Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Review by: Bill Jones
Go ahead and call MAG a one-trick pony. It’s not a totally inaccurate statement. MAG revels in the fact that it’s a multiplayer-only affair, the only true bullet point of which is bringing good 256-player online first-person shooter action to the console market. But don’t think for one second that assessment makes it a bad game. Zipper Interactive delivers on its promise. Its battlefields and its action come on a scale that ranges from big to massive. But more importantly there’s a complexity to the gameplay to makes it a different experience than other console shooters, and in many ways more accessible to a wider audience in a genre often overcrowded with hardcore mentalities.
A player starts MAG by picking a private military contractor to align oneself with, and then selects the basic features of his character. It seems trivial, but this decision is actually rather important. Whether the gamer aligns himself S.V.E.R., Raven or Valor, this will be his alliance from here on out. Players can go back and switch if they choose, but the idea is that in the never-ending Shadow War, this is who the gamer is swearing allegiance to, and the choice is based on play styles, as different factions offer different incentives.
They are balanced, but have different weapons and skills. The choice also has an impact on maps. If a player is a member of S.V.E.R. and defending in a mode like Sabotage, it will always be the same map, as it is a defense of the home base, which stays the same. Suppression, the deathmatch-like training sessions against members of one’s own team also only take place at home base. It may sound limiting, but in the scheme of the Shadow War it makes sense.
The only single-player element to the game is a brief training session that grants the player a starting XP boost and lays out the framework for the control scheme, which isn’t the most intuitive in world, but ultimately gets the job done. From the hub screen, players can choose to customize their loadouts, and examine their skills and asign points earned by leveling up to add new skills and abilities. This is an important aspect to the game, especially if the player is looking to work as a support class such as medic or repair, as leveling up these fields early can yield more experience points on the field, but comes at the expense of increasing combat skills or earning new weaponry.
The player is initially presented with Suppression, Sabotage and Acquisition modes. Sabotage sees one team attacking and the other defending two control points on some of the game’s smaller maps. The objective of the defenders is to hold all points until time runs out. If the attackers secure both control points, a third and final point to destroy is opened, at which point the defending team must fall back and fuel all resources into protecting that last point, while all of the attackers are focused on taking it out.
Acquisition also features attacking and defending teams, but instead of control points, the attackers are attempting to steal two enemy vehicles and get them back to an extraction point. The defenders would ideally like to keep them away from the vehicles altogether, but if all else fails, destroying a vehicle on the way out is an acceptable defense of the theft. Meanwhile, attackers aren’t just going to be able to march in, and have to work to infiltrate the base.
The main mode of the game, Domination, doesn’t become available to the player until he reaches Level 8, at which point the 256-player action begins. Players are divided into eight-man squads. Four squads form a platoon, and four platoons form a company. Domination is all about defending or gaining control of a much larger map with eight control points, as well as adding to or preventing a rising damage bar as a bevy of smaller focus points such as barracks and mortars are contended. There’s no way to zip from one end of the map to the other, so players are tasked with completing assignments in their own area and hoping the rest of the team does its job elsewhere to achieve victory.
It would likely be utter carnage, and to a degree still is with some players running around haphazardly, without the leadership structure MAG has in place. At Level 15, players can apply for a leadership position as squad leader, and at later levels platoon leader and ultimately “Officer in Charge.” Aside from the honor with these roles comes responsibility. Squad leaders are responsible for the other seven men in their squads, as well as communicating with the platoon leaders, who work with the Officer in Charge to form a chain of command to keep things organized on the battlefield.
Squad leaders can place FRAGO assignments on the map to guide the squad, but also enhance the skills of nearby soldiers. In certain situations, they can even call in tactical support such as UAV Recon and cluster bombing on the attack, and mortar barrage and sensor fused artillery on defense. Platoon leaders have even more leadership abilities and tactical support options, as does the Officer in Charge, who is tasked with keeping track of the entire field and issuing strategy down to his platoon leaders.
While the smaller modes do a fantastic job of getting n00bs ready for battle, they are also fun as experiences on their own. But the real attraction of MAG is the Domination mode, and that is where it excels the most. The game is a decidedly hardcore take on war. Players aren’t going to take an endless steam of lead to the chest and simply recharge; a well placed shot or three is going to take an enemy down. Then the only hope is a nearby medic or a respawn. Getting health is a risk of its own when injured, as players either have to stop at a stockpile or swap between their guns and health shots. This keeps MAG fast-paced and always deadly, but more importantly makes teamwork an absolute necessity. When the enemies are flanking corners in groups of three or four, a run-and-gun Rambo style just isn’t going to work.
But the flip side to this hardcore mentality is that the battlefield is so big, and there are so many things going on, that there is enough room for players of different abilities. Like shooting things? Get out on the middle of the field and mow ‘em down. Like sniping? Plenty of good spots to camp and plenty of opposing snipers to match nerves with. Like shooters and have a good sense of the battlefield, radar and tactics, but not such a fast trigger finger and aim? The support classes are great alternatives. Same problem but a penchant for strategy and teamwork? Why not work up to a leadership role?
It can take a couple games to get used to the control scheme. R2 acts as a weapons switch, while L2 does the same for secondary items. Mini-menus for communication must be brought up with the directional pad, and leadership tactics are not things that can be done on the fly, but the player must access via menus in a safe location. And there’s no doubt that as much as Zipper Interactive has packed in here, players will likely be clamoring for a few more maps and maybe even another mode in the near future. In many ways, it’s not the most graphically impressive shooter around, though it doesn’t look bad either.
But what Zipper Interactive has pulled off with MAG it has done incredibly well, and all the more accessible due to its Teen rating, while not feeling any less mature than other shooters. From the stats tracking the overall results of the Shadow War and player performance, to the strategy, the major accomplishment of MAG is that it makes players feel as though their actions, positive or negative, have an impact on something much bigger that’s going on. And while that requires the shooter to limit itself to a core supply of gameplay modes, the result is a polished experience. And it’s nice to see it as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, not because of any arguments about whether it could or couldn’t work on another console, but because as a multiplatform affair this could have easily been lost in the post-Modern Warfare 2 hullabaloo. Instead, it has found a substantial community on PlayStation 3, and stands as an innovation to the console shooter. MAG is a game shooter fans won’t want to miss.
For more info, www.mag.com
Pads & Panels received a copy of the game courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.
January 29th, 2010 at 6:59 pm
Nice review. How was the network plays with that many people. What happens if 256 ppl are not available (i.e after the game gets play and people get bored) will it spawn A.I or is that number just the max?