23rd February 2010 - The latest from Zipper Interactive, whose previous games included the SOCOM series from the Playstation 2 era (not the recent Playstation 3 SOCOM: Confrontation though) comes the latest squad based modern warfare game M.A.G – Massive Action Game, exclusively for the Playstation 3. Is this the spiritual successor to the other PS3 online only console game Warhawk? By upping the ante to offer 256 player maps prove a successful gamble?
M.A.G is an online-only game with a basic premise that you join up with one of three PMCs, (Private Military Company) that consists of the European Raven, South and East Asian S.V.E.R and the US based PMC Valor. There isn’t really a plot except for the fact you join a company and shoot enemy factions.
The only offline component is the initial training mode, the rest of the four distinct game modes, Suppression, Sabotage, Acquisition and Domination are online only. Except for Suppression, all the other modes offer three different maps each, offering variations of attack or defensive goals between two of the three factions. The final mode is Directive, where you get randomly assigned a game mode to play in.
Suppression is a basic team deathmatch between the same company with each team having a set of lives and the first team to run out loses. There is only one map so this mode can get boring quickly. Sabotage involves two tiers of objectives, securing/destroying the first set of objectives unlocks your goal objective to win the game. Acquisition involves obtaining vehicles or items from an enemy base which usually involves penetrating the enemy’s defenses. Domination requires three tiers of objectives to be met to win the map. This provides many things to do within a map as you can run around repairing things, being a commando and sneaking around to bomb objectives or run around shooting people.
Troop management is broken down into three tiers; a basic squad consists of eight members with a squad leader being the highest leveled member that requests squad leadership. The next tier up is a platoon leader which commands four squadrons and finally there is the OIC, Officer in Charge who commands the whole team in the battle. Platoon leaders are able to broadcast to their whole company and OICs can broadcast to the whole team to co-ordinate aerial strikes and strategize.
Character customization comes in the form of grinding levels and assigning talent points into various categories with each talent assigned to a specific class archetype. The game has five classes you can align yourself to, close combat, commando, sniper, field support (engineer/medic) and assault. Each class has their own play style and it is up to the player what skills they spend their points in. The game will classify you to a particular “class” based on how you distribute your points. You earn experience points as you kill, heal or carry out game objectives and with a maximum level of 60, you will have 60 skill points which you can use to tailor your character. You also gain re-spec points with which you can use to change your skill allocation should you get tired of playing a particular style. Your character generation options are limited to roughly a dozen voice samples and a dozen different pre-rendered heads. With very limited options in changing your appearance it does degenerate into clones attacking each other and the only way to differentiate between friend and foe is if they have a blue name and health bar above their head or a red nametag. Weapon customization is limited to selecting various sights, fore-grips and barrels.
Those unhappy with their faction choice unfortunately will either need to grind it out to the maximum level 60 or delete said character and start again. Faction imbalance is quite a talked about issue, often with complaints about S.V.E.R but a lot of this could be attributed to beta testers who were mostly S.V.E.R players and are more experienced than other factions. Though there are slight differences in weapons between factions, it is mostly in the Domination maps that S.V.E.R has their advantages. Familiarity with the maps and securing key objectives often serve to be the decisive factors rather than S.V.E.R having bunkers jam packed close to each other or their weapons having a larger ammo clip than similar Raven/Valour weapons.
Voice chat is lag free, clear and seamlessly transitions from your own private group voice channel when in the lobby to the in-game squad chat. You are able to mute your microphone or mute your speakers from voice chat and in-game you can block offensive people easily. This game is probably one of the few where having a headset will greatly enhance your experience as there is no ability to emote or type anything so voice chat is the only way to communicate.
Although boasting local dedicated servers is a plus, it is almost impossible to tell when you are on a local server since everything is done through matchmaking and it is not uncommon to have non-English speakers in your games. There is no ability to tell your ping or region filter so the promises of Australian dedicated servers is an unknown at this time. Lag is an issue at times that makes sniping difficult and is most apparent when you die from grenades that suddenly appear or you empty a full clip of bullets at a person only for them to kill you. Server rubber banding does happen a bit in Domination mode but at least everyone is feeling that, as attested by the whining coming from the American players.
Clans are supported in this game although private groups only extend up to 8 players maximum. There is a handy counter to tell you how many of your fellow clan mates are online and sending messages and friend invites can all be sent in-game which is a plus. There didn’t seem to be any support for clan wars or any form of clan leveling so at best it is just a tool for building up an organized squad.
M.A.G looks very pretty with large and open air detailed environments, with many ramps, walls, buildings and trenches to go through. As large as it is though they are walled in with barriers most of the time often creating a set few paths for you to navigate through. Frame rate runs smoothly and handles heavy action well while map loading times are fairly brisk. APC s and Tanks are drivable with a spot for a second player to man the turret and helicopters do make an appearance though you can only control the gun pods. Bunker turrets can also be controlled and Acquisition and Domination game modes also feature some parachuting spawn points. Explosions are done well, especially when a grenade explodes near you and bullets are very visible allowing you to trace their origins. Character models get repetitive and they are all male so it does feel like an attack of the clones since everyone looks alike. There are some strange graphic glitches, with players running on the spot or stuck in the ground and there have been some random crashes which is annoying.
There isn’t much background music in this game which leaves the explosions, gunfire and voice chatter to establish the aural experience. Usually when the background music starts pumping it’s either the end of the game or some significant event has happened (such as progressing to the next stage of assault). Grenades exploding near you cause the sound to fade out for a short time and there are helpful on screen cues to help identify where gun fire is coming from. Your character and squad mates shout out comments throughout, especially during friendly fire, being revived and calling for help. Voice acting is done well enough to not grate on the ears.
As an online FPS game, M.A.G’s main content is the grind to level 60. Upon reaching it, you are rewarded with the option to create another character on another faction. Though each faction has different weapons and statistics, it is fairly cosmetic in terms of gameplay experience. With only 10 maps expect to be playing the same maps over and over again although the four different game modes do help break up the monotony. The maps are large so even though you may have replayed the same map a few times in a row, you may spawn in another section with different terrain and attacking/defensive routes. Overall, getting yourself into a friendly clan will enrich your online experience as it is definitely much more fun chatting to your regular squad mates. Unlocking skills and incremental upgrades is the name of the game here so while a lot of hours (50+) can be sunk, there is quite a lot of repetitive grinding to do in the process.
M.A.G. is a very solid online FPS game and Zipper Interactive should be commended on their very good netcode and server performance, especially with the 256 player maps that they are offering. Team work is a major focus and solo gunners may find themselves looking at the death screen very often. For those looking for a more enriching online experience after what COD: Modern Warfare 2 lacked should definitely give M.A.G a go and the current bundle deal which includes the fantastic official PS3 Bluetooth headset offers great value. M.A.G is only an online multiplayer game though so those looking for any resemblance of a story or single player campaign should best wait for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 coming out later this year.
AAG SCORE: 7.5/10
+ Voice chat integrated well and performs well, clear and lag free.
+ Player customization is deep and multiple “roles” to specialize in.
+ Maps are huge with 64, 128 and 256 players per map. Surpassing other online shooter games.
- No region filter to guarantee games are played on “local” servers
- Little visual customization, causing players to all look alike, even enemies can look similar.
- Matchmaking sometimes breaks clan groups and spreads them into separate squads or across multiple platoons.
Reviewed & Written By Danny Yee