Review: MAG (PS3)February 9th, 2010 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews
Zipper Interactive’s SOCOM set the standard for online communities on the PS2 that gave them a lot of credibility when they revealed their first game of this generation. The oddly-titled MAG tries to break new ground on the consoles with its 256 player Domination mode and figuring out a way to make that work with as little lag as possible. With its reliance upon the community working together, we’ve decided to play the game over the past few weeks after the launch to see if MAG actually works and is fun.
The story of MAG and the Shadow War is not explained all that well, at least the back story as to why and for whom these private military companies are fighting in the year 2025. The three PMCs are Valor, Raven, and S.V.E.R. and while their background, locale, and looks may differ, they’re well-balanced with an arsenal of weapons that are statistically similar but cosmetically different for each faction. Valor was formed by former US Army Officers out of Alaska and is the most traditional PMC with its military grade weapons. Raven is a huge corporation that is funded by the biggest companies in the defense industry out of Belgium, which makes them a technologically-advanced faction that cares more about having the latest advancements in weapons technology than anything else. S.V.E.R. is the ragtag group of mercenaries and rebels that is based out of Chechen Republic in Russia whose weapons and uniforms are definitely used with plenty of duct tape to make them as good as new.
Like Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, MAG features an RPG-like ranking system where you get experience points for kills, repairs, healing, and objective-based actions to level up with. Rather than the levels dictating which weapons everybody can unlock, you earn a skill point when you level up that can be spent in the skill trees where you unlock new guns, gear, and abilities. This allows you to essentially sculpt your character in the best way that fits your playing style, which also comes with the ability to respec your character if you think you’ve spent your skill points inefficiently. To help add some balance to all of these potential combinations of gear, everything you’ve unlocked has a point value associated with it that can be assembled to fit under the point limit to be a qualifying loadout.
What MAG does hide behind the ranking system are the modes, so you do have to put some time into the game to earn the ability to play the bigger modes. You start off with the tutorial, which is a glorified guide to what each button does, and Suppression mode, its version of team deathmatch that is a training exercise between members of the same faction. At level four, you unlock Sabotage, where one faction defends key points from the attackers, and Acquisition, which is sort of like capture the flag with vehicles the attacking team must steal from the defenders’ base. At level eight, you unlock the big daddy mode in Domination, which is the big 256 player match where attacking squads are aiming to capture one of eight key points on the map to build up a damage meter until it’s full to end the match. To go with these modes, there are contracts that the factions are fighting over by being the most successful in each mode for special bonuses, like extra XP, extra leadership points, and faster cool down time for special attacks.
In the heat of battle, MAG definitely requires a lot of teamwork to be successful in each match. The chances of being in a squad with good teamwork and useful medics are about 50/50, so look for clan members and those with headsets as a sign of good leadership in your squad. Getting into a clan will certainly help lessen the chances of seeing your squadmates just marching towards objectives, and their deaths, one at a time. Medics definitely earn their stripes, along with extra XP, as they keep teammates on the field when they are incapacitated and losing their health points, which is why upgrading to the medical kit early on is great for everyone on your side of the fight.
MAG is a solid shooter that doesn’t rely upon auto-aiming to make it easier to shoot enemies. Grenades and claymores are very effective, though you only have a limited amount to use unless you have good access to a supply point to replenish your ammo and health. The most annoying aspect of the game is really when one side has plentiful access to the poisonous smoke grenades and spams them at an objective so the opposing side has zero chance at capturing it. A great feature is the shot radar around your cursor that lets you see where shots are coming from, which works with your radar to help you better defend against invading attackers.
Having to maintain a good framerate with little lag, it should be no surprise that MAG doesn’t look as good as other multiplayer shooters on the market. Lag is surprisingly absent, along with load times that are at most 15 seconds, which is probably due to spreading the maps out so that maybe 32 players are converging on an objective at any point in time in one area of the map. S.V.E.R.’s maps are easily the most unbalanced maps, as their bases are boarded up around the objectives to make it harder to take those objectives than on Valor or Raven’s maps, which greatly lessens the chances of winning matches where S.V.E.R. is defending. Music is kept to a minimum outside of the metal that is piped in when you’re on a kill streak. The sounds of battle are great along with the random chatter your characters have to say in the heat of battle.
MAG is almost like an MMO based around its FPS combat and because of that, the game is constantly changing as the community matures and better adapts to how the game works. We do hope that Zipper is going to offer bug and content updates regularly to help keep the game fresh and fix the issues that have and will pop up. If you have a PS3 and want a new shooter to tackle, MAG is a solid shooter that deserves to have the same kind of long-lasting success that other multiplayer PS3 games like Warhawk and Resistance have enjoyed.