Having now invested approximately 10 hours of play time into MAG and risen through the ranks to achieve the role of squad leader I can finally deliver my final verdict on MAG – the massive action game developed by Zipper Interactive for the Sony Playstation 3.
If MAG does anything right it’s conveying a sense of large scale conflict as it’s namesake suggests. From the big 64 player skirmishes to the earth shaking 256 player wars MAG succeeds greatly at making you feel a part of something big – really big.
First and foremost when you initially start playing MAG you will be given the option of joining one of three separate warring factions, or PMCs (Private Military Corporations). There is a flimsy story that attempts to serve as the game’s back story but even after having watched all the PMCs recruitment propaganda I’m still not sure what I’m fighting for. Since MAG is an “online only” shooter I get the feeling deep down inside that once the player pool starts to dry up (which likely won’t be anytime soon) Zipper will consolidate two of the lesser popular factions into one and use the “Shadow War” as an explanation of why the factions joined forces – then we’ll all forget about the story and get on with what truly makes MAG an awesome game – the gameplay!
The three factions are SVER, Raven, and VALOR. Once you choose to recruit with one of the three you cannot change your mind without deleting your character. Zipper’s explanation is that they want people to feel a sense of commitment to their chosen faction.
SVER is a rebellion of sorts – a well organized terrorist style PMC. They don’t have any real uniform solidarity to speak of and they use guerrilla tactics and unconventional weaponry.
Raven (my outfit) is a highly trained European based PMC with modern high tech weaponry and it is said that they are the most well funded and well organized of the groups. Honestly I just picked them because they looked cool. I buy my books for the same reason…
VALOR is a coalition of US and British Special Forces veterans who have years of experience but still use conventional weaponry you may recognize from other popular military shooter games. I played as them briefly until Keyan voiced interest in Raven and I switched factions (by deleting my character). VALOR seems to be the most popular of the three groups.
There doesn’t seem to be any major difference between the three factions aside from the weapons they use and the maps that they defend. As far as perks and ancillary equipment go they are equal in capability. Again – I liked the look of the Raven soldiers as did Keyan and I do like their mid-grade assault rifle.
Scoring kills, completing objectives, healing teammates, repairing structures, and so on and so forth will net you experience points which build towards level ups. Every level you earn grants you a skill point to use towards unlocking new weapons, equipment, or talents. There are plenty of unlocks to acquire so every soldier on the battlefield will do something different. You have five slots to save your custom loadouts (something Call of Duty players will find familiar) so you can build soldier templates to quickly select on the fly at the start of matches and in between deaths.
There are three basic soldier classes to choose from- rifleman, sniper, and support gunner. From those three depending on your other skills and equipment you will be assigned a designation such as engineer, fast assault, medic, etc. and in your squad others can see what you’re equipped for. It adds a diversity to your eight man squads and has a noticable effect on the squads performance. Just as every soldier is different every squad is different and some squads will be better suited to certain tasks than others.
I’ve built my custom loadouts such that they’re tuned for the different game types. So for example when assaulting enemy bunkers I tote my ATAC rifle with reflex scope, pistol sidearm, smoke grenades, a medical kit (because I’m a squad medic), and heavy armor complete with full face masked helmet. I found I was spending alot of time running at the front of the pack where alot of my buddies get gunned down in the initial invasions. Being able to pick those guys up off the ground really pays off when you’re trying to take an enemy stronghold.
As I mentioned you will earn XP towards new talents and equipment but it also earns you points towards being eligible for leadership roles. With 256 players (128 per team) the game would be pretty hectic without some sort of rank and file system in place. Each platoon of 128 players is broken into 4 companies of 32 players. Of each company there are 4 squads consisting of 8 players. Each squad has a squad leader who is chosen amongst the eligible applicants (you have to apply for the role). Each company has a company leader chosen amongst the 4 squad leaders in that company, and each platoon has an Officer In Charge who is chosen amongst the 4 company leaders. To keep the communication channels from being flooded with chatter each soldier can only communicate within his squad by radio and hear other players speaking nearby (albeit at a lower decibel). The squad leaders can communicate up at the company level. Lastly the company leaders can communicate up at the Officer In Charge level. Of course the communications structure is just the opposite for the guys at the top – they can communicate down – which really helps lift the spirit of the squads when you hear the OIC drop some words of encouragement after having secured an objective.
Of course the whole command system wouldn’t be much without some cohesion right? Otherwise we’d just have a bunch of people running in circles and trying to grind kills to level up their soldier. Fortunately the squads seem to stick well together and only in a couple matches of the two dozen or so I’ve played did my squad totally fall apart. Truthfully the squad leader was to blame as he never took the time to assign objectives to the squad so we ended up adopting other more organized outfits and still pulled out a win. Most of the time however the squad leaders will lay down objectives for their guys and when you’re in the vicinity of the objective you’re earning double XP. The effect is that players are less likely to run off in a random direction. The teamwork is focused and highly rewarding. On occasion you’ll get a special assignment from the squad leader to go an take out some key target but again – those are team efforts.
