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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: MAG
By: | February 14th, 2010 | Playstation 3
PS3 |Review

With its promise of battles featuring 256 online players, a feat yet to be attempted in a game, MAG’s surprise debut at E3 2008 gained instant intrigue at such ambitious scope. Exclusive to the PS3, MAG, formally known as the unassuming Massive Action Game, has since gained quite a following within the PSN community, thanks largely to its extended beta trials over the past few months. To put it simply, if there’s one game Sony wants to use to plug the PSN, this is it.

But here’s the predicament MAG faces – it’s now 2010 and the majority of PlayStation soldiers are either devoted to last year’s colossal Modern Warfare 2 pandemic or hotly anticipating the very promising Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Having been lodged into a squelching sandwich between two of the generation’s biggest first person shooters, MAG‘s release timing feels unfortunate. With this in mind, does it have the firepower to fend off its dogged opposition?

Much like Sony’s previous endeavour with Warhawk, MAG is a strictly online only experience by Zipper, the developers behind the acclaimed SOCOM series. You are first required to enroll with one of three PMC factions, choosing from the military style Valor, the obligatory terrorist group SVER and the more high-tech Raven black-ops.

Differences are mainly cosmetic: although select gear may differ, the abilities for each group remain similar. My gripe with these factions, however, is that you are restricted to your chosen PMC throughout the entirety of MAG unless you reach the top rank of level 60 or start over with a new profile, which is frustratingly restrictive.

As the name “Massive Action Game” may imply, there is very little personality to be found in MAG. Sure, there’s a loose back-story depicting the global Shadow War supposedly taking place in 2025, but with the absence of a plot driven single player campaign it’s never fully contextualised, limited to generic voice briefings and introductory cinematics.

Of course, you may argue that MAG delivers exactly what it says on the box, and you would be right, but the lack of substance in the characters and premise hampers the immersion somewhat. Honestly, it has all the personality of a bread bin.

A rudimentary training mission essentially teaches you how to move, which does little to prepare you for MAG’s rituals since it is devoid of any useful tuition for the various game types and team dynamics.

This leaves a lot to be desired, and, coupled with the omission of a single player mode to practice in, it’s easy to initially feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, the more daunting matches with 256 players are initially inaccessible until you rank up to level 8, meaning you actually have to work to earn such privileges.

MAG is comprised of four main game types, and players can be recruited into battle by simply joining a queue from the main menu and waiting for your chosen game of Suppression, Sabotage, Acquisition or Domination to commence. Suppression and Sabotage are your standard death match and objective based skirmishes for 64 players, but things become more interesting with Acquisition and Domination due to the influx of 128 and 256 players all vying to override the oppositions’ transports or command points.

MAG does an admirable job of handling these daringly vast battles, with minimal lag and smart squad management. Each squad is divided into a team of 8 players and 4 of these squads create a platoon of 32 players, with 4 platoons constituting a team of 128 soldiers.

Consequently however, because of this tight segmentation you never really appreciate the full scale. You can also enlist players from your friends list to join you as a group, allowing for voice communication in-between matches while also ensuring you land in the same squad together at all times.

Your initial instinct will be to go all Call of Duty, mercilessly massacring anyone who dares to cross your iron sight, but such gung-ho tactics will almost certainly result in instant death. It’s here that the game’s SOCOM roots become apparent as, unlike more traditional first person shooters, MAG puts an emphasis on strategic teamwork rather than individual performance.

This point is only heightened when you learn that medic players are your best friends, as they can instantly revive you should you fall victim to a shower of bullets. In contrast to most contemporary shooters, MAG doesn’t auto replenish health, although you can regenerate it yourself with the same tool used to revive others.

What’s more, medics also save you the hassle of horrific respawn times – squad respawns occur at set intervals, meaning you could potentially be waiting up to 20 seconds to get back into the action, which is tiresome and detrimental to the pacing of the match.

Ranking up will earn you vital experience points, allowing you to purchase additional weapons and abilities, and eventually apply for leadership roles. By pinpointing orders and objectives, squad and platoon leaders play a vital role in MAG, and can potentially divert the match into expertly co-ordinated conflicts or disastrous disarray.

