The MAG beta open testing sequence ended this past Sunday and, sufficient to say, the six days of gaming left little to be desired. Ever since word dropped that Zipper Interactive was working to create a 256 Player First Person Shooter for PS3, skeptics abound expressed their doubts. However, if marketing was created to stir up interest then betas were meant to turn naysayers into fans, and that’s exactly what the MAG beta did.
MAG: First Thoughts
The first big question answered is that of connection quality. Hear it now, MAG is fast. From the get go MAG’s connectivity speed shines and the matchmaking feature is streamlined to the point that wait times are virtually non-existent. Drops or lag? Nada. You won’t see players choppily flying around the screen like Samara from The Ring.
Also of note is the character creation process. While the importance of character looks is negligible in MAG (who care if you’re wearing sunglasses or a mask?), the visual detail is impressive. Be sure appreciate the attention to modeling and graphics during this phase because once you’re in battles there is no time to relax.
Hit the dirt soldier
Initially the only open mode of fighting is Sabotage (training was not available during the beta). Since you are in the infant stages of being a soldier MAG will treat you accordingly; i.e. as bullet fodder. There will be confusion. About what you ask? Everything.
This is not a typical shooter where you can name your avatar John Rambo and run off into enemy territory throwing flashbangs and taking down four opponents at once while screaming obscenities into your mic. In fact, about the only aspect of MAG that sounds right from that last sentence is you will RUN, and you will run all the time. Sprinting in MAG is one of the few ways to advance your position and quickly moving from object to object while avoiding grenades and bullet fire is likely the only way to survive longer than a few moments. Since your soldier can not sprint and shoot at the same time it forces teamwork and in a game of this stature teamwork is imperative.
Another interesting advancement in MAG is the use of personal healing injectors. Albeit initially limited, escaping for a moment is often mandatory in order to heal up and continue fighting the good fight… unless you’re still trying to be Rambo at which point respawning equates to healing.
Wait, is this an MMO?
Ok so you reached level two, now what? This is the point where we learned that MAG separates itself from other shooters by incorporating leveling aspects, respeccing for one, traditionally reserved for RPGs and MMOs. Spending your skill points in various weapon upgrades and specializations begins the transition from meat shield to soldier of, well at the point anyways, mediocrity.
On the first go round, it is important to figure out what type of soldier you want to be (infantry, heavy weapons, or sniper) and stick with it through progression. Changing your abilities is only available after you have accumulated 3000 respec points which is quite time consuming. Should you chose to respec, and you probably will, make sure the changes are going to be enjoyable because going 100% sniper might not be as worthwhile as having an grenade launcher attached to your gun. Trust us on this, learning the hard way is NOT worth the effort.
It is also at this juncture we realized helping others really does help you. Purchasing the advanced med-kits allows players to heal one another and, at higher levels, even revive them which is a great way to gain ancillary experience. While the merits of playing a medic might dull the masses, you can still fulfill this role and remain a soldier of destruction due to equipment selection via the armory (hint: you want to always have an injector). In fact, in losing battles this is the best way to gain meaningful experience instead of the 31 exp such efforts often merit. However, don’t expect courtesy from the enemy because you’re running around playing doctor, you still have the ability to cap a mofo should the situation arise, and it will. Spread the love right?
Teamwork and headsets go a long, long way.
With such large-scale battles at hand, it is imperative that you stick to objectives. Not only does this grant extra exp, but it usually determines the victor. For instance, in MAG executing a solo flanking maneuver without communication is not valiant, it is suicidal. However, doing so in a group can allow for an entire portion of the map to be locked down by two or three soldiers. This gives the John Rambo’s of the world hope. With more attention being paid to the contingent of organized soldiers, the meat shields are able to run around creating havoc.
While most of you probably already have a head set, those who don’t must get one if you plan on being effective in MAG. Communication is the key attribute here and no amount of skill points can unlock it.
Sounds too nice, are you sure you aren’t some PR guy?
There is truly very little to complain about with MAG. Considering only one mission type was available to begin with (Domination, the 256 person battle, was available at later levels) the beta delivered on the hype. Features that may seem gimmicky in other games, such as the bleed out effect, mesh well into the fray of battle. The ability to resuscitate comrades who are down, but not out, can be the difference between winning and losing a key area. Sniping goes against the grain and is not the end-all be-all of victory. On the contrary, until we unlocked the .50 cal sniping was relatively worthless and even then having too many snipers on a team will cripple even the most able of platoons which leads to our next segment…
Balance is the key to success
Not everyone can be a chief and in the case of MAG being a good ol’ fashioned Indian could be considered as important as any other aspect of your game. Much like real squads, covering weak points and communicating activity go much farther than mowing down three (if you’re that lucky) enemies before getting axed yourself.
Zipper approached this aspect of MAG with a keen eye for balance between realism and fun. Sure, there will be times where it is inconceivable that some chump got a lucky headshot as you snuck up to knife him in the skull but isn’t that how life goes? MAG rewards going for the sure thing, helping your teammates, blending patience with surprise, and sticking to the game plan. In a sense, the formula for success in battle seems to be the formula used to create such a standout shooter. Seems Zipper learned a thing or two during the development process.
The Meat and Potatoes
Domination is the reason this game will truly standout and if anything mentioned above rings true, it is amplified by 10 once you step into a 256 person battle. You have never experienced anything like Domination on any console and it will be stifling and frustrating at first. If you haven’t mastered the techniques of duck and cover more time will be spent respawning than fighting. Never before has this type of environment been offered on a console and it delivers a tour de force that is sure to open the eyes of everyone as to what Next-Gen gaming is all about. Trust me on this, it will be a new, albeit frustrating, experience that will progress the integration of shooters and the internet towards the next realm of possibility.
MAG offers one of the more realistic experiences of large-scale battle on the market, not that we’ve, uhhh, been a part of shootouts or anything. Sure, the accuracy of heavy machine guns is in question here and no-scoping is a no-go, but the overall ebb and flow of MAG should leave anyone who touches it wanting more. Despite all of the positive game play review, the most astounding aspect surely goes to the connection quality. Pulling off this type of gaming environment on a PC would be jaw-dropping, successfully doing so on a console should render gamers speechless. Hopefully not for long though, because there’s a sniper to the left and two infantry advancing up the middle… and someone is going to have to let Raven Squad know.
MAG releases along side Mass Effect 2 January 26th.