The takeaway from all of this is that the command system and communications system work very well. Just make sure you’re using a headset. Without one the teamwork feels a little detached. In my experience it seems I was able to get alot more done playing MAG while communicating with my squad. This is definitely a team based affair – no lone wolves here.
As far as gametypes are concerned MAG starts you off in a training course to come to grips with the controls. It’s not required but will net you an experience point to apply towards your soldier so it’s definitely worth the 5 minutes you’ll spend running the gauntlet. From there you will need to rank up to start unlocking the larger gametypes.
The first offering is a 64 player team deathmatch style game called Suppression where you face off against players in your own PMC. You’ll probably want to dip into these rounds before anything else because it will really orient you to the way the game is played more so than the training course could ever achieve. The maps are smaller in size and the action is more direct than the other gametypes. So while you may be tempted to jump straight into the next 64 player objective based game available to you just stick with the Suppression to help get your feet wet.
The other gametype available to you at the start is Sabotage. In this mode one team attacks while another team defends two satellite arrays. 32 players per team means two squads of 8 guys each will split up to keep the attackers from destroying the arrays. If the attackers do get both arrays down though they will unlock access to secure the main objective – the comm station. It’s here where the scale and ambition of MAG starts to become more evident. When 32 attacking players are swarming 32 defending players in a single structure you really get a sense of what’s in store with the 128 and 256 player games.
Acquisition is the 128 player gametype where again you have an attacking and defending team. The attackers have to secure two prototype vehicles and deliver them to marked locations on the map. This isn’t exactly a cake walk however since the enemy base is fronted by 8 bunkers. Guess who has to take out those bunkers? YOU SOLDIER! Each of the 8 squads per team will lead their charge against the bunkers. The bunkers themselves have gun turrets on top to mow down incoming squads. Sometimes two squads will band together to take down one bunker which, good fortune and well organized squads permitting, will cascade into a chain reaction of other bunkers being taken down. This forces the defending armies to spawn further back and gives the attacking soldier a chance to push further into the enemy base. From there the battle goes in many directions so I won’t get in to all the subtleties but rest assured Acquisition mode rocks.
Domination is the main event sporting an insane 256 players all fighting for control of key objectives. As with other objective based games you have an attacking and a defending squad and in this gametype there are three phases to the assault. Like the Acquisition gametype there are bunkers arranged around the base that serve as front line defense and beyond those are a series of objectives that your squad must secure in a specified order to win the match. Apart from being big in terms of player counts the maps themselves are big. I imagine it would take a solid 3 minutes to walk from one end of a map to the other. Fortunately the travel time is mitigated by troop transports that you can drive or ride in up to the front line engagement or drop in on a parachute if your team has disabled the anti-air cannon. Occasionally a pave-low will fly in and hover in position to provide advanced troop deployment although they usually get shot down pretty quickly by the more astute enemy squads. Something else to take note of – these matches will take 30 minutes to complete unless the attacking squad completely steamrolls the competition. Be sure to take a pee break and have some snacks and beverage close at hand before deploying.
Graphically MAG isn’t the most stunning game you’ve ever seen. While it doesn’t look terrible you can tell that they had to scale back on the graphics a bit to accommodate the online gameplay with so many players. Smoke and explosions can look a little rough but with so much going on all around you there is plenty else to distract your attention – like all those grenades that just landed at your feet. And while not technically a matter of graphics when the enemy leaders drop airstrikes or mortar attacks on your position the whole area around you will be rocked and roiled (see what I did there?) and thick black smoke and dust will be thrown in the air. It’s a pretty powerful effect and stops every soldier in their tracks.
MAG is all about the online gameplay and Zipper has done a tremendous job given that there seems to be very little lag. I won’t say no lag because anyone with a basic understanding of networking will tell you there is always packet delay but I’ve honestly not encountered any situations where the game was lagging. Everything feels buttery smooth.
The controls feel great too especially if you’re used to games like the Call of Duty series. You can stand, crouch, or go prone with the triangle button and the left shoulder trigger will focus down your sites. You can sprint by clicking the left thumbstick in and jump using the X button. Pretty standard stuff. Nothing real special here but it works well and never feels clunky or awkward.
To summarize MAG does very well what it intended to do by making the players feel like they’re a part of something much more epic. The story may as well have been scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin and the graphics certainly aren’t a showcase for the PS3’s power but damn if this isn’t one of the best console games I’ve played ever – hands down.
Oh and by the way, JOIN RAVEN!
You can find me on the Playstation Network!
PSN ID – Moduserous
[review title=”” pros=”Massive battles, great teamwork, nice leveling system.” cons=”You’ll forget about the backstory before the game begins.” verdict=”A great online team based shooter that shouldn’t be missed by Playstation 3 owners and shooter fans alike.” score=95]