While playing on the former team is satisfying, you are equally likely to be lumbered with a moronic team leader who drones down their headset with a shocking lack of puberty. To some, being constantly told what to do by a 14 year old simply isn’t very fun, whereas others will happily play along with the spirited teamwork.

The problem is, for a game of such magnitude to work every player needs to have ample dedication, and I’m not so sure your average player has the stamina or the patience. Hard-nosed teammates will often sneer at you, and sometimes even kick you, if you display the slightest hint of incompetence in a squad.

It’s all too stringent, resulting in a dry, mechanical atmosphere that makes MAG often feel like a chore to play through. It never really got my adrenaline pumping, and the constant slew of samey objectives in each match only adds to this monotony. Also, the 9 available maps are designated to specific factions, so you won’t have access to every available map in the game if you reside in the same PMC.

There’s also no denying that beneath its bombastic exterior lurks a decidedly average first person shooter – clunky combat is the order of the day and weapons lack the bite you come to expect.

Visually, MAG looks about as appetising as a stale crust of bread, sporting graphics that are embarrassingly dated compared to its competitors. Environments are left unpolished, devoid of any fine detail and explosion particle effects are especially poor, but this is the price you pay for such audacity.

Speaking of prices, MAG retails for the price of a full game which feels a tad too excessive considering it only works online with just four game modes and a handful of maps. It would have made more sense as a budget PSN Store download in the same vein as Warhawk.

MAG ultimately takes itself too seriously, creating a new breed of MMO shooters which is as off-putting as it is endearing. It’s certainly a unique console experience and I applaud its ambition, but this is a game that rewards and caters for its hardcore devotees, and is less inviting to the more casual crowd. Yes, it successfully unites 256 players in an all out war, but, while technically an impressive feat for a console, I value quality over quantity.

Overall, your experience of MAG will vary drastically due to this requirement of team coherence, resulting in a game that is riddled with bipolar disorder. At times it does work, however, so once the “n00bs” have been eradicated and MAG is left with the dedicated community it’s so clearly targeted for, it should come into its own fruition. Time will most certainly tell with this one.

Rating Category
7.0 Presentation
Uninspiring graphics mar an otherwise solid online performance.
How does our scoring system work?
7.0 Gameplay
Combat is clunky, but MAG's appeal lies with team participation, which can lead to either immense satisfaction or sheer frustration. If you have the right mindset, then it can be fun when everything comes together.
7.0 Sound
The weapons have no real depth and the fleeting dialogue and menu music lack any sort of charisma.
7.0 Longevity
The ranking system is comprehensive but the shortage of game modes and maps don’t help matters, particularly as you see the same bland scenery all too often. Future Downloadable content could potentially solve some of these issues, however.
7.0 Overall
If you can recruit a legion of 256 like minded players then MAG would be an experience like no other, but its potential is sadly lost as, at this primal and critical stage, it still needs time to fully flourish.

  1. My copy comes in from Goozex tomorrow. It is a bit disappointing that the game is so segregated due to only being able to choose one faction. Running into the kids in a game like this is inevitable. I just hope I can find a good group of friends that want to take it seriously. Otherwise, BC2 is only weeks away :)

  2. Sadly, BC2 plays too damn well, and I don’t think there was a single one of us that didn’t enjoy our time with it. Seems like a no-brainer, currently, which leaves MAG in the dust for me.

  3. I must admit, after playing the BC2 demo I never wanted to play MAG ever again.

  4. I have been too afraid to waste my time with this game because I had a a good feeling things wouldn’t be as epic as they tried to make it out to be. I give props to any game that attempts to create war at such a massive scale, but the biggest problem I saw with MAG is that its involving 255 other real players. I can barely sit in a XBL game lobby for more than 5 minutes without wanting to decapitate myself due to the other players stupidity…How in the hell did they think we would be able to work together on something like this???!

