By now you must no the score, Zipper Ineractive’s PS3 exclusive MAG (Massive Action Game) is both massive and full of action. Hitting American store shelves on the January 26, 2010, it’s one of the most ambitious online FPS games ever tried, featuring a total of 256 simultaneous players in one game, 128 versus 128. Zipper Interactive, the first developer to bring online gaming to the PS2 with SOCOM, is attempting to bring a new kind of war type FPS to the world, where whole battalions face off against each other in real-time combat. Hundreds of organised and well trained soldiers (that’s you if you hadn’t guessed) facing off in real-world type scenarios like those portrayed in Black Hawk Down.
Featuring squads, platoons and commanders, the game features one of the most organised and robust chain of command structures ever implemented in a video game. Each player forms part of an eight man squad which itself has a squad leader. Each squad then joins with three other squads to form a platoon complete with platoon leader. Finally each platoon is part of an army with an overall commander-in-chief controlling the action from the very top. The idea is that you have the massive battle strategies of an army with the commanders issuing orders, but each squad participates in intimate skirmishes that require team work and co-ordination to win through. Players are rewarded for sticking with their squad though bonuses such as faster reloading and increased accuracy, which bond the teams as units, but don’t prevent the ‘go it alone’ types from snaking off into the grass.
Each map has a main objective in MAG, but it’s the smaller and ancillary objectives that really give it the excitement and feeling of a real war about it. As a platoon is making it’s way to an objective FRAGO’s, or fragmentary orders, can be issued from commanders for which units are rewarded for carrying out. For instance, imagine you’re making you way to a large artillery emplacement, but on the way your commander identifies that a machine gun emplacement is a real threat to the mission and that it should be destroyed. A FRAGO can be assigned to the target which temporarily supersedes the main objective, giving rewards to players who persue the FRAGO and destroy the emplacement, allowing your front line to proceed towards the artillery without hinderance.
The military realism that Zipper Interactive has shown throughout it’s SOCOM series is brought front and centre in MAG. Set twenty years in the future the game oozes gritty, full face warfare. Guns have a weight to them and all weapons have a satisfying gravitas that makes you really feel in the action. The battlefields give you a sense of excitement and danger whilst still being playable and enjoyable. The look and feel of MAG is particularly good given the size of the game, perhaps comparisons to a certain Modern Warfare game are applicable, but remember that MAG is all about the massive two army experience and on that stage it really delivers.
It’s ambitious, possibly stupendous, but enough waffle, how does it handle? Well if you’ve played Call of Duty (you haven’t where the hell have you been for the past two years!?) then you’ll be instantly at home in MAG. The control scheme follows the now pretty standard setup used for most modern FPS and the game has a suitable weight to it. We’re not talking Killzone 2 weight and realism but more like a cross between Battlefield and COD4. In fact the whole game feels just like a true blend of Battlefield and COD which as far as I’m concerned isn’t a bad thing.
In the short time we had with the game a couple of things became obvious. Seeing who to kill is not that obvious. Everyone is more or less brown or grey and in effect the realism element makes knowing who to shoot at just that little bit harder. It’s certainly something you’ll likely get used to, when you first played COD4 the same problem was apparent in team games. The game however does have some really good speech prompts and objectives are clearly marked with helpful way-points and lables such as ‘A’ for your first objective.
Will this be a console seller? It certainly could be, it certainly felt solid and refined even though we were hacking it out against a whole army of people. Will it tease people away from COD as the most played online shooter? If anything is likely to, MAG is it.
[Photo credits to Ben Smith]