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MAG Beta – Hands-On

22:1825/10/2009Posted by D+PAD StaffNo Comments

People lose their minds as soon as they step online. It doesn’t matter if your teammate is Head of Intellectual Studies at Boffington University, as soon as the Ethernet cable is connected they’ll transform into a crazed, gibbering mess, nonchalantly bounding around looking to perforate whatever moving targets they can find, with little consideration for tedious nonsense like ‘rules’ and ‘tactics’. And no matter how hard MAG tries to force its users to play nice, all too often it feels like an uphill struggle.

MAG Beta 1Case in point: on my first ever spawn in MAG I was run over by a fellow teammate. Fair enough, I thought, these things happen. Ten seconds later I popped back to life and was promptly splattered a second time. And then a third.

The prospect of two-hundred and fifty-six rabid lunatics battling away on one map is nothing short of petrifying. MAG bravely attempts to make its open, objective-orientated gameplay tangible by the addition of a visible, discernable leadership system. At the top lies the Office In Charge, and beneath him the infrastructure billows out to include squad and platoon leaders: the logistics of the massive number are diluted by dividing any given team up into smaller, manageable squads of eight working in platoons of four squads.

MAG Beta 2Players with leadership roles can use the in-game mini-map to paint objectives, most commonly repairing certain areas or attacking others, to sharpen the team’s war efforts into decisive and co-ordinated movements. Leadership roles only come with high ranks, and all positive actions get rewarded with experience points. The team at Zipper believe this to be incentive enough to get everyone working together as a team.

But one of the game’s bigger problems is that experience is doled out in great chunks for killing the opposing team. As logical as that is, it’s also common for incapable leaders to rise up without any respect for the game’s tactical edge, who play MAG like it’s a simple deathmatch, and subsequently doom future teams to certain failure. By dishing out experience solely for following orders and supporting their faction, players who got promoted would, perhaps, be more inclined to play the game by Zipper’s rules. The only other solution I can think of is to make everyone sit a series of tedious and extravagant written exams.

MAG Beta 3Another concern is the general lack of voice communications. Adoption of Bluetooth headsets seems to be low amongst PS3 users, but it’s a pressing and unavoidable fact that a game like MAG seriously needs the majority of its players to be in frequent communication. This is hardly the fault of Zipper, but for the game to be a success then the final version will need a reasonably priced game-and-headset combination available at retail.

I also question if Zipper aren’t biting off more than they can chew. For instance, why create three unique factions to choose from? The game’s narrative stems from the idea of three Private Military Companies fighting over lucrative contracts, but trying to balance two companies and get the netcode working seems like a daunting enough task – throwing another unique team in the mix only causes inevitable design headaches, as well as adding another layer of complexity on an already demanding game. And matches can only be between two sides anyway – so it makes little sense.

MAG Beta 4Concessions are made due to the game’s beta state: the test seems to be based more around ascertaining the core multiplayer component rather than polishing the player experience. There’s no tutorial provided in-game, so it’s also understandable how so many people roam around with little to no comprehension of what’s going on.

It’s also worth pointing out that underneath the cynicism exists a functional shooter. The handful of maps included in the beta are understandably gargantuan, although they all sacrifice minute finery for epic scale – indicative of the game as a whole. Weapon options are plentiful, with a myriad of new toys constantly being made available as rewards for progression. It’s also quite pleasant to see that, as the beta progresses, the game’s visual and aural fidelity has been considerably improved.

MAG Beta 5When two co-ordinated opposing forces are battling over control points, launching targeted strikes and establishing strong, formidable lines of offense and defence, the game is superb. It’s like a bigger, bolder version of Battlefield with frequently enormous, explosive tussles between entire hordes of players. I’ve never played anything quite like it, and in these moments Zipper’s vision becomes lucid, tangible and understandable: this is the future! If the game would always play like this, I’d never want to quit.

It’s a difficult, complicated experience to explain; it’s easier to say MAG is easily one of the most ambitious online titles ever created and that I am cautiously optimistic for the final version. There’s heaps of potential here, but Zipper have to be careful their grand ambitions don’t jeopardise a potentially enjoyable game.

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