M.A.G. Hands-On Preview

One of the first online multiplayer video games I ever played was SOCOM 2 by Zipper Interactive. I was new to online gaming and the prospect of competing against other players all over the world, while able to communicate with friends and others was a new, unexplored world that I was all too willing to become a member of. Thankfully, developer Zipper Interactive crafted a game that was easy to learn and get into, yet provided a deep, hardcore experience for players to become invested in. 

It seems Zipper hasn’t lost its touch. After six SOCOM games, they have made the move to the PS3, and are bringing their next multiplayer game, M.A.G. with them. I was able to get some time with the open beta and am happy to say the game delivers on its namesake.

SVER begins its assault

M.A.G. (which stands for Massive Action Game) takes place in the near future where militaries can no longer leave their borders and have been reduced to less than impressive numbers. To circumvent this, countries hire PMCs (private military corporations) to carry out contracts for them. These PMCs are now fighting amongst themselves for the contracts and only three remain: the high-tech Raven, army veteran Valor, and foreign militant S.V.E.R. Upon starting the game, you are required to choose a faction, create a character, and rush to the battlefield to aid your employer.

There are no tactical advantages between the factions; only the equipment you use changes. Raven has high-tech weaponry and gadgets, Valor has modern equipment, and S.V.E.R. has impromptu guns and rocket launchers. Balance freaks need not worry, because these are merely cosmetic differences and only evoke a sense of PMC-specific pride from the players. I regularly encountered players who would hail their team or tell me how much my own company sucked. It evoked a very MMO-like feel, something that is sewn into the rest of the game’s very fabric.

Your character gains experience from kills and capturing objectives, a la Modern Warfare 2, and each kill or objective pops up with an XP indicator as well. Where this difference ends is how M.A.G gives you a greater degree of character development. For each level gained, you are given a talent point. You can then spend this talent point on your character’s talent trees. Each tree specializes in a certain attribute, such as assualt, demolition, medic, or even paratrooper. Spending points in any given talent tree will unlock new weapons, attachments, and character abilities, like increasing sprinting time or faster bomb defusal. If you thought Modern Warfare 2 was breaking down the barrier between RPGs and shooters, M.A.G is attempting to blow the door wide open.

Raven Company attempts to take territory

After you outfit your character, you can jump straight into the Shadow War. M.A.G.’s big feature is its 256-player matches. The four game modes each support a different player count, so if you feel overwhelmed by that many players, you can dip your feet into slightly less shark-infested waters. Suppression/Sabotage support 64 players, Acquisition features 128, and Domination is a full-on 256-player fragfest. Each game mode is another battlefield for the war, and there are multiple battles being fought at all times. Depending on where you are needed, you are dropped into a queue awaiting deployment. If you choose Sabotage and your team is about to lose their territory in this game mode, you will be transported to that front to defend and try to repel your attackers. It’s completely persistent and even if you aren’t logged on, your team can lose territory. You’ll want to fight to keep this territory as you gain XP advantages for fighting on home turf.

One question you may be asking yourself is, "how does Zipper Interactive intend to keep that many players coordinated and working as a team?" Well, their FRAGO system is a step in the right direction. The FRAGO system awards players for completing objectives set for them, or for joining game modes in which they are needed most. Contracts will also be placed on certain game modes, adding an XP bonus if you join them. Your squad leader or platoon leader can also mark an objective that they want taken or protected and you will earn a bonus for following orders. Basically, if you want to level up faster and become an officer yourself, you’d better follow orders or help out your team. It’s a promising feature that is already keeping people in line and adhering to their roles. 

To further keep players focused, teams are split up into 8-man squads. You can talk to these squadmates no matter where they are on the field and they will act as your immediate team. At level 15, players can apply to become squad leaders, and they gain the ability to mark objectives for the FRAGO system and talk to other squad leaders. They also gain buffs that are applied to their squad, such as faster reloading or increased health. This keeps squad leaders with their squads, and players next to their squad leaders. Why would you want to run off and lose the ability to take a few more bullets to the face? These buffs and responsibilities grow with each officer rank. Platoon Leaders have more buffs, can call in tactical strikes and equipment drops, and can relay orders to all squad leaders, while the Officers in Charge have buffs and tactical drops that can change the course of the battle and can relay orders to the Platoon Leaders. A very organized, military-focused ranking system awaits those who want to dive deep into the game.

M.A.G. is doing a lot to break down the standards of online FPS and make a game that feels persistent and MMO-like, while not losing any of the action or excitement that is standard in shooters. It’s an interesting combination and we’ll have to wait and see how players react to this innovative hybrid of a game. From my time with M.A.G. though, PlayStation 3 owners should have another feather to place in their cap of great exclusive games come January 26.


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Author: Matt Erazo View all posts by

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