MAG Review

MAG [Only available on PlayStation 3]
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 256
Genre: FPS
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Release Date: January 26th, 2010
PSN – Online Multiplayer

Reviewing a game like MAG is often times difficult because it drastically changes depending on whom you play with.  For all 256 players to be skilled is most unrealistic.  You need teammates who are willing to listen to commands, think of battle strategies, and all-around looking to enjoy themselves.  If that’s the case, MAG is one of the best online shooters.  Once you’re stuck with a large group of individuals, your fun factor quickly drops several notches.  Make no mistake; MAG requires a lot of time, devotion and structure to be fully enjoyed.

MAG was developed by Sony’s go-to team for online shooters, Zipper Interactive.  If that name doesn’t sound familiar, then it’s likely you weren’t around when the PS2 finally got its butt online.  Zipper is behind SOCOM, one of Sony’s most popular online shooters.  When they first announced their PS3 game, Massive Action Game/MAG, all of E3 thought the idea was intriguing.  Put 256 players together on a battlefield with a first-person view, and let them dictate how the world comes together and evolves.  Add in customization, a great stat-tracking service and much more.  Sony even hosted a public beta to allow everyone the chance to see what MAG was about.  With the history lesson finished, let’s jump right in.  What works and what doesn’t?

Upon booting MAG, your first task is to select a faction.  It’s extremely important too, because you can’t switch unless you delete that soldier and create a new one.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but for many players it will be.  Each faction (S.V.E.R., Valor Company, Raven Industries) employs distinct equipment that handles slightly different than another’s, and its members hail from varying regions around the globe.  S.V.E.R., for example, is made up of mostly Middle-Eastern and Russian soldiers, while US, Canadian and UK men encompass Valor.  Your personal geographic location doesn’t determine who you fight for, but the ethnic diversity adds authenticity to the story, which has everyone vying for military contracts in the ‘Shadow War’.  Epic, no?

Getting started is very simple.  Select a mode, wait for others to join, and away you go.  The match-making links the first two teams with enough players, and don’t worry, a full 256 isn’t initially necessary.  Lobbies fill up quickly thanks to the volume of players playing the game.  Keep in mind that only a few modes are available at first.  What will happen in a year or so remains to be seen, but right now entering a match is as easy as selecting a few options, waiting for a minute or so, and killing everything possible.  When a battle concludes, a ‘contribution’ meter fills up a little, which eventually nets players special attributes.

Before I continue, note that Zipper has been working around the clock to ensure an overall balance.  When MAG first shipped, S.V.E.R. was the noticeably go-to faction.  That’s no longer the case.  This is one reason why we prefer to review these sorts of games several weeks after launch.  It takes some time for things to settle in, especially dealing with an online-only game.  This is important is because of the rewards I keep alluding to.  For each ‘level-up’, a player receives passive enhancements that makes winning easier.  You can see how one faction may overpower everyone else if it’s the most popular.  Thankfully Zipper is paying very close attention to this.

There are four modes on top of basic training.  By basic, I mean things like learning to use primary and secondary weapons, throwing grenades and other useful information.  Unfortunately, training doesn’t instruct on turret, vehicle or mini-map use, and all are vital.  As a result, you have to learn the ins and outs on the actual battlefield.  Prepare to die a bit and experience some growing pains.

Before discussing the modes, let’s talk the respawn system.   Respawning occurs over 20-second intervals.  Every 20 seconds, anyone who died is revived.  If the invisible counter is at 19 and you die, only one second passes before you return.  Although, medics can heal teammates who are injured before they die.  This works very well, especially if you play close to squad mates, since chances are you would  be revived long before needing to respawn.  There’s a tactical twist to almost every single element in MAG.

The first real mode is a 32v32, 64-player team deathmatch known as Suppression.  The objective is to eliminate the opposing team.  Next is Sabotage, another for 64 players, where one team is dispatched to destroy a datacenter and capture two satellite dishes.  Once the 256 Domination option rolls around, the game becomes very interesting, and the idea is to capture and hold several areas.  That said, capturing anything requires taking out turrets, vehicle depots and more.  Here it’s crucial to work closely with your teammates, otherwise you will fail.  When the action heats up, Domination is insane.  Your fun depends on who you play with, and how you play.  Last is the 128 player Acquisition mode, the most well-balanced of all.  One team attempts to capture two experimental vehicles, while the other tries to stop them.  These four allow for hours of entertainment, and are tweaked all the time by Zipper.

Progression depends on what mode you play, as experience requirements change.  In Suppression, experience is gained through enemy kills.  Otherwise, you’re completing objectives, healing fallen teammates, etc.  Experience eventually leads to a new level, and a skill point, which can be used for passive abilities, or selecting a new piece of equipment.  This is where your play style comes in.  Remember, leveling depends on what you play and how you play.  A medic, for example, levels up fastest because all they do is heal fallen teammates, which happens every second.

Specific levels also award new abilities.  One happens at level 60, where players can create a new character, and what I referred to at the beginning.  Another milestone occurs at level 15, where players can apply for a leadership position.  Becoming a squad leader unlocks various abilities, such as calling in an air strike, decreasing your team’s respawn time, etc.  Also, players who stick with their current squad leader enjoy increased experience, damage resistance and a few other goodies.  It boils down to whether you want to take command of the fight with new abilities or stay with your current team and reap the rewards that way.  I’ve found the benefits of both to be very well-balanced.

