MAG PlayStation 3
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by: Zipper Interactive
Ever since the game was announced, the main feature of MAG, developed by Zipper Interactive, original developers of the SOCOM: US Navy Seals games, has been its ability to support up to 256 players. If you're going in to this expecting to see the virtual landscapes awash with 200+ players on your screen in every mode you're going to be slightly disappointed with what the game has to offer. That's not to say the game isn't a quality, online-only shooter because it certainly is. With support for up to 256 players in only one of MAG's four game modes however this isn't a game you should purchase based on the number of players it can support. If you're looking for a well honed online shooter for your PlayStation 3 however, you're not going to be disappointed with what MAG has to offer even though some aspects of the game could have been done better.
MAG is set in the year 2025 and we are told the Shadow War is in full swing. You're offered the chance of signing up with one of three groups: Raven, S.V.E.R. and Valor. You'll have to take care in choosing who to align with as you're only allowed one character slot and you'll need to level-up your character all the way to the level cap before you're allowed to change sides. Thankfully there doesn't seem much difference between the three forces so there's not much incentive to change allegiances. What it does do however is encourage you to channel all of your energy into one character which is a good thing, as the game certainly becomes much more interesting as your character develops. As you level-up you'll earn skill points and re-spec points that you can use to enhance your character. At various levels you'll also progress to the next rank. You are free to experiment with how you develop your character but you'll get the most from the game by specialising your character in a way that suits both you and the squad you play in.
In fact you'll need to level-up your character in order to unlock two of the game types as only Suppression (essentially a Team Deathmatch game involving members of you chosen faction) and Sabotage, which sees sides battling over 3 objectives, are initially available. Both of these modes only allow for a maximum of 64 players. Once your character has progressed to level 4, you can play an Acquisition game which sees up to 128 players vying for control by commandeering or protecting vehicles. At level 8 you can finally take part in a Domination game which supports the much hyped 256 players. Here you'll fight to control the battlefield by securing and holding 8 targets. Domination games can take around thirty minutes to complete and can be enjoyable but even here you never get a sense of really being in a game consisting of well over two hundred players.
The key role in MAG is that of the leader (you'll need to be at least level 15 to be a leader) who gets to choose what enemy targets his squad should aim for in the Acquisition and Domination game types, amongst other things. Leaders, who control a squad consisting of eight players, will get to see an overview of the battlefield and have a range of tactical options at their disposal. Not everyone is going to get much of an opportunity to play as a leader however and as a result you'll mostly be playing as a basic soldier helping to complete objectives. Whilst you are certainly free to do your own thing there are various bonuses for sticking with your squad such as increased experience (experience is gained by killing enemies, healing allies and completing objectives etc.) and other ability boosts.
Some aspects of the game could have been better. Only having four game types is a big letdown and the game should have really offered at least twice as many. None of the four game types are particularly original, so it's shame that there are so few of them. With only four modes it's not long before tedium begins to creep in and that's a shame. The way the game is structured may be a clever way of making you sink plenty of play time into the game before you have access to all four modes but it can be slightly annoying in that you won't have access to all of the modes to begin with.
Visually speaking, MAG is a decent looking game. The character models are simply OK if a little on the bland side. The same can be said for the terrain and the various structures you'll find on each map. At least the frame rate is smooth throughout however and I only experienced a minor amount of lag at times with most games having no perceptible lag at all which is really impressive. There aren't a lot of maps to play on but those included have been well designed, offering up plenty of possibilities to experiment with a variety of tactics.
Online only games are rarely as accessible for deaf gamers as they could be and MAG certainly doesn't go out of its way to be deaf gamer friendly. The opening movie that introduces you to the game isn't subtitled and the same can be said for the rest of the movies in the game, including those that give you a rundown on each of the three forces you can join. This certainly isn't a deal breaker but would it really have hurt Zipper Interactive to have subtitled these movies? The dialogue in the tutorial section, which is the only single-player element you'll find in MAG, isn't subtitled but the essence of what is being said is displayed in text so the tutorial definitely has some value for deaf gamers. During the online games you'll be oblivious to all of the verbal communications exchanged between other players and in many respects that's a shame. There are visual notifications for experience earned and who has killed who but there's no denying that it's far from being as accessible as it could be for deaf gamers.
Forget the hype about the 256 players limit. MAG never gives you the impression that you're involved in a battle with over 200 players (which can actually be a rare occurrence anyway) but that's not to say that it's a disappointing game. In fact as an online FPS it gets a lot of things right and is tightly structured, rewarding those who dedicate enough time to it and those who play the game with a spirit of co-operation. As with all online only games, your experience is going to depend on the mentality of those you are playing with but at least MAG encourages you to work with your squad rather than taking a lone wolf attitude and as a result it's definitely going to be a game that can offer a great deal of replay value for those who are dedicated. More game types (preferably ones that weren't simply variants of game types found in other games would have been welcome too) and more maps wouldn't have hurt. Still it's a very solid online-only FPS experience and one of the best to date on the PlayStation 3.