    • avatar Donizete

      I have learned in my own home prcejots that you can NEVER PREP ENOUGH! sanding is the best way to get a coat that wont chip or peel… I hated it but it really is worth the half a day or so you’d put into it. And when it comes to painting I agree with Beth in the thin coats… But dont under estimate the paint brush! When it comes to the price of a paint brush you get what you pay for b/c if you are a perfectionist like me those lines from the cheaper brushes will drive you crazy and are so annoying to have to sand b/c they can be so groovy! Hope that helps! :) Mattea

  5. Having sunk around 10 hours into this game, I have no desire to go back to it. If you’re wanting a solid squad-based FPS, just play the BC2 demo until the full game is out. It’s more fun, feels much more solid, and isn’t so pretentious and gimmicky.

  6. I love how BC2 is winning the hearts of many although it has yet to be released. I also hope it wins over the majority of those playing MW2 so my ignorant co-workers have no one else to play with and realize that their PS3 wasn’t made for just one game.

    • avatar Birol

      I was similar to you grnwoig up. I used to watch guys like Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Horace Grant, Michael Jordan, Magic/Bird etc. And then spend hours trying to replicate and perfect the same moves (to the best of my abilities).I’m amazed how many kids, boys and girls, that I’ve coached that watch no basketball at all. I think it’s an integral part of learning and getting into the culture.I brought my son the AND 1 playstation 2 game when he was a bit younger, and the biggest surprise to me was he not only enjoyed playing it, but when he finished he would go outside, grab a ball and spend hours imitating the moves. He’s 9 now and has a few moves I don’t have a clue how to do.Imitation is a huge help to learning. I think kids that don’t watch games, or even good local players, are making things so much harder on themselves.

  7. Well, after MAG’s beta, people were still extremely skeptical. It was off-putting to a lot of people. BC2′s demo shows just how fun, well designed, and pretty the game is. MAG’s basically said “Hey look, lots of people! Buy it”

    • avatar Lazzoni

      Though you didn’t quite make the year, you did an admirable job and clraley got a lot of value out of the project. I’ve enjoyed following your progress. And certainly I can’t really fault you for breaking down at GenCon. I mean that’s like a sex addict crashing on a desert island with the Dominican women’s olympic volleyball team with only oysters to eat!

    • avatar Alin

      illyounotme on February 13, 2011 I have been trying to exailpn to people the dangers of during a magnetic pole reversal that the solar radiation will become dramatically more deadly here on earth. The magnetic field is what protects us, and with that weakening and multi poles opening up (essentially holes channeling solar ration to the ground) the earth will be getting much more radiation. I was glad to hear mention mutation also. These event might be evolutionary boosts, with massive mutation rates.

  8. Much lower scored than I expected. I’m sticking with BC2.

    • avatar Nisya

      Do we need an epiphany when it comes to comomn sense? I mean, do we have to figure it out all by ourself? Or are we smart enough to look for it? Should it be called rare sense since it’s not always so comomn?

  9. Average game is average. I installed the beta (which took 5 hours), played it for an hour, then promptly uninstalled it.

  10. The beta was dreadful.

    Spawn, Run, Die. Spawn, Run, Die. Looked god awful, sounded terrible and something about FPS spam doesn’t appeal to me.

  11. avatar Tony Richards

    This game is fantastic and deep; I love my FPS to have teamwork, tactics, and customizations. It’s definitely not a noobish shooter designed for people who like Call of Duty or Halo.

    The game is definitely not for everyone; mostly it catered for the more hardcore FPS fans. I hope more people try the game for themselves and see if it’s to their liking rather than hearing second-hand opinions and hearsay and relying on a few of the somewhat negative reviews out there. This game has gotten a lot of positive reviews and some negative reviews; people should try it out and judge it for themselves.

  12. avatar Tony Richards

    Another thing to note is that there are are also a lot of 360 fanboys out there who are more-or-less inclined to bash this game and denigrate it (for a variety of reasons), which contributes to some of the negative opinions out there about this game. I highly suggest people with ps3′s check this game out for themselves rather than sheepishly listen to the words of others as gospel.

  13. @Tony

    I rented it, played it quite a bit…and hated it :)

    Particularly compared to BC2. I had a much easier and more enjoyable time coordinating complicated strategies and offensive/defensive plans on that than I ever did on MAG

  14. Completely agree with you Tony. Listening to podcasts, reading reviews, reading forums, there are such mixed experiences. With friends that have this game, I definitely see myself getting into the game.

