Just about everyone knows how competitive men can be amongst each other. Men always battle for the most beautiful women, want to earn more than the others, kill each other over sports and want nothing more than just to have the biggest one. This survival-of-the-fittest filosophy has also found its way to the gaming industry. Just think of the battle between SEGA and Nintendo in the Bits-era or the continuous fight between Sony and Microsoft. Zipper Interactive, maker of the SOCOM games, also wants to leave a footprint in the industry and arrives with a Massive Action Game called MAG where you can get into the action with two teams of 128 people at the same time. Let’s see which of the following is true here: Less is more or more is less.
There may not be a singleplayer mode present in MAG, there is a background story. The game plays in 2025 where three Private Military Companies (PMCs) are playing war (but seriously, how do you fight war with three different factions?) with as goal complete military domination. The three PMCs are the ultra modern Raven, the “casual” Valor and the guerrilla movement S.V.E.R.. Each PMC has its specific background with strengths and weaknesses and it’s up to you to choose a side. After you’ve made your choice there’s no way back and you’ll only be able to fight with the chosen faction.
Once you’ve made your pick you get the possibility to put together your loadout, just like with any shooter these days. Adjusting your character goes from different weapons, grenades and heavier gear to armor, repair/medkit and scopes. In total six different loadouts can be configured and all are available while playing. If sniping doesn’t work too well in a certain level you can always fall back on one of the other configs you created.
The question I posed myself and what you’re all probably wondering about as well is how Zipper Interactive managed to get a swift-running shooter with 256 insane soldiers doing their thing. According to the devs they worked long and hard on the technology to use their servers at optimal raet so they don’t get overloaded and lag is avoided. Under the hood, however, there’s a second rabbit as their newest server tech isn’t the only thing making everything run.
Zipper has set up a well-working hierarchic model which makes that you’re not really playing 128 against 128, but rather 16 vs 16. Each player is in a squad of eight with a personal squad leader who point out the objectives. The squad leader gets his orders from a platoon leader who manages four squads. Last up there’s the OIC, Officer in Charge, who controls everyone under him. And on top of that only the Domination mode can played with 256. Suppression is with 32, Sabotage with 64 and Acquisition with 128. Of course you can also run towards the other side of the map and fight other opponents but the game rewards you with “buffers” like more damage and faster running when you’re close to your squad leader and follow his commands.
The level system can be compared with that from Call of Duty or Battlefield. With each level you rise, you get an extra skillpoint. These can be spent on varying abilities and upgrades like new weapons, scopes, grenades, armor, etc. Next to that you can also specialize. If you like being a medic you can best use those skillpoints on abilities that allow you to heal team mates or even reanimate them. You can’t “learn” the entire list of skills so it’s best to choose wisely.
MAG’s controls are quite alright although they’re not as smooth as we’re used from other shooters. Changing weapons is pretty clumsy as you have to “scroll” through objects with L2 or R2 which goes too slow during hectic moments.
Graphically MAG doesn’t fly high. It certainly doesn’t reach the level of top exclusives Uncharted 2 and Killzone 2, or multiplatform titles like Modern Warfare 2. However, it does manage to stand its ground. After all, the fact that you can get 256 people running around at the same time is already an achievement by itself. Next to that we also want to take note that the soundtrack is quite good with some very nice and adrenaline-pumping tracks.
Zipper managed to deliver a good project with MAG and many critics will have to close their mouth. The game has an interesting hierarchic model with a deep skill system and lots of adjustable options. It gives you the feeling of taking part in a big war where your participation does have consequences to the bigger whole. Graphically the game is a bit less impressive but what did you expect when knowing there would be 256 people playing at the same time?
If you’re fed up with the “one army” game Modern Warfare 2 and are looking for some more tactical warfare then MAG will definitely be up your alley.