Support Andy, click to buy via us...
MAG could shine if only a grownup audience started playing. As it stands, the juvenile players mar MAG's technically impressive experience, even for a PS3. Nevertheless it's still an intriguing proposition for any older family member with a strategic bent.
MAG is an online-only multiplayer shooter that features massive 256-player battles across some impressively large maps. Coming back to online gaming after a long absence I was initially overwhelmed by the concept of MAG. Yet despite all the claims on the box I rarely felt as if I was participating in anything more than a standard team-based shooter. When the pieces of the game did come together I had a blood-pumping awesome time being part of a virtual squad - but it only worked when everyone from the faction leader to the squad commanders was co-operating together. Too often the usual dregs of society made the experience less than pleasant.
There's no doubt that coming back to an online multiplayer shooter was going to be overwhelming for someone's who's stayed away from such games in the past. Though I've dabbled with the likes of Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 in the past, team-based shooters have never appealed but there was something grand and epic about battling it out with a huge 128 vs. 128 player match that MAG for offered me. And overwhelming was certainly the feeling I had with this game.
To be fair MAG only unleashed that kind of setup until I reached a certain level with my soldier and getting to those larger matches meant starting small with a 64-player team deathmatch. Before starting to play any of the various modes on offer I had to choose one of the game's three factions. To be honest I never saw what difference playing each faction was like during the game but MAG made it feel as if this choice was utterly critical to my happiness.
There's no doubt that coming back to an online multiplayer shooter was going to be overwhelming for someone's who's stayed away from such games in the past.
In a way it was because once I chose my faction (Raven) there was no option to switch over or even start another character. Once you pick a side the only way to change is to scrub your character and start over again. It was a little off-putting at first because this felt like a drastic undertaking for someone who's a bit more casual in their approach with these games. But I realised that this was necessary for players to feel attached to their creation and not constantly flip-flop between factions or characters.
It would have been great if I was with a large group of friends and used this mode as an actual proper training mode, but messing around with strangers felt more awkward than anything else. But in retrospect, it did give me a chance to get used to the controls and feel of the shooting in a session that never felt particularly serious or fulfilling.
The shooting aspect of the game handled really well and I felt there was a certain heft to the guns that made combat satisfying and balanced. The one gripe I have about online shooters is how many bullets I seem to need to down a guy - MAG is more realistic - and just a few shots will take care of any other player regardless of rank or level. Unfortunately that works the other way as well and the number of times I died within the space of just one match was embarrassingly high.
I already have two kids to manage during the daylight hours so finding a load of immature idiots on the PSN late at night was totally disheartening.
This quick death mechanic took some getting used to and reminded me of the rare times I ventured into a Battlefield game - the old mix of spawn, kill, spawn coming back to haunt me yet again. In this mode and Sabotage, another 64-player control-point match, I found myself being turned off of the game due to the liquid nature of my input. I just died far too many times in the type of chaotic matches that never felt like I had any control in. There was none of the tactical or strategic style I was hoping for coming through in these opening modes and I began to wonder if I'd made a terrible choice in picking this game up.
Fortunately I found that Acquisition was the game mode that suited me most as it brought in assets and objectives that required leadership to utilise correctly. Not that I'm command material though. The thought of taking charge of a squad or even the entire 64-player team is frightening; especially with the quality of people you can get using microphones in online games. I was much happier taking on orders and helping the team take objectives.
I don't have a large group of friends to play the game with so every match would be a lottery as to who my team-mates or commander would be.
This was the point where the game really started to get erratic as it would veer from being incredibly immersive and fun to frustratingly awkward and overwhelming within the space of a single match. I realised that the community around MAG was going to make or break the game for me. I don't have a large group of friends to play the game with so every match would be a lottery as to who my team-mates or commander would be. Sometimes they would be amenable to someone new to the game but more often than not I'd be met with derision and insults - something I half-expected but still disappointed me.
I already have two kids to manage during the daylight hours so finding a load of immature idiots on the PSN late at night was totally disheartening. When it did work and I got in with a good group of players then the experience was much better. The Acquisition mode focused on either hijacking two vehicles or defending against such an attack. This and the full 256-player Domination mode really brought the tactical nature of the game out much more and I found the idea of capturing specific points on the map in a small 8-player team whilst other teams were being coordinated to do similar tasks pretty awesome. It's just a shame that I rarely felt I was in a war zone with that many people. In some bizarre way the smaller 32 vs. 32 matches were more hectic and crowded whereas the bigger matches felt compartmentalised and cut-off from the action.
Being a casual player who's getting back into online shooters I found MAG to represent all that's bad and yet show signs of the awesome promise many games have.
I've still not given up on MAG and a lot will depend on whether I sustain my interest by finding the right kind of people to play with. The larger games brought in the elements I was looking for and when it works the command structure and sense of scale come into play - but only if you're taking on one of the leadership positions. As a casual player the game changes very little on the ground and although the levelling up and perks system is as addictive I found myself being constantly overwhelmed by the game.
Being a casual player who's getting back into online shooters I found MAG to represent all that's bad and yet show signs of the awesome promise many games have. My experience was marred, not with any technical problems but with the interaction between other players. Getting in with a group that's welcoming yet serious about playing the game properly was an achievement itself and all too often I found myself having to put up with abuse. If you've got a large group of friends or belong to an online clan then MAG could easily represent the pinnacle of the online tactical shooter, for me and a lot of other people it's just as difficult and inaccessible as every other online game.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: