I’m going to be honest. I don’t believe in hiding behind a veil of the all-knowing, omnipotent critic who is an expert on every aspect of the industry, every facet of new technology, and fully checked out on every genre on earth. Any reviewer who claims he is entirely confident going into every examination of every game is lying through his egotistical teeth. Now, I don’t particularly like online shooters and I never will; I just fail to see the fascination. At the same time, after playing the MAG beta and the final product for quite some time, I finally feel readily equipped to offer an accurate and reliable review. It’s the best I can do; I just wanted to put this out there beforehand. I want the reader to understand my own personal preferences and the fact that they may have had an impact – even if it was subconscious – on the scores. But in the end, I believe my statements concerning the recommendation for certain people are accurate. Hope this clarifies things.
The graphics are not the highlight of this game, as you probably already know if you participated in any of the beta phases. However, I believe the final product does look better than any of the beta tests; I freely admit I
The sound is one of the highlights of the game, as every battle is chock full of crystal clear weapon fire and the albeit small amount of voice acting is good. I’m perhaps most surprised at a decent soundtrack that tends to permeate many battles; this is an aspect of all-online games that hasn’t been prominent enough, in my opinion. I know that with so many people trying to communicate, a rocking music score could get in the way, but Zipper has struck a nice, even chord with the soundtrack in MAG. It’s not always in your face and it correctly adds some appreciated flavor to the experience. I keep thinking certain weapons don’t sound exactly right, though, and the balancing is off sometimes. For instance, some effects can inappropriately override others; this balancing issue can rear its ugly head quite often during really intense firefights but again, I believe this trait is common to the genre. A whole lot of sh** is happening; I get that. I just like the nod to some good music and the overall atmosphere that benefits from professionally implemented sound.
I’m sitting here with the Reviewer’s Guide in front of me. I don’t normally receive this kind of fully illustrated and intricately detailed assistance but after spending my time with the game, I know why it’s here. We’ve got the armories for each Faction, abilities and duties for leadership members – ranging from Squad Leaders to Platoon Leaders to the OIC (Officer in Charge) – relevant skills, tactical options (Mortar Barrage, Strafing Runs, Gas Bombardments, Sensor Fused Artillery), and of course, the deep histories of each Faction. It’s downright mind-boggling. If you only played the beta and think MAG isn’t much different than other online shooters you’ve played, think again, my friend. It goes well beyond a few parachute drops and jumping into an APC. It goes beyond having a steady aim and teaming up with a group to flank the opposition. That’s all child’s play compared to the strategy involved in this game, and I will once again make an admission: I have not tested every last tactic, loadout option, skill, and ability. Hell, I don’t think I could do that if I played for the next six months.
The point is, if you try to play this game like a fast-paced, mindless, run-around-and-shoot-everything-you-see FPS, you’re going to be entirely ineffective. You also won’t have much fun, which may cause a great many new owners to become frustrated and upset with the game. I am aware this could happen. It’s all about teamwork, almost regardless of the Mode or the battlefield situation. What is most appealing, though, is the fact that you can indeed remain independent if you wish; you don’t have to become a leader of any kind. And while you should probably follow orders you are given if you have the best interests of the Faction in mind, nothing is stopping you from going wherever you want and doing whatever you want. With the plethora of options available to you, it can almost seem overwhelming at first so you’ll want to get your bearings. All this being said, let’s move on to the foundation of the gameplay.
This is where we start experiencing a few problems. First of all, I signed on with Raven (as I had done in the beta) and after testing a variety of loadout options and many of the available weapons, I started to question the effectiveness and power of certain firearms. The sound has a bit of a balance issue and balancing is once again an issue here, I believe. It just seems that some weapons are almost entirely useless in battle while I’d always feel more comfortable with one particular set of firearms. Now, this could be an entirely subjective thing but I’m almost positive that some bad-ass rifles should be more deadly than they are. On the flip side, I think too many of them do about the same amount of damage; sometimes I’d say to myself, “what’s even the point of changing right now? It feels pretty much the same with either.” Lastly, there is a definite collision detection problem from where I’m sitting: I’ve had foes directly in my line of sight with a sniper rifle and nothing has happened. It got annoying after a while.
