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March 18, 2010
M.A.G. (Massive Action Game) - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
29/1/2010SonySonyZipper InteractiveNone64-256
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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MAG is a great looking PS3 title.
Almost two years ago at the 2008 E3 expo, a game was announced which was bigger and better than any other first-person shooter we'd seen before; Massive Action Game. Concept movies showed maps which spanned to the horizon and back again, yet unlike similar games, this one didn't look sparse on action, with loads of soldiers and flying bullets galore. While concept movies are often risky things to aim for (Killzone 2 anyone?), the team at Zipper Interactive worked hard to make this concept a reality, with the game's title being shortened to MAG in the process. So how exactly does it fare? The grin on this reviewer's face should be enough to give you a hint…

Being a purely online shooter, a vague storyline exists for MAG, though you'd be fortunate finding anyone that remembers what's going on, other than the b-grade action movie scriptwriter that was responsible. It plays out sometime in 2025, in a globalised world where nations' defence forces are banned from crossing foreign borders, and as such world peace would is wide-reaching… or so one would think. In place of national armies, private military companies (PMCs) have sprung up; working for anyone, anywhere, competing for the highest bidder, and also against each other. You come into play as a soldier for one of these PMCs.

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Taking cover in MAG, but not for long!
At the very beginning of MAG, you get the choice of which PMC you would like to affiliate yourself from 3 distinct factions; Raven, Valor and SVER. Raven are a high-tech Austrian faction, primarily focusing themselves on cutting edge weapons and armour. Valour are your stereotypical guns blazing, “America, F*ck Yeah!” well-rounded commando soldiers. Finally, SVER (pronounced “Sever”) are a ramshackle force with a Russian/Asian background, and most of their weapons and armour having a makeshift/improvised tone. (These factions are relatively well balanced, which sadly was something that wasn't the case prior to the 1.03 patch, current at the date of writing this review).

Interestingly, you can only tie a single character to your PSN account; this may sound odd, though this can be seen in both good and bad lights. While it's limiting in how it restrains you from trialling different PMCs (particularly given the slow accumulation of XP for weapon/ability unlocks), at the same time it's a good way of forcing you to build loyalty to that faction. On a related note, it's interesting to see on larger games forums how players are then uniting and having common threads on a faction-basis rather than a clan-basis; it's a simple way to form a wider network of 'friends' who you actually will be playing with and works in MAG's favour.

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Even with 256 players online this looks great.
In regards to the gameplay, to say that MAG is just an online FPS in the same breath as your COD:MW and BFBC2 is probably not giving it full credit; firstly, MAG is purely online, so if you're without a broadband connection then this game is just an expensive beer coaster. Seasoned FPS fans will need more than their own skill to succeed too, with even the most basic of unlocks (such as the medikit) requiring up to a dozen hours of gameplay, with heavier weapons then taking even longer to earn. And to say that communication is a must in MAG is an understatement; let's just say that if you don't have a PS3 headset yet, you will need one on the battlefield.

Sadly, aside from a very basic training level to show you the controls, there's little other instruction in MAG to guide new players to the levels, techniques and team-play involved. So, on the initial suppression (deathmatch) levels you can spot the newbies straight away; the ones jumping on the spot, blindly exploring and looking skyward, then getting picked off by enemy snipers, time and time again. It's a harsh introduction to the world of MAG, but at the same time this is your first taste of what MAG is all about; communication and teamwork. It's working together with others which will help you progress; learning the strong a weak points of maps, which skills to unlock next. Unlike most other FPSs out there, playing as a team-member is the only path to success in MAG, being a lone wolf will only end in tears.

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Battles in MAG are absolutely massive.
Rather than forcing your player into a predefined assault/sniper/medic style role, MAG gives you the option of customizing up to 5 unique load-outs, which you can change between both at the start of each game, as well as between spawns. You're limited to a total weight/size budget for each load-out (with the larger and heavier weapons and armour being more costly), so you're prevented from entering the battlefield as an invincible hulk; not that you'd benefit much from that however. The load-outs you create will generally vary between sniper, assault, anti-armour styles depending on your game modes, and the game will try to shoe-horn your load-outs into a medic/support/assault icon to sit alongside your name; it's a nice little touch which makes it easier for your squad to remember who's who.

