PS3 Review – MAG

The day is finally upon us. MAG, which came out of nowhere at Sony’s E3 press conference in 2008, has finally been released. Touting game modes that can contain 64, 128 and 256 players in a single map, this title truly has some innovative aspirations. But does the execution match the concept?

Which faction will you choose?

MAG definitely earns the “massive” part of its name. If you’ll recall, the title of this game as it was first publicly known was Massive Action Game. When you start out, you first choose a faction for your character. There is only one character slot from the beginning, so what you choose you have to stick with, at least until level 60. The only game modes available to you are Training and Suppression. The initial training is a laughably-short tutorial, which has you moving, running, jumping, ducking, crawling, shooting your primary and backup weapons, and tossing grenades. Other training is available for those looking for some more specifics. The other mode, Suppression, is as small as it gets for this game’s real modes – 64 players, 32 per team.

If that sounds like a lot of competition, well it definitely is. That mode is fun to simply shoot all enemies and not worry about objectives. It is in the later game modes, which have to be unlocked as your player progresses, is where this title both shines and frustrates through no real fault of the game itself. MAG was, after all, developed by Zipper Interactive, the same folks who brought us the wonderful SOCOM series for the PlayStation 2. Those games required strategy and communication amongst team members in order to win a match.

Even the largest of SOCOM: Combined Assault’s battles were two teams of 16 players apiece. So if a handful of people did not have microphones, the team did not suffer too much. MAG practically requires that everyone wear a headset and take an active role in communication. This title is not for the casual gamer. If you are in a vocal squad and have a competent leader, your team should be well off. If not, you do not stand a chance against an organized enemy. Oh, and one more thing – be sure to have at the very least three medics on a squad, because when the action heats up in those Acquisition and Domination modes, people will be falling to the ground all around.

Considering MAG can host a whopping 256 players one may think the graphics are going to take a major technical hit.  While not as stunning as Uncharted 2 and it lacks the frame rate of Modern Warfare 2, MAG does offer some nex-gen flash. While the graphics are not as robust, it is a trade off for the massive amount of players, bullets, explosions and smoke that can be on the screen at any given time, a trade off that is well worth it. The audio, however, is nice and crisp and in full THX surround sound. On a 7.1 system every speaker was being used, and there were some nice effects. For example, if you are near someone who is talking on the microphone, friend or enemy alike, you can hear them speaking from their in-game character, location and all. This does muffle their voice a bit when you have the volume low, but it is a nice feature that adds to immersion and can even help with reconnaissance.

The maps are massive, especially in the 256 player Domination mode. Though you only see a fraction of the level while running around unless you wander off from your squad, you can take a look at the entire location by hitting select to bring up a surprisingly detailed map. There are countless routes to take and multiple spawn points to keep things fresh – there are only 3 maps per game mode at launch, after all. In the fullscreen map, you can see every building, player activity and vehicle locations at a glance, and even hover over some items for more information. It is a marvel that the game keeps a steady framerate with so much data to constantly process.

Playing this beast is an adventure in and of itself. There is nothing quite like rushing into a base with your squad and a neighboring squad, or even your entire platoon if you can get organized enough. Overtaking the opposition there is rewarding, and defending these locations perhaps even more so. Being on the receiving end of a successfully choreographed assault, however, can be controller-throwing frustrating as you die countless times and lose bases, and other battlefield resources often. Losing can be a bit overwhelming as you see red objective square flashing everywhere all while trying to keep an eye out for enemies. But these moments of pain are worth the inevitable victory and the experience/skill points that go along with them. Losses are not all negative, since you do earn experience to help your character level up and earn new skills.

Reaching a new level will reward you with a skill point.  Skill points can be spent on skills that give you new abilities, weapons, items and customizations. This is where you can fine tune the play to what you enjoy. There are ample combinations that should satisfy even the most niche shooter player. On occasion you can respec your character and try something completely different.  Just don’t forget to change your loadouts.

What are YOU looking at?

In the end, this is one of the most rewarding games available. It requires that you actually invest some time in learning the ropes, and those of us who are twitch-shooters will definitely not fare well at first. The game gives bonuses when grunts are near leaders, which is a nice motion to encourage teamwork, and seems to serve its purpose quite well. There are rewards aplenty to be found for good performances, and if you get a good group together the hours will just fly by with each round. Yes, if you land in a bad squad the experience can be frustrating, and yes, the graphics are rather lackluster. But the pros far outweigh the cons here. Every FPS fan who enjoys playing online should pick this up for their PS3. This is the kind of game people will play for as long as they can, and if Zipper keeps the DLC flowing, it may be played for a good long while. I’ll see you on the massive battlefield.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

An incredibly “massive” experience.

Less then spectacular graphics with immersive audio.

Can be very frustrating when your team is unorganized.

9 out of 10