by Justin Snyder
reviewed on PS3
MAG is a strange beast. At first, my experience was a frustrating one. When I booted it up for the first time, joined the Raven PMC and hopped into battle, I realized that this was not your average shooter. I almost switched the game off entirely. I am glad I stayed online for a while longer as I have been having quite a lot of fun.
The most notable difference between MAG and its peers is the sheer scale of its online battles. It doesn't really sink in right away but you soon realize just how much more is happening on the battlefield, providing a truly unique experience. It is not uncommon in games such as Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3 or even Battlefield: Bad Company to spend more than a minute without encountering anyone besides your teammates. In MAG, that's just not the case. Sure, you sometimes need to run a little ways to get to the center of battle but there are always a few smaller battles in MAG to keep you entertained on its huge maps. In fact, the maps are so big that there are plenty of flanking opportunities resulting in very dynamic battles. In suppression mode, even with these large maps, the battle almost always flares up right in the middle with players throwing themselves into the fray with much enthusiasm.
If you have become accustomed to the ever so popular regeneration aspect in shooters, the health concept may throw you off at first. In MAG, you will need a first aid kit and a quiet place to recover to full health. It may take a little time to get used to and won’t take away from the fun at all.
MAG takes a novel approach to configuring your character’s load-out. You are limited to a certain number of “C’s”. Each weapon, attachment, equipment, and armor type has a corresponding number of C’s. Every player is given 3400 C’s to work with giving you the ability to customize your character to a great extend. Better yet, this limit is true for all players and keeps the higher level players from getting too strong in terms of equipment.
The game's leveling system is both simple and straightforward. Each level gained earns the player one point towards advanced abilities that can be chosen from the game’s skill tree. There are multiple branches that essentially allow players to form their own classes. Some players may like to level up their healing and repair skills in order to play the field support role. Others may prefer running and gunning and can upgrade their assault rifles and going the direct action route. While the game does put labels on the different tiers within the skill tree, it is easy for players to create their own amalgam of the classes should they wish.
Voices in the dark
One of MAG’s best features is its command system. Sure, many people don’t like being told what to do but a game like MAG requires a tiered command system. How else would you okay 128 v. 128 player battles without seeing pure chaos? The Squad Leader, Platoon Leader or Officer in Charge can issue orders simply by pulling up the map of the battlefield, moving the cursor to the right spot and hitting the right button. It is a quick and simple method that is perfect for changing objectives in the heat of battle. Being a leader comes with a few perks of its own; Squad Leaders can summon UAV to assess the battlefield and call airstrikes at targeted areas of the maps while Platoon Leaders and the Officer in Charge have the same powers but can call in different kinds of support.
Despite all of the things that the game does right, it is not without problems. While the command system works well, that doesn’t necessarily mean people will follow your orders. Many people do their own thing and don’t pay any heed at all to the big picture. This problem is further amplified by the severe lack of microphones among the PS3 population. On average, any match I have played had two or three people with headsets out of the eight in a squad. So it is entirely possible that the squad leader doesn’t have a microphone. For a game that is centered around teamwork and cooperation, that’s a serious problem. Rumor has it that Zipper is working on an update that will require the use of headsets. An interesting idea but I fear the number of players will drop considerably.
From a graphical standpoint, MAG is a little bare. In order to manage the 256 player battles, Zipper had to make some sacrifices, and graphics was among them. They are not bad enough to be considered last-generation but they can’t keep up with games such as Modern Warfare 2 or the upcoming Battlefield: Bad Company 2. For an online-only shooter, though, the graphics aren’t the biggest concern. Maybe it had some single-player component, it would matter more.
Not for everyone
For a game that is as large as MAG, it is surprising that I haven’t encountered any lag issues. I have, however, encountered more than a few glitches, some more problematic than others. Once I found myself inside a trailer after a medic revived me. There was no way out and I was stuck until I committed ‘digital suicide’ and respawned. Another issue is how dead bodies aren’t… well, dead. They keep twitching even after their previous ‘owner’ has respawned and is once again fully engaged in the battle.
Glitches aside, MAG is a bundle of fun. I can’t really tell exactly why but whenever I play other shooters now I just feel like something is missing. It’s not that the game does anything drastically different but does offer a very complete experience. For anyone that thoroughly enjoys the online component of their shooters, MAG is a must-try. I would love to say must-buy but this truly isn’t a game for everyone. Especially those who don’t wish to conform to team-based gameplay should give this game a wide berth. For everyone else, however, I see MAG developing a strong and devoted community who will enjoy a unique online experience.
Play on the same map with up to 255 others. Enough said.
Should have shipped with a microphone.