The general mechanics are solid across the board, but not overly fleshed out.  This is a hardcore shooter.  You’re going to die a lot.  If you aren’t into the genre, the chances of being sniped before firing one shot are high.  If you want to play but wait too long, it’ll feel like everyone else has a significant advantage, because they do.  Time and daily practice are a must to net enough experience for enjoyment.  Gun balance is fair, and progression depends on how many hours you invest.  Grenades are slightly unbalanced.  By lobbing a few at the enemy, your chances of scoring a kill are all but assured.  The blast radius is so large that I found it to be one of the best methods for gaining enemy kill experience.  Zipper still has many patches to release in order to balance MAG 100%.

That means you can also expect a wide assortment of bugs.  Zipper has already updated the servers and fixed a few issues, but I’ve noticed some that will have to be addressed down the line.  It’s not uncommon to see players stuck, floating in the air, being run over when a vehicle isn’t even moving, etc.  These aren’t present in every match, but happened enough to be noticeable.  Even so, you may never notice these issues.  I will say though, for the number of players playing, lag is almost never present.  That’s impressive.

Aside from bugs , the maps are extremely large and surprisingly detailed given the sheer number of players.  Just don’t expect Heavy Rain graphics here.  The framerate remains stable with decreased textures.  When you witness 256 gamers in action on these large maps with bullets flying everywhere, you start to realize how impressive MAG is.  In terms of the audio, MAG is THX-certified, and that’s clear.  The weapon fire is spot-on, and grenades sound more powerful than they actually are.  The DTS/Dolby Digital surround sound turns your gaming room into a war zone. Meanwhile the soundtrack is lacklustre, at least in terms of building up tension between the factions.  Although there really isn’t a need for a soundtrack to begin with.

MAG is an impressive shooter, but at $60 I didn’t see enough gameplay variation to be considered an instant buy.  Some aspects floored me, but others disappointed.  I think there needs to be a bit more.  If you’re a hardcore FPS fan, then by all means purchase MAG. No two matches are ever the same.  After spending an inordinate amount of time I still don’t find it repetitive.  Objectives do grow stale, but I’ve found a great group to play with, and that’s what pulls me back.  At the end of the day, that’s the single most important aspect of any videogame — the ability to keep players entertained.

Scoreboard:

Story: 4/10

Gameplay: 8/10

Controls: 8/10

Graphics: 7/10

Sound: 8/10

Value: 6/10

Overall (Not an average): 8/10

11 thoughts on “MAG Review”

  1. Nice review. As usual, very fair and detailed analysis. I’m glad you addressed things like the balances and imbalances since everyone has been complaining about those. It’s clear that MAG is a very different breed of shooter thus it’s unfair to compare it to the likes of Call of Duty, which is what everyone has been doing. Your review doesn’t even mention the game, which is admirable.

    I don’t mind the lessened graphical appeal. After all, the game runs up to 256 players online…on free servers no less. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of lag according to your review.

    In the long run, I think MAG will grow into something truly special. It’s hard to pinpoint these types of games early on…but by delaying your review a bit you managed to do so in a fair fashion. I’m going to pick this up soon since I’m growing tired of Call of Duty. Not enjoying my game time as much anymore because of the sheer skill of everyone else.

  2. If you enjoy hardcore shooters this is really something you would enjoy. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a little more content to the game. Charging full price does seem a little steep, but hey, if you enjoy yourself than it’s all worth it. I’m quite curious to hear what others think of this online-only FPS.

    1. Yeah…it sort of reminds me of Warhawk in many ways, only bigger. Perhaps the price point should’ve been revised more. 40$ would be perfect!

  3. Nice, I have just started playing the game and although I was overwhelmed the first few matches, stuck with it and I am enjoying it much more now…

    1. That’s exactly how I felt. You really have to stick with the game in order to learn the ins and outs. If you enjoy hardcore shooters, the game really grows on you. I’ve also enjoyed the fact that Zipper has been continuously updating the game to ensure things stay balanced. This isn’t like the SOCOM game released for the PS3 that they had nothing to do with. Man that game was loaded with issues from day 1. It took several months before the game was in a playable state. Thankfully none of those issues are present in MAG.

  4. Nice review like always, keep it up, and i notice most of the things you mention, i am not an expert in online shooters this is my first one, but it seems odd to me nontheless,specially that sometimes the server is lost and you have to start again, but the system keeps track of the experience points even do the server was down, you dont loose them which is good, talking about the experience points, right now iam level 14 raven squad and been a sniper i gonna try to be a medic also so i can upgrade at a quicker pace, one question thought what is the repac option in the barracks, is for a re adjusment of the skills?, well maybe we see you online guys i have a ps3 mic. under Manu_otaku, good luck online guys.

    1. Need to add you and Xtreme. I’ve been thinking of joining Raven when I start off here too…since their weapons are high-tech based…so I’ve heard.

  5. Guys i had to redone my playstation account for some technical problems, i did put venezuela as my main country, but i had to close it down, because i cannot put psn cards codes on it in order to purchase games for the store, so i did open a new account with US as a main country, therefore right now i can purchase games for the store,so my new ID is ManuOtaku, and since all my data was lost with this changing, i start the game as a newby, in the valor group in order to see the diferences between the factions, i do like more the valor faction because of its weapons right now iam in level 4 as a healer and sniper, so please guy if any of you is in the valor faction please add me in your friends list so i can play an chat with you guys online ok.

    1. You could’ve kept your old account just in case. No harm in not deleting it. That’s what I have. One US account and another Saudi one (based off the UK Store). Both are very convenient.

      I’ll add your new one soon.

  6. Just add Elder if you haven’t done so already. I’m currently making my way through WKC, but that should be done soon. After that I’d like to start playing MAG on my Elder account, which is something I’ve yet to do. So technically I’ll be starting all over again.

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