Getting masses of people together in one place can be a great thing – fill a stadium, house party or music festival and a good time is guaranteed for all (assuming that the sport/music/booze is up scratch, obviously!). There are times however when a crowd can simply be a royal pain in the proverbials – a crammed train, a long queue, a packed lift stuffed with sweaty commuters; at times like these it’s easy to start hankering for some alone-time. And so we arrive at Sony and Zipper Interactive’s MAG; a title that wants to be the music festival of the first person shooter world; a Glastonbury to Modern Warfare 2’s more intimate (and, dare we say it, more purposeful) arena gig.
MAG comes with a short title and an equally short USP: 256, this being the number of online players that can populate its war-torn battlefields. While this pitch might be a laser-beam of conciseness, spend a bit of time as a MAG trooper, and it quickly becomes apparent that war can be chaotic, confusing and difficult to manage – but does this mean that MAG has nailed the reality of war? Or has it simply failed to nail the elements that equal great game design? Well, we’d say it falls somewhere between the two.
In such a crowded arena as the online first person shooter, it was inevitable that someone would pursue an increased headcount in order to corner a niche in the market, and for being the ones to attempt to do so, Sony and Zipper should be applauded. This generation did after all promise more than just refined visuals delivered at higher definitions; we were promised leaps in A.I., genre-breaking new experiences and, yes, living and breathing battlefields swarming with human controlled combatants.
For the uninitiated, MAG is a massively multiplayer online first person shooter, with no single player mode to speak of (aside from a brief – and somewhat clumsy – training mission that teaches you the basics). Like Modern Warfare and the Battlefield series before it, it is the type of game that chews up and spits out newcomers, daring them to hone their skills and come back to prove their worth or to be simply brushed aside by a tide of more skilful and more committed players. This is undoubtedly a proven recipe for success (despite what the press would have you believe, hardcore gamers still exist!) but it is a recipe dependent on a key ingredient: it needs to be rewarding. The initially punishing learning curve has to make you want to come back for more, and that choosing to do so reinitiates this cycle. Without this, you’re left with little more than web-based self-flagellation.
So what is the key to capturing this special ingredient? What makes an online warzone appealing, engaging, satisfying and addictive? Most obviously, the world in which the warfare is set needs to be believable and from a visual stand point the best that can be said about MAG is that it’s a solid effort. While not a bad looking game, it lacks personality and notable design touches; the maps are chock full of details (wrecked vehicles, bridges, streams and homesteads) but much of the onscreen furniture feels like place holders, fulfilling a role but failing to do much more than that. Battlefields are not of course places of beauty, but even the mud, rust and grease encrusted worlds of Killzone 2 managed to carve out there own scarred charm; the world of MAG on the other hand is a little bit bland. Luckily, the uninspiring visuals are ably supported by strong audio. The incessant snare-drumming of machine-gun fire can be headache inducing, but the tapestry of explosions, radio chatter and jet planes roaring overhead can be thrilling (surround sound is a must!).
To be fair to Zipper Interactive, MAG was never meant to be an audio/visual showcase – it is much more an exercise in technical know-how and problem solving: how do you dump 256 players into a bloody conflict, without any lag and create a framework that stops the game being little more than a standard team deathmatch BUT BIGGER? Zipper’s handling of these quandaries is at once impressive, and more than slightly disappointing. In terms of net-code, MAG works -pure and simple! During our time with the game, lag was all but non existent, and games were easily and quickly accessible. Bearing in mind the sheer quantity of troops, vehicles and munitions being hurled around in a full 256 player game, this in itself is no small feat.
Pages: 1 2
Have you downloaded the latest issue from GamerZines yet? Check it out here!