It has been a long time coming, but Sony and Zipper Interactive’s latest collaboration is finally here. The biggest draw to MAG was in fact the acronym behind its name. Massive Action Game was being touted as the first to allow large-scale battles consisting of up to 256 players on a console. Now when first announced there were plenty of skeptics, myself included, that claimed the game would simply not work on a console. Here we are just a short time later prepared to eat our words. MAG is a fantastic addition to Sony’s first-party lineup and one of the best online team-based shooters I have ever played.
The most important thing to remember before diving into MAG is that this is strictly an online shooter. There is no crappy single-player portion where you fight against bots, and if you intend to go online I highly recommend investing in a solid headset as communication is key. Once you decide to take the plunge you also need to realize there are three factions within the game that you can choose from the beginning. Each faction will face-off against the others in an attempt to gain dominance within the world. Of course before we get to all that there is plenty to accustom you to the actual workings of MAG.
Once you have everything set within the game you are given the option to hit the training course to understand the basics of weapons and movement. Then you will be given access to a mode called suppression. This is basically just a team deathmatch mode where you will square off against other members of your army in order to familiarize yourself with the controls and aspects of the game. This mode only supports 64 players and each faction only has one map so it definitely feels like training grounds. Still it is a nice place to hone your skills.
Once you reach a certain level, which won’t take long, sabotage is opened up and things begin to take shape. Sabotage consists of two teams, one from each faction, either attacking or defending two points in the beginning. Once the two points are take a third one opens up and things become hectic. Watching 30 players funnel down a hallway with smoke and frag grenades flying left and right is intense. This is where the teamwork portion of the game comes into play and you definitely need to be communicating with your squad to find out which area to cover, or which point of attack you want to pursue.
After a while you will unlock the next mode which is called acquisition. Here you are tasked with either defending or attacking again, but this time the world opens up as you now have 128 players to contend with. Squads become larger and the roles of each squad leader are increased. Squad leaders can communicate with each other and devise plans for each of their forces. In acquisition you are tasked with two vehicles that you either must protect at all costs, or steal and bring back to your base. This mode really shows off the teamwork perspective of the game and forces players to work together to achieve victory.
The final mode is easily the most enjoyable and defines what MAG really is. Domination finally lifts the player cap up to 256 and opens up much more leadership aspects and objectives. The beauty here is that things don’t become as chaotic as you might imagine when you are in a good group of players. The maps are so large and teams so spread out that things really feel like a large-scale battle when played properly. I love the idea that each squad is responsible for their own agenda, and if you have one area covered and need to send backup, you can. Communication is definitely imperative and it is hard to express that enough when going into a game of this size and scale.
Of course all of this is useless unless you have something to keep you coming back for more. Player progression is a huge factor in MAG and it takes notes from all the advances to the genre. Each level earned delivers more skill points to upgrade your soldier’s capabilities. Everything from better weapon stability to being able to resuscitate fallen comrades on the battlefield is available. You have no idea how helpful a medic can be during a capture match. You can create various loadouts for the game so if you are not having success as a grunt you can switch to sniper anytime you respawn. Secondary items also play a large role allowing you to carry various grenades and other goodies such as pistols, rocket launchers and even shotguns into battle. The beauty of the system is that it allows you to customize your character to play the way you want to.
The sheer amount of depth included in the game guarantees its long-running status as long as the community builds up. Level 8 is required to participate in all modes, which will take you roughly 4-5 hours depending on your skill level, but being able to apply for leadership roles and earn the more advanced perks will take serious amounts of time. Things such as calling in support and air strikes doesn’t come until much later in the game, I can easily see myself playing this well into the next year before I even begin to discover all of what it has to offer. Needless to say if you are a fan of this type of shooter, there are few that open the floodgates for customization and replayability like MAG.
One of my biggest surprises was how well the community aspects of the game are laid out. You can create a clan and invite all of your friends into it, and even start group chat before the match to plan out strategies. Matchmaking is quick and the lag was nearly flawless throughout the week of launch. I never got kicked from a game, died due to lag or any of the usual frustrations that come from a first week with an online experience. I also love how the game keeps track of nearly every stat within the game including your ribbons and trophies, which I have to note that all trophy hunters be warned; this game will take some serious dedication to earn the Platinum Trophy.
Visually the game looks about as good as you would expect an online title that supports 256 gamers to look. Not nearly as sharp as some other games in the genre, the sheer scope and size of the maps and steady frame rate really make up for it. Sure the color palette is not the most diverse and some of the textures are a bit muddy, but when you consider the technical achievement they are easy to forgive. The sound is good and I like the ambience of effects when on the battlefield, but the music that queues up when you spawn out sometimes is a bit too generic for my tastes. Overall though the slick menu system and ease of use more than make up for the somewhat generic look of the overall game.
MAG is yet another fantastic addition to the PlayStation 3 library and one of the most addictive online experiences I have had in quite some time. If you are willing to dedicate yourself to a team-based shooter that could keep you coming back for the next two years, then do not hesitate. There is so much to love about what MAG does that it is easy to forgive its shortcomings. The possibilities of new content and patching to balance unforeseen issues means that Zipper has once again created a game that will keep players enticed for many years to come. If you miss the glory days of SOCOM and have had doubts Zipper could deliver yet again, consider them squashed with the release of MAG.
Review copy provided by publisher.