We won’t dwell on our reasons for posting a tardy review of MAG again. If you’re interested then read it here. What we can say is that after our initial cold feelings toward Sony’s impossibly large online shooter we’ve slowly warmed to the frantic action.
Above: You ain't gonna hit anything aiming into the sky like that
While the majority of us and our colleagues favour Modern Warfare 2’s online offerings, there is a place for MAG to exist, and in some cases, surpass Infinity Ward’s classic. We asked our resident angry Scotsman, and online FPS softie, Dave Meikleham why he prefers MAG to MW2…
"As I’ve already freely admitted: I’m rubbish at MW2, which is why I prefer MAG: I’m slightly less rubbish at it. Where Modern Warfare 2 is all lighting-quick, ruthless twitch shooting, Sony’s game is more methodical and thanks to the bigger maps I can head off to a safe haven when the pressure gets too much. Crucially it's far more forgiving to new players."
You can read more of the same in his opinion piece but regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Dave’s views the truth is that MAG is a far different experience to MW2. In short, there’s room for them both to exist side-by-side.
For the uninitated, MAG is an FPS (d'uh), but played out with a maximum of 256 players online. As opposed to the likes of Modern Warfare 2, the war-torn landscapes of MAG are big enough for you to scout out flanking positions before you go on the attack. And although you shouldn't expect too many buildings to hide inside of (most are boarded up like on a council estate) you may stumble across a peaceful patch and take a few moments of rest to pick off enemies for a few minutes unhindered. But unless you man up and get into the fray, MAG can be a slightly soulless experience.
Without a single-player campaign, your enjoyment of MAG hinges entirely on the actions of others. If your team is full of ham-fisted, f*ck ups – then you’re unlikely to win. If you’re squad is packed with battle-hardened folk who bark orders out incessently then you usually do, but your ears will be ringing from the chatter. Here’s a handy list of the folk you’re likely to encounter in MAG…
This half-baked chap turns up more often than you'd think. He's less concerned about what's happening on screen as he is about where he's going to score his next hash cake, which makes him a liability on the battlefield. On one ocassion we even watched in horror as we lay bleeding waiting for Captain Bong to revive us only to see him standing still while he was on the phone to his drug dealer. Apparently, Teddy in Baltimore has 'killer weed, maaan'.
These folk aren't as bad as you may think, and in fact it's good to know that these tactical savvy troops have got your back. They'll tell you when to flank, where to toss grenades and even when to shoot - not that you'll need that last prompt. It's only when they start with the 'holier than thou' crap that they start to annoy you. This is when you stand over them while they're in the death throes - y'know, to teach them a lesson.
No online shooter would be complete without the novices. If you're reading this review, you're probably one yourself. But it's the constant questions of 'how do we do this?' or 'why can't I call in an airstrike?' that reveal the true newbie. There's nothing worse than having one strafing around your vehicle switching between weapons, rather than fixing your ride. End their misery by running them down.
The ghosts of the battlefield. We're not talking about the people that don't own a headset, we're talking about the ones that do but don't utter a word. We know, because we can see the mic icon next to their user-name and we can hear them breathing too. Odd. We shouted at our silent friend more than once as they sat their like cowards watching an enemy knife us up.
"This is rubbish". "It's no where near as good as Modern Warfare 2" "Jeebus, all these guns suck". "Why am I even playing this?". Sadly, these people are frequent within MAG and they're desperate for all to listen about how whack it is whether you want to hear it or not. Jog on, dick-heads.
Ahh, the ultimate annoyance in gaming with headsets - twats that play music instead of discussing tactics. We got the full 12" version of Purple Rain (8:45) TWICE during one battle, which added a seriously contorted dimension to all the killing. We really wish these wannabe DJs would save their emotional tunes for when they're crying themselves to sleep at night.
All in all, it’s a fairly rag-tag bunch of mercenaries that come together to form one of MAG’s three factions – Raven, Valor and our pick S.V.E.R.
Regardless of your choice, the core experience remains similar throughout.
See page 2 for how it works, game modes and why there is an 'I' in team. Sort of
So how does it work? Hmmm, how can we put this… PREPARE TO DIE!!1! In the short term at least. MAG may cover vast landscapes as it accomodates hundreds of players at once but there are very few places to hide here. A typical game usually plays out like this…
Step 1: Spawn into battle and run to the action...
