MAG Hands-On Preview
MAG box art
System: PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Zipper Interactive 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: SONY 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Jan. 26, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 2-256 (Online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
A New Scale of Warfare
by Derek Hidey

January 13, 2009 - There are many popular FPS games around today that have made their mark among gamers-all for different reasons. Zipper Interactive wants to accomplish the same goal with its upcoming PS3 exclusive MAG, a game that supports 256-player online battles and brings a whole new scale to the FPS genre.

MAG screenshot

Just last week, from January 4 to January 10, gamers were invited to participate in MAG's open beta phase of development. The open beta featured all three playable factions (Raven, Valor, and SVER), the full class/weapon unlock system, clan support, and two of the three game modes.

The first game mode players will play through is called Sabotage, an objective-based match that requires one faction to defend two separate objectives on the map, while the other must attack them. If the attackers can take and hold both objectives at the same time, the third and final objective is unlocked. Sabotage supports the smallest number of players compared to the others at 64, which is hardly a "small" number when compared to other console FPS games.

Once a player achieved level 10 in the beta, they were able to participate in Domination, the game mode featuring two, 128-player teams fighting over many objectives at once. Domination, unlike Sabotage, also features vehicles and leader abilities, such as air strikes. Considering the scale of this game mode, overall performance was adequate, although there were moments when my frame rate would drop enough to be noticeable. However, it is important to note that the frame rate was never consistently low enough to make MAG unplayable or even frustrating.

Not everything was available to play during the open beta, such as the Acquisition game mode, which features 128-player battles between two factions. Despite that this game mode wasn't playable; there are some basics that are known. For example, this mode requires the attacking faction to assault the enemy's base, acquire two vehicle targets, and get them back to the evacuation point within a time limit. While Acquisition isn't exactly a novel idea, much in the same way Sabotage and Domination, it does provide a unique and large scale, a twist that may surprise gamers.

MAG is identified as being a "classless," game, meaning players don't pick specific roles such as medic, engineer, etc. Instead, the game features a progression system based on skill points, which players obtain by leveling up. During the games, players earn experience points for helping the faction complete its objective, whether that means simply killing enemy players, healing and resuscitating downed brothers in arms, or repairing bunkers is entirely up to the player.

MAG screenshot

Each time a player levels, one skill point is awarded, which you can spend on whatever you like. The progression system, while remaining classless, is broken into linear categories, such as assault, marksman, support, athleticism, etc. The categories provide some focus to how players advance. For example, the marksman category contains mostly upgrades, attachments, and weapons associated with sniping, but players aren't restricted by category either, thus the "classless" system. Perhaps you want to upgrade your sniper rifle, but also want to outfit your character with a repair tool. The way the system is setup allows players to create their own "classes," based on their own gamestyle and preferences, without being restricted to only the nuances of a particular role.

The progression system is also split into tiers. Each tier is unlocked by spending enough points in the preceding tier, so a player's level has little to do with which tiers are available. Nevertheless, it is possible for a player to advance to the next tier while skipping some of the upgrades in the previous tier, allowing you to decide whether you really want to spend skill points to something or not. And, while players may unlock a variety of items and skills, they are limited in what they can use at any given time by defining loadouts.

Players are allowed to have three separate loadouts, versions of their character based on what they have equipped and how they look. Zipper also created a weight system in MAG, which means every weapon, item, attachment, and armor type weighs something, and the player is bound by how much they can carry. Basically, even if a player unlocks a medical kit, a fully attached assault rifle, a rocket launcher, advanced grenades, and a repair kit, it would be impossible to carry all of it at once, so you have to create your loadout accordingly.

MAG screenshot

Aside from large-scale gameplay, MAG also brings forced team play. Unlike other FPS games that simply give the player the option to join squads within their team such as Battlefield 2142, MAG places players within squads automatically, with no option of leaving. While this may seem restrictive, success is dependent on communication and organization, especially when there are at least 64 players involved. Once in a squad, players are able to communicate via VOIP with only those within their squad. However, squad leaders are able to communicate with other squad leaders by switching channels. One downside to the current squad system is the inability to switch squads midgame, a problem that can impact a player's experience, especially when there are multiple squads that have less than half the max complement.

After a week's worth of gameplay and server testing, MAG seems ready to make a name for itself later this month. Aside from some balance issues, bugs, occasional lag, the core gameplay design is solid. As long as Zipper can continue to improve the game before and after its release, MAG may very well end up being one of the best online shooters available, even if it never achieves the same level of popular success as games like Modern Warfare 2. MAG is set to release on January 26.

By Derek Hidey
CCC Freelance Writer

Game Features:

  • Shadow War - Choose a side and participate in open warfare among three different private military companies (PMCs), each attempting to secure dominance over the last bit of resources left on the planet.
  • Large-scale Warfare - Take part in massive combat featuring at least 64 players and as many as 256 in the same game!
  • Command & Control - Experience a command structure that brings organization to chaos. Be a squad leader, platoon leader, or company leader and help command soldiers victory. Call on tactical air strikes to help turn the tide of battle.

  • Screenshots / Images
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