Category: First Person Shooter
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Multiplayer only (64 – 256 players)
9MB hard drive space required
Broadband connection required
When I first heard about the lofty goal of creating a 256-player online game called MAG (Massive Action Game) on the PS3 which utililzes the the Playstation Network I have to admit I was pretty interested in seeing just how it would work. Heck, call me a little sceptical too. As a long time Xbox LIVE player my online experience with PSN has been limited and somewhat disappointing. Well I have finally had some time to take this online only game for a spin. What were my final thoughts? I came away from my time with MAG impressed with both the game itself and the infrastructure to support it.
Given the context and size of this game, MAG impressed me graphically. The first thing I noticed was the size of the maps. They better be big to house 256 players but I had no idea they would be this big. I find it impressive even now after a couple of weeks of play. I love it when a game provides this sort of experience. Equally impressive to me was the amount of detail in the environments. To make a big field of play is one thing but filling it with enough stuff to make it representative of real world environments is another.
Unfortunately my lauding of the game’s graphics comes with the caveat of realizing the scope of the game. MAG does not stand up to the fidelity of Killzone 2 or Modern Warfare 2, it just happens to do a good job of things considering the game’s scale. So do not expect player models that will blow you away, perfect textures, or amazing draw distances. You will graphics see stuff pop in, you will see bad textures, and you will see textures that pop in from time to time, but given the scope and the craziness of 256-player games I still came away happy with the end product.
The best way I can think of describing MAG’s sound is with one word: raw. This isn’t meant in a bad way either. The very first thing that stood out to me was the crack of the gun fire. It just had a very raw feel to it. Zipper does a good job of differentiating what’s close and what’s far away as well. As I played I also noticed there are lots of good directional effects and the musical score is quite solid. There is even different music for each faction too. Unfortunately since I only played as SVER I can only comment on the one. It was good though!
One thing that typically may not be lumped into a typical review about a game’s sound is communication. In a game like this though I think it’s important enough to the gameplay to be so. While Zipper has provided an excellent infrastructure for communication I find it highly unlikely it will be used to its fullest. That’s a shame because I think it’s a good functioning method of such.
With the MAG acronym standing for Massive Action Game, MAG certainly does not pretend to be something it is not. Aside from the training mission in the very beginning of the game, MAG is strictly an online multiplayer affair.
The game breaks down into several cleverly named game types, namely Suppression, Sabotage, Acquisition, and Domination. These modes are opened up gradually as you play the game and reach different character levels. The different modes support various amounts of players. While the game touts 256-player online play, it is only available in the Domination game mode. Suppression is simply a team deathmatch game but it is the first available mode to you and a good simple game type that allows you to come to grips with how the game plays and the controls. Sabotage is an attack and defend game type. Acquisition has a capture the flag feel to it with teams vying to capture enemy vehicles on the map. The final, and most fun game type is Domination. This mode reminds me very much of Territories in the Halo series. In Domination there are eight control points on the map that teams fight to control. Overall MAG offers a good mix of game types with each one offering enough of a difference from the next to keep things fresh.
With such a big amount of players supported, you can only imagine the logistics of trying to communicate to all your teammates. Zipper has done a good job of breaking the competing sides down into platoons and then into squads of eight, all which makes communication manageable. Each squad can be run by a leader, which players only earn the ability to do so by achieving a set character level. Leadership is also tiered which creates a good infrastructure for the game to operate well given its quantity of players. Will gamers actually use the system to its fullest? Perhaps in clan play, but my experience when playing with the general public, while good, leads me to believe it will be rare for the average player.
When you first start the game you are prompted to create a character and choose one of three factions. You can only have one character save so you can’t have different players in different factions. I chose SVER for the purpose of this review. As you play through the game you receive experience points as you level up. These points can be spent on equipment and abilities for your character. The customization “tree” allows you to create the type of character you want to be. This is very well done as it does not necessarily force you into a player class but leaves the decision entirely to you. I found this both good and bad. I totally love the customization but I think casual players may not be ready for this depth. My advice to anyone reading this is to really think about what type of character you want to develop before you start spending the XP points.
The controls are somewhat complex and take a good degree of play to get used to. I’m typically not a big fan of the PlayStation controller, especially for first person shooters, but the aiming controls are nice, smooth, and somewhat natural. My biggest concern about the controls is in how you must access the different weapons and equipment that you carry. Weapons map to the right shoulder buttons and equipment map on the left shoulder buttons. My issue is that you have to tap the buttons multiple times to get to the different items. Some equipment is three button presses away. This can make things really tough if you are in the middle of a firefight, which you will be often considering the amount of players the game supports. The same thing goes for the melee which is mapped to R3. I guess I am a heavy handed gamer as I often found myself meleeing by accident in the middle of a fire fight with an opposing player. This far too often led to my demise. Having to be conscious of not doing something, in this case meleeing, when it comes to a game’s controls is a sign of poor control to me.
In terms of the actual PlayStation Network experience, when I was online I experienced very little to zero lag. Things run really smoothly actually. Joining games had issues now and then, but overall the experience seems to be better then early offerings over the PlayStation Network, and you can tell that a lot of focus went into making this a strong online game. It should be interesting to see what happens over the early life of MAG as they work out any issues or add any new online functionality.
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