MAG Review

26 Jan 2010  by   Paul Younger
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Possibly one of the most literal game titles of all time, MAG: Massive Action Game is unsurprisingly, a massive action game. It’s actually a really massive action game, offering online multiplayer support for up to 256-players, across four game modes each of which offer a different style of objective-based play.

MAG’s core concept of staging vast battles that cater for so many players is undoubtedly an ambitious one and something that to us, seemed somewhat foolhardy and potentially unworkable. But amazingly, MAG pulls it off with seemingly effortless aplomb by simply dividing players into manageable squads of eight all working towards the same objectives.

Each team (or company, to use the correct lingo) consists of four of these eight man squads, which are themselves split into platoons of four. So, that’s four times four squads of eight, which equals 128-players per team. Are you listening, soldier? Excellent. Key to your enjoyment in playing MAG however, will ultimately depend upon how effectively you’re able to communicate with the rest of your team, and therein lies one of MAG’s most glaring and fundamental problems.

While MAG mostly succeeds in delivering quantity, the level of quality is another issue entirely. From a gameplay standpoint, it appears that Zipper Interactive has been playing a lot of Battlefield: Bad Company, since some of the objectives and controls have been liberally borrowed from DICE’s lauded multiplayer shooter. No bad thing, surely? Indeed, this isn’t MAG’s biggest problem – the troubles really emerge when you’re trying to communicate and co-ordinate tasks with the other members of your team.

Cue much frustration when you’re shot down, doomed to lie on the battlefield, writhing around like a beached fish waiting for someone to revive you and put you back in the game. Chances are that no one will bother to respond to your vain calls for rescue. But then, Zipper can hardly be blamed for this, although it might have been far more preferable – especially given the frenetic nature of a battlefield inhabited by 255 other players (128 of which are out to get you) – to have been given a context-sensitive prompt to repair or heal. Instead, having to fumble for a healing adrenaline shot is too fiddly for anyone to bother helping you back to your feet.

MAG’s controls are a nice hybrid of BF’s and Modern Warfare 2’s, mapping sprinting and melee attacks onto those clicky L3 and R3 analogue stick buttons, but with Bad Company’s awkward item selection nonsense attached to the L1 button. The number of times we were killed while fumbling for a grenade or accidentally aiming down the sites because we brushed L2 as we vainly grasped for a reviving adrenaline shot was cause for much grinding of teeth and tearing out of hair. It’s a control setup that’s simply far too ham-fisted for this kind of game. And no quick access to an instant grenade means that attempting to select one from your gear is suicide.

MAG’s clunky gear selection coupled with that dodgy communication issue almost makes for a game-breaking combination, but the solid and robust FPS action shines through and rescues MAG from being marred by these irritations. Zipper should be congratulated for looking beyond the success of the SOCOM franchise to craft a supremely slick and intuitive FPS that’s as overtly ambitious as MAG.{PAGE TITLE=MAG Review Page 2}Essentially just another military-themed shooter with a brown and grey colour palette, MAG goes a step further in introducing such immense scale and a unique level of activity to its online multiplayer. Yet, where genre stablemates such as Battlefield: Bad Company and Modern Warfare 2 offer single-player campaigns and other gameplay options alongside their respective multiplayer modes, MAG is quite happy to give you its uniquely proportioned multiplayer and send you off to war. But given the variety of game types available in MAG, this never really proves to be a concern. There’s more than enough longevity in MAG’s online battles. It just might have been a nice bonus to have been given an offline mode of some description though, even if it had been a series of individual missions to play alone or in splitscreen co-op.

MAG’s four central match types are strong enough to keep you playing for some time with 64-player Sabotage, 64-player Suppression, 128-player Acquisition and 256-player Domination each providing differing challenges and objectives, whether it’s capturing command posts or apprehending the opposing team’s vehicles, there’s always always something new to provide a decent challenge.

There are also three factions to choose from, each with varying attributes that add a further layer of variety to MAG. S.V.E.R are a rag-tag band of moderately experienced soldiers that are notorious for fighting with unmatched fervour while Valor is an army of seasoned veterans, adept in communication and tactics. Finally, Raven will no doubt be the popular choice, simply because they look the coolest in their black technologically advanced apparel. Raven make up for their lack of experience by packing all the best stuff.

The obligatory story of the game’s three PMCs (Private Military Companies) is a largely irrelevant one. All you really need to know is that MAG takes place in 2025 where PMCs fight for contracts in a conflict known as the Shadow War. Your individual character – who can be customised and is able to switch between five bespoke weapon loadouts before each match and during respawns – levels up persistently from round to round, earning increasingly higher ranks that better your chances in being selected as the leader of a platoon, or indeed an entire company if you put yourself forward for consideration.

Levelling up also grants skill points that can be exchanged for new skills (obviously) and upgrades or attachments for your weapons. None of these bonuses take the form of ridiculous, ability enhancing perks (a la MW2). Instead, weapon upgrades and squad buffs or bonuses for faction leaders reward skill over persistence or the number of hours you pump into playing the game. Every action you perform on the battlefield grants XP, which acts as your currency in purchasing extra stuff for your character.

At face value, MAG is really just another military FPS with little more than an impressive gimmick. But there’s actually more to MAG than first meets the eye. It’s a compulsive and hugely playable online title that’s worth investing time in. The control system might be a bit of a misfire but when the core FPS action is as accomplished as MAG’s, you’ll be willing to forgive the game’s few discretions. And if you’re lucky enough to assemble a crack team of mates to play with online, you’ll really get the most out of what MAG has to offer. Rounding up 255 mates with a PS3 and a copy of the game though? That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?

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