Last year, when I was sitting in the third row, front and center, during Sony's E3 2008 conference, they started talking about some massive first-person shooter they've been working on. And then they mentioned that this game would also support up to 256 players...simultaneously. I kind of chuckled to myself thinking the amount of detail per character would probably be limited. And then I saw the trailer. But still, it could've just been conceptual. And then I was told everything was in-game assets. Oh. I remained a bit skeptical, regardless...and then we saw it actually being played at this year's conference.
At that point I realized I need to stop doubting Sony, already. They delivered with Killzone 2, and they're delivering with Gran Turismo 5, among other things I can't think of immediately. MAG is shaping up to be precisely the experience Sony and Zipper have said it would be. 256 players will populate an enormous map, so unlike other games where even 18 is a crowd and you find yourself dead every 10 seconds, the game world in MAG will actually be more accommodating, albeit not to the point where you'll get lost navigating.
The way your games can be setup is in a variety of configurations. You can break teams up into eight and compete against 32 teams, all of which will be vying for supremacy and the title of 'best'. You can step it up to 32-player teams, and, of course, a full 128 player army, battling against another group of 128 players. The scale of MAG is utterly epic, and when you mix in the ability to climb up in rank the more you play, in order to ultimately become the leader of your group, squad, or army, you have a game that is very driven and rewarding for the gamer.
Many games have a rank system, but I can't think of any that'll reward you with leadership duties. I can definitely see this competitive aspect really blowing up and gamers taking a liking to it by going on long burst of gaming in order to ascend to a power status. If this affects clans, it'll especially encourage members to play more in order to gain the respect of their respective mates. Furthermore, character customization doesn't limit you to just being the commander or general of an army, but also allows you to go the direction you wish to go, such as becoming a fighter who excels in a certain aspect. And yes, there will be air-strikes, as well as parachute insertions, mortar barrages, and much more.
With three Private Military Companies (PMCs) to join, your squad has a direct effect on their standing in the world. We're not quite sure what Sony means by "each battle victory or loss contributes to your PMCs world standing, moving them on the offensive or pulling them back to the defensive," it seems a little vague and ambiguous. I believe what they're trying to say is that even when you're not playing, other people who have aligned themselves with the same faction will have an affect on its stats and standing, calling it a consistent "Shadow War." So even if you're not playing, the war continues. And of course, to make the choice of picking a PMC easier, each faction boasts a unique story/background, personality, and style.
For a game that's rendering a massive map with 256-players, MAG looks very good. It's certainly a far cry from what I had initially imagined. But ultimately, I'd need to see this thing running on my own screen in order to accurately judge it. If it ends up running with a solid framerate and looks sharp, then I'll be satisfied. From the E3 2009 demonstration, it sure looks like it's running smooth, let's hope it stays that way.
MAG is scheduled for a November 2009 release.
7/6/2009 Arnold Katayev