Giant Bomb Review

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MAG Review

4
  • PS3

MAG doesn't always take direct advantage of its huge player count, but the base action is sharp enough to make it all work.


Welcome to MAG, where just about everything is either smoking or on fire. 
The big hook for Sony's MAG is that it supports up up to 256 players at once. That means that you and 127 of your closest friends can take on 128 of the Internet's finest in a first-person shooting extravaganza. While the game works as advertised, the higher player count doesn't end up creating a huge difference between MAG and other large-scale first-person shooters. But if you're looking to capture control points and gun down human opposition, the systems surrounding MAG are interesting enough to make this a worthwhile release.

It's plastered all over the box, but it's worth repeating to make sure your expectations are set properly: MAG is a multiplayer-only shooter. Short of a brief and largely ineffective training session that shows you how to crouch and throw grenades, every other aspect of MAG puts you into battle against other human players. It all starts by forcing you to choose one of the game's three factions. In the end, the three factions are fairly interchangeable, but the game makes this decision seem like a huge deal. Once you've created a character and joined a faction, you'll have to reach the game's level cap to change sides. There's only one character slot, too, so if you want to try all three sides, you'll have to either create more PlayStation Network accounts or erase your existing character and start over. It's a good way to force you to feel some loyalty for your faction, but like most other things in MAG, the game doesn't give you enough information up front to feel like you're making a well-researched and reasoned decision.

Once you've selected a faction and moved forward, you're given a set of preset weapon and equipment loadouts and offered the game's simplest game type, suppression. This is a team deathmatch game for up to 64 players, and unlike the other modes, it's an in-faction match that pits members of the same faction against each other in what the universe justifies as a training exercise. With none of the objective elements and leadership bonuses that make MAG more strategic and only one map per faction, suppression matches are only useful for getting players used to the way MAG's guns feel.

The other three match types increase the complexity and get more interesting. Sabotage is another 64-player match, and it's a basic control point battle with one team attacking and the other on defense. Even in this "small" match, things are broken up in a way that makes the game feel smaller than it is, as different squads are sent to different control points. The end, however, culminates in the full attacking team moving on a final control point. When you see 32 guys all trying to run into a tiny area and plant explosives, you finally get the full effect of MAG's scope. Weirdly enough, this 64-player match is really the only match that bunches players together like this, and it ends up feeling more chaotic and crazy than strategic and fun.

Getting to an elevated position is usually a good idea. 
Acquisition takes the player count up to 128, and puts one faction on the attack as they attempt to hijack two vehicles from enemy positions and drive them to specific capture positions. In this mode, you start to get a feel for the tactical side of MAG, as the various assets that the team leaders can use appear. Leaders can call in mortar strikes and sensor sweeps, but these abilities are dependent on keeping various structures, like mortar cannons and satellite arrays, up and running. The attacking team can plant explosives on these structures, but defenders with repair guns can always fix these stations to get the support powers back up and running. Acquisition feels chaotic, but it also feels more open than the other modes. In most of these matches, I felt totally lost, and would go minutes without even seeing the opposition as I worked my way across the map to where the vehicles are kept. Perhaps bad leadership is to blame here, but I was happy to open up the game's final mode.

Domination is the only mode where you'll get a full 256 players in game. It offers the largest command structure and the most objectives, but it rarely feels more populated than sabotage games. While you'll have 128 players on a team, the size of the map means that the different squads are spread around the battle, attacking or defending different positions. So even though the game will look different to players in leadership positions, the actual action doesn't feel much different than the control point gameplay of a 64-player sabotage match. At most, your squad will have two control points (of eight) to worry about. Still, these matches can last up to 30 minutes and are the best thing about MAG.

Player progression is a big deal in MAG. You can build five different custom loadouts for your soldier using assault rifles, machine guns, and sniper rifles as primary weapons. You can also carry secondary gear like medic guns that heal or resurrect injured players, repair guns for fixing battlefield assets, grenades, an RPG, and so on. Weapons can be further customized with different scopes, reduced recoil, and so on. The catch is that you'll have to unlock all of these different items using skill points, which are doled out as you gain experience and rise in level. So if you want to carry a better assault rifle, you'll need to spend three skill points to get it. The skill list is also tiered, so you'll have to spend points on lesser upgrades before getting to the good stuff. A respec meter fills as you play, so if you eventually realize that you've misspent all of your skill points, there are ways to fix mistakes.

Each piece of gear you unlock with skill points has a credit amount associated with it, and your custom loadouts have to come in under a certain total. This prevents players from creating super-classes that have, for example, both the best medical gun and a repair kit unless you're willing to sacrifice in other areas.

