MAG Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

MAG Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

Does Bigger Make it Better?

MAG is a big risk for Sony and Zipper Interactive. These days it seems like a modern military shooter is a sure-fire hit, but MAG contains no single-player content of any kind and presents players with a relatively new way of playing online. The traditional single-player campaign is soothing to most players; they like to know that if the online mode isn’t their cup of tea, they will at least get 6-7 hours of moderate entertainment from a campaign mode. MAG is daring to be a test subject for the console market. Are gamers ready to pay for a full-priced online-only blockbuster shooter?

MAG screenshot

MAG is a game that is expertly designed in a lot of ways, but it is also aimed specifically at hardcore fans and requires a large time investment in order to fully appreciate. The biggest question you’ll need to answer for yourself if you’re considering a purchase is whether or not you’re willing to devote the amount of time necessary for this game to really open up. It also makes it exceedingly hard to rate. Is it “great” because it provides depth and strategy for super-hardcore shooter fans, or is it “bad” because the barrier to entry for more casual players is incredibly high?

This is not a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 where you’ll be having fun once you figure out how the maps are laid out and how to get kills. By design, MAG doesn’t even let you play half of the game types until you’ve invested five or more hours into leveling up. Then, add in the extra time to learn the maps those games are played on as well as pick up the intricacies of that game type, and it’s plausible that it will take around 10 hours before you actually understand how to play MAG. Due to the fact that MAG includes no offline content, save for a short tutorial level to teach you the basics of the controls, there’s no way for players to strengthen their skills during a single-player campaign. Everything is an online trial-by-fire.

MAG is a game that has very few “problems” or “faults,” but it has a ton of harsh restrictions to your play style. For example, MAG isn’t the type of game that gives you the option of whether or not to work as a team in a squad. It’s not possible at all to lone-wolf it in this game; you’ll have a miserable experience if you try. You must stay near a medic, because you’re going to die repeatedly. So, if you’re the type of gamer who likes to pursue his own goals, then you’ll have to learn to adapt to a new play style or else you’ll be dead in ten seconds flat every time you enter the fray. Even if you’re hidden and taking out enemies from a distance, the massive 256-player matches ensure that somewhere, someone saw you fire and will now be turning their muzzle towards you.

It was always known that MAG’s gargantuan player count would be its defining factor as well as its biggest challenge. Designing a multiplayer game that huge has never been done before, and it is the source of MAG’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, it’s truly awe-inspiring to see the humongous battles that take place; gazing hundreds of yards across the battlefield to see a battle raging completely separate from you and your goals, and yet tied to your fate, is remarkable to say the least.

MAG screenshot

Being useless is not fun, though. And that’s exactly what can happen if you get separated from your squad. If you’re not with a squad, you’re not going to be a factor in the battle. It’s an interesting concept, but it’s one that I’m not entirely convinced has panned out for Zipper in this title. It adds to the desire for players to stick together and work as a team, but it drastically reduces the amount of fun you’ll be able to have on a moment-to-moment basis. Want to leave the base to have fun killing some enemies as they assault the objective? Too bad; it’s never going to work. It’s MAG’s way or the highway.

Again, it’s hard to necessarily call that a “bad thing.” It’s just the style of the game, and many players will really respond to it. The only “bad thing” about it is that MAG is a game that begs for communication, and it can be so valuable to offer even small tidbits of battlefield intelligence to your squadmates. However, the lack of a pack-in PS3 headset means that probably only 30% or fewer of your squad is going to have one. Add in the fact that most of those people will be yelling obscenities or singing bad songs, and the odds of getting a squad that communicates and works together is practically non-existent.

MAG screenshot

Thankfully, MAG provides bonuses and player buffs for being near your squad leader. The more advanced his battlefield position, the better your player will be. You’ll get added features like faster run speed, better protection from explosives, and the like. The latter is actually surprisingly useful given that tactical locations tend to get bombarded with grenades, so it pays to have your squad leader around to mitigate that damage.

Despite the mixed feelings we have about some of Zipper’s decisions for its squad tactics and communication, we have absolutely zero mixed feelings about the maps/levels on which these games are played. They are absolutely incredible and very well could be the most amazing set of multiplayer maps ever released! Not only is every map huge and sprawling, but they’re also extremely full. You’ll never have to run exceptionally long distances to get back into the battle (like many other multiplayer games with big maps) because the battle is all around you. There are dozens of objectives strewn across the playing field, so there’s always something to do.

MAG screenshot

Furthermore, they’re not just technically brilliant but also drop-dead gorgeous to look at. These levels are littered with detail and jaw-dropping set pieces that blow away anything we’ve ever seen online before. One map that made a particularly strong impression on us during our play time was a Sabotage map in the Copper Hills series of levels. At first it opens up to two objectives that must be controlled simultaneously by the attacking team. The level consists of a dilapidated, abandoned old town which borders a large rail yard. Soldiers weave in between the houses, buildings, and ruined railcars to secure the objectives, moving on to a third objective that unlocks.

As we ran towards the new objective, we saw a huge, monolithic, ruined refinery show up on the horizon. Our team’s soldiers were entrenched in the fortifications below hurling grenades into the huge gaping holes in the refinery walls, while the enemy rained down RPG fire on the teams below. All the while, another squad breached the side entrances and was fighting its way up the stairs towards the top of the building where the objective was located. To call this an epic battle, is a gross understatement and a disservice to what MAG’s map designers have achieved.

The last bit worth discussing is the ‘Shadow War’, a meta-game built into MAG that is meant to give meaning and an overall sense of progression to online victories. The three factions of the game gain points towards gaining “contracts” by winning more matches than other teams. We’ve noticed that this system has become a bit of a problem in the early days of the game. The S.V.E.R. faction is winning every game type, and it seems to be because many of the best players, who wanted to compete to win, joined up with the highest ranked faction. Now S.V.E.R. is steamrolling the competition and winning contract team buffs. It may even out over time, but it’s something that has become evident early on.

The bottom-line is that MAG is a game that requires a pretty serious time-commitment in order to enjoy. You won’t get involved with the Shadow War until you’ve been playing for a while, and most of the individual leveling seems to be designed with hardcore players in mind, possibly taking hundreds of hours to fully level-up. Anyone considering buying MAG needs to decide for themselves which side of the fence they fall on. If you’re a hardcore shooter fan looking to invest the next few months of your spare time into a new online opus, then fire away because you’re going to love MAG. But if you’re a more casual online shooter fan, then you may want to think twice.

The levels of MAG are amazing. They are huge and expansive but also filled with detail and set pieces. Character models also have more detail than we’re used to seeing in an online shooter. 4.0 Control
MAG sticks to the archetype developed by most FPS games that have come before it, and for the most part it works just fine; nothing revolutionary, though. If you’ve played an FPS before, you’ll be comfortable. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects in MAG are generally wonderful. The sound of an entire battle raging around you is pretty amazing. 3.4 Play Value
Is MAG worth full price? When there are other games out there like Halo 3, Modern Warfare 2, and the upcoming Bad Company 2 that deliver epic single-player and co-op content along with their excellent multiplayer modes, it’s hard to say that MAG feels like a complete game. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Massive Action – For the first time ever, fight 256 real players online.
  • Command Structure – Think leadership is in your blood? Use your advanced skills to become a squad, platoon, or even army commander.
  • Customization – Customize your character and pursue a wide variety of combat specialties from elite fighter to a general of an army.
  • Persistent world – Missions and campaigns appear around the world as the missions ebb and flow.

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