Step 2: Keep running...
Step 3: Keeeep running...
Step 4: You encounter an enemy. It's GO TIME!
Step 5: "Medic!!" Too late - you are dead
Repeat steps 1-5 to fade
There are four types of game modes to join. Suppression (64 players) is essentially a team deathmatch. Sabotage (64) where you have to attack/defend point A and B before moving on to C. Acquisition (128) where the attackers have to steal two vehicles and drive them back to their HQ. And the showpiece, Domination which features the maximum 256 players again attack/defending a series of points before heading into the final objective.
The key difference to other shooters in its class is that MAG is all about the team-work rather than being a mercenary. Hold on, this is mostly BS.
More often than not battles take place as above - charge into the action, kill a few guys, get shot, respawn. There's very little actual team-work other than reviving a fallen comrade. We found that there was indeed another type of team-work involved but this mainly saw us form a tight unit of kamikaze like troops, storming an objective before dying and respawning simultaneously only to try the same doomed feat again.
While there are objectives for you to take care of on the battlefield, such as destroying bunkers, capturing locations and the like your main focus is chalking up kills. So much so that most games end up in a bottle-neck of death, swears and frustration.
That ‘team-work’ element depends on the people you’re playing with. Truth is, most of the random folk you’ll meet are more likely to leave you to bleed out in some ditch than quickly revive you with a medi-kit. As we discovered, shouting obscenitites down the mic doesn’t seem to make them come rushing either.
But when you do find a team MAG does play out like a well-oiled war machine – full of snap decisions, rescue attempts and gallows humour. Our advice? Get your mates involved and make a clan for maximum enjoyment.
See page 3 for why MAG isn't all bad, is it better than..., and the score
Unfortunately, it’s this whole 256 players aspect that is both MAG’s curse and blessing. On the plus side, this is the first time in console history that so many players can participate in an FPS at the same time. On the down side, once you look beyond this MAG has very little left to give.
The vehicles (tanks, APCs and such) seem to have been crow-barred in to the action as the levels are full of twists and corridors that the lightweight handling makes a chore to drive around. The weapons are OK, but unoriginal. And, um, that’s about it.
Above: We never driven a real tank but we imagine it's more fun than here
The one saving grace of MAG is that it’s zen-balanced, which means any schmo or Dave Meikleham can drop straight in and feel like they’re contributing. Nearly all the weapons take the same amount of time/bullets to drop a man and with the player specific loadouts that include armour tweaks – you can hone your character to whatever way suits your skill. And if you put in enough hours you’ll be able to command a squad or even take full advantage of their support perks such as artillery strikes.
Theoretically, there’s plenty to do on the battlefield – like following set objectives from in-game leaders – but there’s very little else to get excited about. Y’know things that you’d tell a friend “Awww man, you’ve gotta see this bit”. So sadly, MAG pales in comparison to other online shooters (see below) and frankly it doesn’t do enough to justify its full-price tag. We guess this is the problem when your USP is ‘more players’ and nothing else.
Is it better than...
Battlefield Bad Company: No. Not only does DICE’s original masterpiece come packing a solid single-player campaign, but the multiplayer aspect blows MAG out of the water too. With its vehicles, destructible environments and beautiful landscapes to play across, it manages to focus on the fun aspects without the need for 256 players being involved.
Modern Warfare 2: No. This is twitch FPS-ing at it’s finest, whereas MAG has more of a methodical theme to the proceedings. But in terms of variety, weapons and raw excitement we’d rather have MW2. We can’t deny that MAG is a great alternative to the frenetic action though, so if you’re a fan of Infinity Ward’s shooter you’ll still find some reasons to be cheerful here.
Killzone 2: No. Since the tweaked control scheme that makes it a tad quicker to aim, Sony’s other FPS has become somewhat slicker and the rolling objectives/game modes puts it into a similar arena as MAG. KZ2 may not be the sharpest shooter on the block but it has far more originality and character than Zipper’s humongous shoot-out.
Just for you Metacritic
Kudos to Zipper for being trailblazers in terms of how many people you can cram into a game but beyond this USP, MAG is a fairly generic affair. It all works well but it isn't mind-blowing. And with a full-price tag, minus an offline campaign, it's hard to see where the value for money lies here.