Iâ€™ll be honest and say that I wasnâ€™t holding out much hope for a game entitled â€śMassive Action Gameâ€ť. It seemed to me like the marketing department at Zipper Interactive had given up and were just rolling this title out to meet looming deadlines. However, the other side of that coin is that perhaps they were so damn proud of their online only game that the name didnâ€™t really matter?
After a relatively generous 60mb download on first launch of the game, it was clear that the game could easily deliver some â€śmassive actionâ€ť. MAGâ€™s main selling point is the online support for up to 256 players in one match thanks to new server architecture. It was an ambitious task, but incredibly, MAG pulls it off seamlessly with no noticeable lag and negligible waiting times in lobbies.
The story behind the game is minimal but sets up the online carnage nicely. The game begins in 2025 as a global crisis is looming. Food shortages are sparking riots, the worldâ€™s financial powers are plummeting and fuel reserves dwindling. The typical â€śweâ€™re all pretty much screwedâ€ť kind of future. These dark times call for drastic measures in global warfare and Private Military Companies (PMCs) are formed around the world with cool names like Valor, Raven, and S.V.E.R.
The Valor Company is comprised of soldiers armed with standard, grunt-like military weapons recruited from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Mexico. They believe that knowledge is strength in battle - just like GI Joe. Raven Industries is a faction that relies on high-tech weapons and armour, comprising of West European soldiers who claim that technological advancement is their key to victory. Finally, the Seryi Volk Executive Response (or S.V.E.R - pronounced "Sever") are a ragtag military force with personnel drawn from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Russia, prizing sheer will as the power to victory.
Players first choose which PMC they want to fight for and then customise their character complete with face, voice, and armour detail, as well as their preference of weapons. From here, the game pushes you through a variety of maps that get unlocked as you play and gain experience. For example the first match anyone plays through is a smaller map with 32 players where two teams of newbies battle it out in typical team deathmatch styles. But before long, players will have gained enough experience to be able to throw themselves into the epic 256 player conflicts with a range of different objectives with huge, sprawling maps. In order to keep track of the 256 player madness, each game is broken down into several smaller matches that all run simultaneously on different, interlinked areas of the same map. Players are assigned to eight-man squads, four of which comprise a platoon of 32 players. Four platoons then make up each side of 128 players. It sounds a bit confusing but MAG makes the entire experience quick and intuitive, wasting little time in throwing you into the fray from one match to the next.
Different scenarios or modes include Sabotage, which is a 64-player match between any of the two factions and involves one of the team's communications centres. One team must attack outposts A and B, while the other defends. If the targets A and B are taken over by the attacking teams, one last target C appears to achieve victory. Another mode called Acquisition comprises of a map for up to 128 players where the attacking team must steal two prototype enemy vehicles and take them to an extraction point, along with taking out the enemy bunker. And finally, Domination is the largest game mode, consisting of 256 players where the massive map contains 8 command points, which must be taken by each team. The attacker must try and maintain control over as many command points as possible with points being earned for how long they manage to defend it for. Across these modes respawn locations can be changed depending on the teamâ€™s progress and can even include parachute drops in later missions.
Most of the game modes have a set time span of 20 minutes, except for Domination which takes place over 30 minutes. After each round, the teams switch sides to defend or attack respectively. On top of all of this, players will be constantly upgrading their own characters, unlocking extra weapons and levelling up just like in an RPG game until they can eventually opt to lead squads or entire platoons. The later missions also include vehicles such as APCs that players can drive, hitch a lift on or man turrets. However, the driving controls and camera angles often made using them a bit of a nightmare. Thankfully, despite the huge maps, getting to the heart of the action doesnâ€™t take long on foot thanks some great level design. Of course, having 255 other lunatics all running around in it with you helps bring the action to you as well.
Visually the game is manic, with battles taking place in all sections of the map. Quite often you will find yourself finding a lookout point and just stopping to witness the carnage of bullets, grenades, pillars of smoke and air-strikes taking place in front of you. Itâ€™s only when you realise that the bodies you see everywhere are actually real life people (and not computer driven AI drones) that you truly appreciate the epic scale of MAG. Players get respawned in waves with a delay of anywhere between 3 and 15 seconds, keeping the action fast and intense. During this time players can change their equipment and weapon and switch their spawn point as well.
One of MAGâ€™s main selling points is that it offers an excellent gameplay experience, no matter what your style of play is. You can choose to play as the lone wolf, perhaps finding a vantage point, going prone and sniper-ing targets from a distance. Others might chose to divide into smaller groups to carry out particular objectives like a bombing run or to surge into enemy territory to claim a command post. More organised players will allocate a team-mate with a rocket-launcher and surround him with several units to attack an armoured vehicle. The game makes all the different methods as important to the next for overall victory for your team. If a player is wounded, they will be rendered unable to move and begin to bleed out (complete with a nifty red skull meter showing how long you have left to live before death kicks in). During this time, the enemy can either finish you off or a fellow team member can revive you to continue the fight. Obviously moving with a team has the advantage of being able help fallen comrades but taking the time to heal the wounded can often lead to instant failure without significant cover as well.
Itâ€™s in these areas that MAG succeeds in what it set out to do â€“ delivering some epic, heart-pounding and bullet-ridden multiplayer action. Granted, some of the graphics have been cut pretty rough with jagged edges and some tearing in the textures. But a small sacrifice here seems to have resulted in little or no lag and a surprisingly efficient online experience despite the ground-breaking number of players. Finally, things like the progressive skill upgrades, variety of weapons, array of objectives and clever map designs all combine to make MAG a very balanced online shooter. Compared to games like Modern Warfare 2 online, MAG seems to favour those players with all abilities and preferences, from casual gamers through to those hardcore guys who feel they should strafe to their kitchen incase they get shot in the back.