With game modes that require coordination beyond simple deathmatch, and up to 128 players per side, it's fortunate that MAG has a concise hierarchy of command which allows orders to be passed down from company and platoon leaders to squad leaders (and finally grunts on the ground). With objectives (be they killing, repairing, defending or similar) distributed between different squads, it reinforces the fact that your entire team needs to work as a team in order to succeed. It's unfortunate that in reality though, there's no stopping people's stupidity, and all it takes is a brain-dead commander with no headset and no drive to win (aside from gaining XP) to spoil a match. To help combat this, kick-ban functionality is built into the game, though it isn't the clearest option in the menus, and I've heard people been step-by-stepped through it on several occasions over in-game voice chat.

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MAG really is a great shooter.
Controls can be confusing at times, with the switch-weapons button required to use both non primary/secondary weapons (e.g. grenades, rockets), as well as the medikit tools. This is hazardous; More often than not, in the depths of a fire-fight you'll dive over to quickly resuscitate a fallen comrade, only to accidentally drop a grenade on their head (and given the squad-nature of the gameplay, there'll normally be another few mates there to witness the resulting TK-enslaught).

Given the online nature of MAG, update downloads are to be expected, with us even encountering 100MB of patches prior to game's actual launch.. Since then the 1.03 patch has brought some welcome changes primarily focussed around weapons and damage tweaking, following feedback from vocal gamers and beta participants. It's this kind of support (ie proactive and taking community feedback into consideration) which is important for a game such as this. And this is particularly so given the bad blood spilt in the months immediately prior to the Modern Warfare 2 launch, with the issues regarding non-dedicated servers not exactly pleasing the masses.

As the screenshots show, MAG is a generally gritty and dark game, though it would've been nice to have a bit of contrast on the blue-sky daytime levels which still have an overly-grimy look to them. As far as the complexity of the graphics go, it's certainly not the prettiest PS3 game going around; player models and environments are somewhat mediocre, however the resulting trade-off is the game runs silky smooth with a view distance off beyond the horizon. When you see a massive fire-fight in motion at the final checkpoint of a map between 128 players, with countless bullets, grenades and explosions, but without a hint of slowdown, it both looks and plays great, which is exactly what Zipper Interactive set out to achieve.

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2 teams, 128 players per team, 8 per squad.
While probably the game's weakest point, MAG's audio still achieves the goal of rounding off the whole battlefield experience. Surround sound will have you hearing each and every bullet whizz past your ears, and also eavesdrop on nearby conversations (both friendly and enemy), with local radio chatter through your headset. Bass from faraway explosions rain down on most levels, but when you realise that these are actual grenades being spammed (and not just a generic audio warzone track), you appreciate the audio efforts more so. When creating a player you also have the option to choose one of several preset voice ‘types' (used for automatic screams of ‘grenade', ‘defend' etc), which all sound the same and probably could have been done without. The backing score in the menus, queue screens and player customisation screens will soon get on your nerves, though ideally you'll be spending less time there than out killing off the opposition.

Now I'd be ignorant to pretend that there hasn't been much criticism for MAG... such as the lack of a single player campaign, steep difficulty curve, slow XP accumulation and minimal training options. Now I'm not denying that these are all issues with the game, however I think they're features that make this game what it is; for instance not once has MAG attempted to be an offline shooter, and you really feel like you've spent something of value when your hard-earned XP points disappear on upgrades. Perhaps the only major criticism I have of the game is the lack of maps (particularly for newcomers stuck on the single suppression map), however with the nature of DLC today I don't doubt that we'll be seeing more in the upcoming months. To wrap up though, if you want an online shooter which will happily engulf your life for many, many hours, then say farewell to MW2 and BFBC2, because for online FPSs there's a new champion on the block.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSNot quite jaw-dropping, but make for seamless stutter-free gameplay.
SOUNDIn-game sound effects are the only backing track you'll need.
GAMEPLAYIt's tough initially, but addictive and rewarding, with a strong PMC focus.
VALUEWith a chain of command to follow and ultimately lead, and vast spanning maps to familiarise, MAG will last a long time.
OVERALLIt's been a while since something so technically awesome (256-players online, no lag) has also been fun and enjoyable to play at the same time. With the game only set to improve with future updates and potential for more maps, weapons and skins, MAG is one of the few games which will last and last if team-based FPSs are your thing.

Talk about MAG in this forum topic now.