Unzipping, Zipper Interactive latest modern warfare shooter, MAG, we test out the online waters to see if Sony’s clan-based shooter can pull you away from the behemoth that is Modern Warfare 2. This one is for the online crowd only, good thing the PS3 offers free online multiplayer! Lock n’ load, this is MAG.
Zipper Interactive, the creators of the 'SOCOM' series break out for a fresh start with MAG. While the subject matter is almost the same, MAG aims to be a little friendlier than its unofficial predecessor, 'SOCOM: Confrontation' (review). It feels like Zipper wanted to branch away from the SOCOM brand to pull in some new faces while testing the waters in the first-person shooter market. MAG is quite different from SOCOM, mainly because of its first-person perspective and massive scale. However, it is not that different that the SOCOM crowd wouldn’t enjoy. It is all about balancing, and I can safely say that any gamer who loves the online portion of a shooter will likely enjoy the intensity in MAG.
MAG is coming off a strong BETA campaign that game hundreds of gamers a sneak peek at what was coming down the pipeline. Along side launch of the BETA campaign, the marking wizards at Sony used the brilliant tag line of ‘ONLY 256 Players’ to differentiate it from the packs of online shooters while established MAG as one of the upcoming shooters to watch. I am sure MAG is not worried about competition from its fantasy-based shooters like 'Bioshock', or 'Borderlands', but 'Call of Duty', that is a different story. It is nearly impossible for one shooter, no matter how good it is, to pull the community away from the COD series, but if one online shooter deserves your attention in 2010, it is MAG.
Leaping into Action
When you slap in your copy of MAG you will be instructed to pick a faction (I'll get to those a little later) and customize your character. Picking your character is extremely important which you wouldn't know unless you have read up, or played MAG before. Once you choose a side, your choice is automatically locked to your profile, and you will not be able to try out the other options, unless you delete your character. This is a bold move that feels like a unnecessary pledge of allegiance. When I started MAG I didn't realise the severity of picking a faction, or a class, and its an odd move that left me a little dishearten. I really wanted to explore each character class, but I was not ready to delete my original character to do so. Having multiple profiles would have been fine. If you plan to play MAG with friends, make sure you know what team you want to join before you fire it up.
The lack of clear direction not only affects the severity of picking a character, it also comes into play once you hammer the battlefield, because MAG gives the player little or no instruction of how each mode works. It's really up to you to comprehend this on your own as you leap fearlessly into the action. All you get is a few lines of text and a quick narration, two seconds before you hop into a match! This doesn’t qualify as instructions. MAG does a horrible job of teaching the players the ins-and-outs of each game mode leaving everyone to find out for themselves. This causes you to sit back and suffer a few losses before you actually figure out what is going on. Zipper really should have complete tutorial, to ease everyone into the action. You can just imagine the amount of first timers getting ambushed on their first run.
Ready to Deploy
In the beginning only one option is open. This mode, 'Supression', is used to get everyone used to the game while the gain XP to advance to other modes (I'll cover all the modes a later). XP is similar to 'Call of Duty' and you will gain XP for killing and assisting in kills, completing objectivies, healing teammates, and more. The XP is used to boost up your characters abilities and gear. The system is fairly good, although it has already been exploited by the amount of healers looking for a point gain, without worriing about the battle.
After a few hours in the 'Supression' mode you will start to get what MAG is all about. On the battlefield, MAG feels entirely different from the twitchy anxiety filed matches of 'Call of Duty'. This does not mean MAG is slow; it has just paced differently, and set up a little more tactical. MAG does not force you to slow down and play the game how it Zipper intended. However, the opposing team might have something to say about that as well place snipers and team assault teams form up quickly to shut down any Lone Wolves.
Initially I went into MAG with my normal 'Halo', 'Unreal Tournament', background only to find, my run-and-gun, hop-and-shoot techniques would not work. MAG is all about timing, opportunity, and patience. For the first time I felt really grounded in reality, with an overwhelming feeling to help my team, and win the game for all of us, and not just me. Even in Halo’s team-based modes, I was not this dug into the gameplay. Good, or bad, MAG has definitely either refined my online shooting skills to make me a more cautious or reserved gamer.
The spot that this puts MAG in is a nice little niche that makes it the perfect game to appeal to every level of gamer including the hardcore. Compared to similar titles, MAG is softer on everyone, while still giving the satisfaction of playing a tactical shooter. Who knows how MAG will fair in a few months, when the newbie’s loose interest and the hardcore represents the majority of players. Then things could be different, but I doubt it will lead to any extremes. Currently, this is a great time to jump into MAG, as it sits in a good period in the year, without too much competition.