    Despite the mixed reviews, I have a copy of MAG coming to me tomorrow. Multiplayer experiences are different for everyone. For example, I am not a big fan of MW2. So hopefully I am able to find a core group of MAG players and can get into a good guild and go from there.

    • avatar Mohammad

      The best way to do this would be to create vbariales that affect the gameplay and adjust them based on player progress. This could include game speed, number of enemies, how much health the player has etc. There’s not one universal way to do this.

  15. “get into a good guild”

    @Kevin: Spoken like a true RPGer!

  16. Awesome review as always, Martin.

    As many have stated before me, online experiences differ depending from person to person. Usually, if a player keeps getting killed and is offered little to no reward for their noob-ish behaviour, they will feel inclined to ‘bash’ the game.

    On the other hand, gamers who are experienced online and have a tendency to adapt with every online FPS out there, they’ll have a much better time with games such as MAG.

    Regardless of whether a game’s MP works or not is entirely subjective. It all boils down to one thing (usually), and that’s your skill in the game. If you suck, you’re bound to hate it. If you’re good, you’ll definitely enjoy the experience a lot more.

    Many have rendered Modern Warfare 2′s MP ‘unplayable’, yet to me, it’s one of the best MP-heavy games out there. Bugs, glitches and retarded spawning system aside, MW2′s MP is far from unplayable. I occasionally peek at the K/D ratio of those who say the game sucks, and they’re not particularly impressive, meaning they vary from 0.50 to 0.75-ish.

    MAG probably doesn’t offer as many options, perks and rewards as MW2, but I have no doubt in my mind that those who hate this game probably got their ass handed to them online.

  17. This seems to be a very polarizing game. I have some friends who are really into MAG right now, and having nothing but great things to say about it. They’ve actually created a website for their clan, similar to what most World of Warcraft guilds do. That is some hardcore dedication right there for a squad based console FPS.

    Then there are those who just don’t care for the game at all, like myself.

  18. @Shawn: I think if you had a regular clan of at least 8 people playing together, the game would rule. And if I had that experience, I’m sure it would be fun.

    The problem is that I know 3 people that have it and we all live on completely different schedules; really, that seems to be the big problem. It necessitates that MMO clan style play but is a console shooter. And since its not a good enough game to push others into buying if they aren’t interested, because they probably never will be, I’m really curious to see whether it will still be talked about next year, or whether it will fade into obscurity.

    • It’s likely. While MAG is all the rage now, it seems rather gimmicky. Just as Huxley was, when it came out, yet you really don’t hear anything about it anymore.

  19. @Mark
    My guess is with BC2 being the most downloaded demo in EA history, and the upcoming MW2 DLC, as well as the next World at War (Nazi Zombies), MAG will fade into obscurity.

    • Yeah. But I think that, like Warhawk, with time MAG will get improved upon and create a pretty good community. After all, Sony doesn’t give up on it’s stuff very easily.

  20. Regarding “personality”… it has the same “personality” as any other online game. What’s the plot when playing COD online?? There is none. Most any online game has no plot, no real characters… and they all seem pretty much point/shoot after awhile.

    What makes MAG different is not just the teamplay, but also the strategies (both personal and squad/platoon based) and even the ranking up system. There is incredible depth in how you choose to spend your points and the various specialties. The cost to respec’ing (respecializing and spending your earned points over again) is another deeper aspect to the game. The “negativity” of being locked into one faction is actually a positive. By the time you reach level 60 and have played the maps from one vantage point, you can start over again with a different faction seeing the maps from a new perspective, choosing different specialties on your way up the ranks (and if you play with a clan, you can switch over to a new faction as a group once everyone gets to level 60… it really doesn’t take all that long. I’m already a level 60 Raven and have over half the medals/ribbons and the game has only been out for less than a month). The game can be frustrating at times… but all the maps are “winnable” with a decent group of people – even randoms.

    Personally I find the game extremely addictive. I think that as you noted, the game will retain it’s own “hardcore” base much like Warhawk did. At that point, the game will retain it’s challenge and will be quite different than what it currently is. The game will grow as people learn the maps, the strategies and how to use the various loadouts. It will evolve over time… which is more than can be said for many online games.

  21. avatar Auth

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