Once you hit level eight, you can start participating in every mode of play, but you'll have to get to level 15 before you can apply for any of the game's leadership roles. The basic leader position is squad leader, putting you in charge of an eight-man crew. Leaders assign objectives to the squad, and the members of your square are incentivized to follow your orders because they'll get an experience point bonus for performing tasks in the vicinity of the thing you're telling them to attack or defend. Leaders also get access to additional abilities, like the ability to call in UAVs for better battlefield awareness, air strikes, and so on. All of these abilities are activated via the D-pad, and it's easy to manage these while still playing an active role on the battlefield. As you lead, you'll earn leadership points that eventually qualify you for meatier positions, all the way up to Officer-in-Charge, which gives you a form of control over the entire 128-man team. Leaders can get into different channels of communication to set up higher-level strategies, but with the way most of the maps are broken up, there's a natural progression to the action that doesn't really require a lot of hands-on management. Leaders also have radius effects that improve the skills of players that stand near them. For the average player, though, all of this leadership boils down to a pulsating objective on the map and a line of text in the upper-left corner that tells you where to go and what to do when you get there. Voice chat doesn't feel especially vital to the experience.

The weapons in MAG are powerful, so either wear the heavy armor or keep your head down. 
Players go down easily in MAG. Unless you're wearing the heavy armor (or rocking a skill upgrade that gives you more health), you'll only take a few shots before dropping to the ground. This makes the guns feel pretty powerful and makes the shooting satisfying. Also, it slows the pace of the action a bit. If you're running around corners, chances are you're going to get gunned down by someone smart enough to crouch, hide, and take careful shots. Of course, headshots are a different story, and between the large size of the game's maps and the way the game offers plenty of rooftops and other elevated positions, you can expect snipers to make a heavy impact on the action.

Visually, MAG has its moments, but parts of it look a little weird. The action maintains a smooth frame rate, but the environments look a little bland and the colors seem muted. Effects, like fire and explosions, have a blocky, pixelated look. The individual soliders look fine, and you'll unlock plenty of cosmetic upgrades for your loadouts, like hats, goggles, and color schemes. The audio is OK, but fairly unmemorable in the grand scheme of things. Considering you'll probably want to use a headset while playing, it's fine that the gunfire and other effects don't stand out.

MAG is a solid shooter and its leadership elements are intelligently designed, but it doesn't feel especially different from other big-team consoles shooters, like Battlefield: Bad Company. As long as you're not going in expecting the player count to make a dramatic difference in the way MAG feels and behaves, you'll have a good time. Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
78 Comments
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Edited by DriveupLife

sounds good to me Jeff.
 
btw first

Posted by Conker

Fantastic review Jeff!
Posted by Djeffers03

when i first heard about mag I was pumped but after seeing all the mag things I have been really put off

Posted by HaltIamReptar
@DriveupLife: I was first.  I deleted my comment when I realized all it said was "first".
 
This is a review.  That's a thing.
Posted by CL60

Good review.

Posted by Feser

This doesn't sound like a four star review.

Posted by Jimbo

I kinda feel like you need armour & air to make the most of a player count like this.
 
If you could combine the incentivised ORBAT mechanics and the non-whack-a-mole mission structure into (proper) Battlefield, I think you'd have something special.

Posted by ROFLCOPTER
@Jimbo said:
" ...Battlefield...
i c what u did thar. 
Posted by G3NK1E

wow...much better than i expected.  I was kind of steering away from purchasing MAG but after seeing the quicklooks(?) and reading the review,  I'm definitely considering it. 

Posted by Kohe321

Great review!

Posted by Jimbo
@ROFLCOPTER said:
" @Jimbo said:
" ...Battlefield...
i c what u did thar.  "
I.... what?  I meant as opposed to console-flavour Battlefield.
Edited by Nyro

Good Review Jeff, but what about the "Fun Factor?"

Posted by DannyJ

I just want to make a correction on the review. You said that the only way you can try out each faction is by making another PSN account, but when your character reaches level 60, you get an option to start over at level 1 with the same character on a different faction. You need to do it to get Platinum.

Posted by Strife777

Good review. I'm not too sure I'm going to get MAG for now. Since it's online only, it seems like the kind of game you dedicate a lot of your time to, like the SOCOM games. Hopefully, it will also follow in SOCOM's footsteps by having a lot of support in terms of patches and updates.

Posted by Crono

I have been curious about this game.  Sounds like just another shooter in the end though.  How was the lag though?  The article didn't really touch on anything about the connection of all these console players.  I really like the idea of dedicated servers in a console game, personally - you need it for a game like MAG; even if the player count doesn't seemingly affect the gameplay too much, not having dedicated servers certainly would.
 
I noticed that in the one quicklook the game dropped.  Is that common?  Should we just chalk that up as a "growing pain" - something that will likely be worked out once MAG's numbers settle a bit?  This is the one piece of information I am most interested in, as a bad connection can completely ruin these games that are based on quick reactions.
 