Lurking in the Shadows
I have not touched on the storyline behind MAG, because, honestly, it does not matter. All you need to know is that three Private Military Companies (PMC), Valor, Raven, and S.V.E.R and they are all fighting for control against each other. That's about it, nothing more is needed to get into the frantic shooter action... but given this is an *informative* review, here is a little more background on MAG. MAG is set in the year 2025 in a time of global crisis, which includes food shortages, fuel reserves dwindling, and currencies plummeting-- you know the typical non-optimistic look at our future. This brings forth privatized military companies who are fighting in a shadow war behind the scenes for private contractors and the government. That is the skinny, really, what else do you need to use as an excuse to start a war?
When it comes to handling a large number of players online, MAG is surprisingly ultra-smooth! This includes queuing up matches, which is simple and quick, right to the action in-game action. MAG never hits any bumps even with heavy bombardments, and lots of players, and weapons running in all directions. The only aspect of MAG that takes a minor hit because of all this is the overall quality of the graphics, even so the graphics are better than I expected. In all my hours logged into the game, I did not hit any hitches or snags, even with a wireless connection that is a few rooms away from the router.
Even with a polished running game, the matchmaking service could have more balanced. Games can be unbalanced with a number of different skill levels going head-to-head. This would not be a bad thing, except MAG distributes skill points when you increase your level, which can be delegated to new skills, and new weapons. This gives the higher-level characters a bonus that is unfair, depending on your perspective. Now, not all games turn out lopsided. However, you are bound to run across a few dominating matches every so often.
To combat this working together is key with clear communication. MAG divides the players into squads with appointed leaders, once you earn the rank. An effective leader and listeners can easily turn the tide of a battle, even when they are under-equipped. This makes owning a mic very important if you want to increase your effectiveness within a team. Each squad can have a leader, and squads are broken down into 8 players per squad, 4 squads per platoon, and 4 platoons to form a company. If you do the match that equals 128 players per side, making up the impressive number of 256 players—Yip, ‘256’—it is true, it’s damn true.
Now that you have a good understanding on the general aspects of the game. Let us have a look at the four game modes presented in MAG. The first mode you will jump into after the training segment is ‘Suppression’ because it is the only choice available. Suppression (64 Players) is some-what of a training map between your own PMC in skirmish format. The object here is simple; get your kills then the other side of the map. There is only one map in this mode which can get stale. However, it feels like it creates its own dynamic difficulty because of variety of players coming online and adapting their strategies. You can really tell the new players from the experienced vets in Suppression. No matter how much time you spend on this single map, you are bound to be surprised at least once per game.
Once you gain enough skill points, you will be able to join 'Sabotage' and 'Acquisition' modes, which is your first taste at MAG's global war. Finally, you get to face off against the other PMCs to see who the most dominant force PMC is. This is when MAG really starts to pick up, and your initial choices of factions become important. In Sabotage (64 Players) you will have to hold two control points with a final destroy objective activating once you hold the two spots for a period of time. Acquisition (128 Players) is an escorting styled game where you have to steal prototype transports and escape to an extraction point. Easier said than done, and your first real taste of the number game in MAG.
Finally, once you reach level 8 you can join in the big daddy, the 'Domination' (256 Players) mode that has you scattered all over a map with multiple objectives running at all times. This includes defending oncoming attackers, holding bases, destroying bunkers, fuel lines, turrets, and more. Domination is really the main mode you will play once you reach that level. It is a little disappointing that MAG only has four modes, and one running at full capacity. I hope that adding more content is on Zippers mind, because MAG is the type of game that can be successful over the long term... if the developers keep adding onto their already built foundation.
MAG is a tough game to rate because each player will expreince something vastly different when jumping into this dynamic environment. However, Zipper has done their best to balance the action while giving it some depth. The Clan-based gamers will undoubtedly be the main crowd to be salivating over MAG, with the casual FPS coming in second. The initial learning curve and constant re-spawning might be a curveball to some gamers, but for those who persevere through the growing pains, they will likely find MAG to be highly addictive and super fun.
MAG defiantly can have numerous personas depending on a number of variables, like whom is online, what team you are with, and how everyone plays together. Like any online game, this is a chance you take when hoping on international servers. The consistent factor is the quality of game. In MAG's case, it is a solid shooter with a wide-range of appeal.
Depending on your love for throwing it down online, MAG's value will bounce around. Use this as a determining tool before you rent, or purchase MAG. Zipper is headed in the right direction with MAG, as their continued dedication to making online games pushes forward. No matter how you view online war-games, you have to applaud the support numbers, and quality of on-screen action that Zipper has accomplished. MAG not be MAGnificent to everyone, but for those enlisted soldiers, it will un doubtfully become part of your life.