This leads me to the problem of not being entirely sure when I’m even hitting someone. Maybe I could use a few blood spatters or jerks of the body or something to help me out. I suppose I can also complain that I sometimes had difficulty distinguishing enemies from allies; yes, I know they’re denoted in blue and red but those colors seemed dull to me, that’s all. Again, I’m aware that some will read this and go, “I never had any of those problems; you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I accept that but I can only tell you what negatively effected my hours with the game. I can also say I don’t like the awkward way you climb ladders in the game but that’s a minor thing and it doesn’t really impact the gameplay. Now that we have all this out of the way, let me try to explain what’s good about MAG…I say “try” because a lot of the positives are somewhat intangible, and you don’t quite understand them until you’ve played for a while. This is why critics need to take their time with this one.
Look, I’m all about atmosphere and the game’s ability to bring the player into the experience, regardless of genre or style. If you give MAG the chance, it will do exactly this. Yes, you have to build yourself up at first, but this is mostly so only seasoned veterans will be involved in the massive battles that take place in Domination and new Directives, and you’ll unlock skills as you go. In this way, there’s a semblance of an offline single-player campaign in that you have to prove yourself before the full glory of the game becomes unlocked and available to your greedy fingertips. But once you glimpse the depth; once you taste the power you feasibly have if you work hard, you may become an addict for life. There is quite simply no other game that offers what MAG offers: the chance to command up to 128 players (good luck working your way up to that point) and in general, become a true-blue military commander who must consider every possible aspect of combat before assigning orders.
It’s here where this “MMOFPS” shines. I mean, you can personalize your own career from the start, specializing in any number of responsibilities (like Commando and Sniper), and the performance rewards are always excellent incentives. Being able to act as a Medic isn’t something new but due to the realistic nature of the game, where two or three bullets can put you in the dirt, it’s all the more important to have helpful teammates. It also forces you to respect dangerous situations and I believe this is something that might be unique to MAG; never before have I been so reluctant to push forward into enemy territory without my buddies around me. And even then, there’s a group-wide feeling of tension…it’s weird; you can almost sense it through the screen. Like I said, it’s somewhat hard to explain. Once you’re in, getting used to the controls should take no time at all if you’re even remotely familiar with any FPS, although I’ve always hated using the L3 button to sprint. It’s just so unbelievably inconvenient in my eyes.
The controls are plenty solid enough and won’t cause anyone any problems, but the collision detection, balance issues, the amount of time required to really indulge, and the fact that it isn’t the best-looking game on the PS3 all works against MAG. What it has going for it is the overall package; in this case, it’s most certainly greater than the sum of its parts. The depth is undeniable, the immersion factor is super high (coming from someone that isn’t into this genre, that means something), and the combination of strategy and standard performance skills is enough to make fans play for a very, very long time. There’s no chance you’ll see everything this game has to offer in a few hours…in fact, I kinda believe that some of the lower reviews I’ve seen have either been based on the beta or the fact that the reviewer didn’t play long enough. You really need to set aside a good chunk of time and the rewards are unlike any online team-based game you’ve played before.
The shortcomings are clear, which is why I won’t say this is among the elite ranks of PlayStation 3 exclusives right now. However, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear: MAG’s potential is off the charts. As we all know, games like this continue to grow and expand over time; the developers continually attempt to make it a better experience with updates and patches. This makes it very much unlike other titles and we need to recognize this. At the start, Warhawk was good but it wasn’t great; I think it became great. You might not even believe what they added to that game in the past few years; I still remember the beta, which was a mere shadow of the current full experience. Now, taking this into consideration and looking at MAG…oh…my…God. I can’t imagine what Zipper could do; the sky really might be the limit. 256 players isn’t the selling point; the experience is, and while the overall score may not seem too impressive, I couldn’t even begin to assign a score to this game’s potential.
In my opinion, this might be something all reviewers should come back to analyze again in one year’s time. The bottom line is that if you’re into the idea of a MMOFPS that requires patience and strategy, there’s no better option, despite the drawbacks (which may only be temporary).
1/28/2010 Ben Dutka