can be put into an out of action state. At this time, you'll see a red skull that counts down whereby a medic teammate came come along and revive you back into battle. If this is done, you can get back into the action quicker as you'll save the time trying to run back to your current position from the spawn point. If you don't think there's any one around that can help you, you can always bleed out and die at that instant. Reviving is also one of the quickest ways to level up as you can get a lot of experience points quickly this way. This is the reason you'll see a lot more medic-centric players early on in their leveling capabilities as it's the fastest way to get into the 256 person games at level eight and commanding a platoon at level fifteen.

Once dead, you have to wait to get back in. There's a rotating 20 second time limit and depending on when you die in that rotation, you can get back in quickly or have to wait a good part of the 20 seconds to do so. If you are in the process of changing which loadout you want or selecting a waypoint to spawn at, you can miss your deployment window and have to wait another 20 seconds so it pays to keep an eye on the countdown to make sure you don't miss that window. I've played a few games where the most I had to wait was 10 seconds to get back in but then again I got pretty lucky as to when I died in that spawn time window. For the most part it doesn't seem like you have to wait too long to get back into the action.

Three different gameplay modes give you some variety in how to play the game. There's the basic two team deathmatch where you try and take out the other team's players faster than yours. A slider indicates how many respawns are left for each team so you have an idea on how you are doing. Acquisition is kind of interesting in that you have to go in and capture a vehicle and drive it away to capture it. There are two on the map to try and grab so the attacking team usually splits into two groups to carjack one. Along the way you can bust apart barricades to make the path to capturing the vehicle easier. Speaking of vehicles, they do play a minor role in the game but make no mistake about it, MAG is an infantry based game with vehicles provided as a small option. Domination is pretty much capture and holding of points as well as planting charges in certain areas to take them out. It is nice to see a little progression of the map as you have to accomplish certain tasks before you can move on to the next one.

There are various map types but the selection is limited so it doesn't seem like you're getting a lot of content for your money. The nice thing though is the maps are huge and offer a ton of places to explore. Some of the maps employ strategic points to demolish or take over. You can earn points just by blowing up barricades in an acquisition map as well as making an easier route to drive a stolen vehicle. To make your attacking job easier, you can also take out some buildings such as turrets or mortar batteries.

Graphically, I thought MAG was good but not overly impressive. Textures seem solid but not as detailed as some other FPS games out there now. Character models are OK as well and aren't as nice as some older games out there. Still, trying to show a large amount of people running around on the screen at once, I can see where they couldn't make a game as detailed as say Modern Warfare 2 because of the sheer size of the maps and character models that can be on screen at once. It's not a game I would use to show off the power of the PlayStation 3 but it does accomplish the task of making for a somewhat nicely detailed open world.

Sound wise, I thought MAG was pretty average in this department. Firing some of the guns, I thought they sounded rather weak. You don't really get a sense of power or explosiveness coming from them as it seems the gunfire sounds are a little light. Also, the grenades produce a pop that I just didn't like at all. As you get to areas with a lot of action, the sounds do become a large mesh of gun fire and grenades making for a nice combination of audio conflicts. I did like it when the mortars or air support launched their attacks at those sounded pretty powerful. The voice acting, I think, is OK but it isn't the worse I've heard. Overall, I wasn't too impressed with the game sounds but it does get the job done.

Being an online only shooter, I found that playing on the servers to be pretty good experience. Only a very few times did I experience any lag or issues and it's certainly within the norm that I have experienced in all my years of playing online fps games. There are some times where the game is not available for server maintenance but for the most part, playing MAG online was one of the better online experiences I've had recently. It certainly fared a lot better than Modern Warfare 2 where I had many games where it would look for a new host or completely kick me out of the game.

MAG, as it stands now, isn't a bad game but I think there's much needed to improve upon to really make it a good game. Between many bouts of frustration, I did find some things I like. The game really does rely on having a solid team to play with and that's hard to achieve given the nature of public servers and the types of players out there. The balancing issue does need to be fixed and there needs to be more maps added in the near future to make the game not seem stale soon. MAG is a good idea that needs some more polishing to really be a long time enjoyable game. It's not a bad game and it's got the underlying features to make it a lot of fun should Zipper keep improving upon it.

MAG tries and does some things well. 256 player battles still seem too chaotic and the game relies heavily on having a good team which is hard when it's a public style offering. There needs to be more maps added and some balancing between the factions but overall, it's got the makings of being a good game if Zipper keeps on improving it.