Really enjoyed the review, I suspected this game would garner a 4/5 based on the quicklooks - it seemed like you really enjoyed the game as a whole but wished that it had taken greater advantage of some of its elements... such as the 256 player count.

Posted by sixghost
@DannyJ said:
" I just want to make a correction on the review. You said that the only way you can try out each faction is by making another PSN account, but when your character reaches level 60, you get an option to start over at level 1 with the same character on a different faction. You need to do it to get Platinum. "
I think he was implying that that was the only way you could try them all out at the beginning. I'm surprised this got 4 stars, from the mag look it seemed like they weren't so hot on the game.
Posted by PuppyT

Nice review. Im really glad you actually took the time to play a lot of the game and didn't rush the review out so fast. I guess thats vital since it IS only multiplayer (: I loved the MAG Things too :D You should do that more often with Multiplayer games. Its really fun watching them!

Posted by Macros
@DannyJ: Read the review again and you will see this: "  Once you've created a character and joined a faction, you'll have to reach the game's level cap to change sides. " 
As @sixghost said, the only way for you to try each faction at the beginning is to delete your character, or create separate PSN accounts.
Posted by MAN_FLANNEL

So I guess Bad Company 2 is guaranteed a 5/5 on giantbomb.com

Posted by handlas

pretty shocking.  Didn't sound like he was enjoying it during the THING videos.  Regardless, they compelled me to give it a rent which I'll do once Mass Effect 2 is done with.

Posted by KinjiroSSD
@MAN_FLANNEL:  Well yeah. You can easily and soundly predict 99% of the review scores...
Posted by Tuggah

The game sounded great and had me thinking about getting a PS3 (along with Heavy Rain), then the MAG Things made it seem like a 3-star game. A four kinda surprised me.

Posted by Cazamalos
@Tuggah:  duder i brought a ps3 only for uncharted 2  and Heavy rain and oh boy uncharted 2 is a very good reason to have a ps3, but now i also have like 4 more really great exclusives,  but yeah MAG is not that great as  could it be. 
 
ps: just go for it lol
Posted by Willy105

Great review!
 
I guess Warhawk is still the better buy.

Posted by Microshock

You know that once you reach the level cap of 60, you can go into Veteran mode and then switch back and forth to all 3 factions without deleting any? I know it's a bit annoying, but theres another way without deleting a character. 
 
Also, don't question his star choice. Maybe he has complaints about it but a review isn't just about what is happening in the game now, but future improvements. They did 5 Beta stages and thousands of improvements, who says there wont be tons more? Jeff thinks it'll be very promising and rates it accordingly

Posted by kingclaw
@Feser said:
" This doesn't sound like a four star review. "
this is exactly what i was going to say
Posted by Devil240Z

I dont see the probem with this game. Zipper tried to make a game that wasn't socom and they did a pretty good job. My only hope is that they will start working on a new socom game. I still like mag though.

Posted by brocool

thanks,  fair review

Posted by ryuken

I like it alot and believe me you know the scale of the battle when your parachuting in and you see the whole field, its awesome. I personally still have a problem with swapping my gear. should I have the revive first or the tool first, I have layouts with only the order of my gear changed and nothing else, its crazy. I went up 2 lvls during my lunch break ....woooot.
Edited by Media_Master

Good to hear.

Posted by DukeTogo

The fact that it's selling itself based on the player count, yet the game never feels like those people are there, almost makes it look like false advertising.  Are those players actually there?  Or is it all a lie and it's some instance like an MMO that they're in and only the statistics of what they do are being fed to your map?
 
I'm seriously wondering if it's a smoke and mirrors game and you're not actually on a map with that many players.  It also makes it feel like one squad can shaft the whole match if they can't get their objective down, especially if the other squads can't go where they are to help.
 
4 stars isn't generous, it's charity.

Posted by Jambones

You didn't seem to hot on it in the QLs, Jeff, but still a solid game is a solid game. Pleasantly surprised to see it given a four star rating. Will have to give it a spin.

Posted by Death_Burnout

Wh...hu...w...w...huh?

Posted by CannibalFerox

Shootey, shootey, runny, runny.....4 stars.

Posted by buzz_killington

Great review Jeff. I played the beta, and rented the game today. You're dead-on, except that you're way too generous in your choice of yours for describing the audio. It sucks.

Posted by nick69
@Feser said:
" This doesn't sound like a four star review. "
I agree, I think it's leaning more towards a 3.
Posted by Death_Burnout
@nick69 said:
" @Feser said:
" This doesn't sound like a four star review. "
I agree, I think it's leaning more towards a 3. "
im not a fan of scores and numbers...as much as i look at them.
 
But im willing put my neck out and say 2! oh whatever, i've not played it, but from what i've seen, it looks horrible!
Posted by Spoonman671
@Crono:  During the beta this game was better than any other I've played on PS3 in terms of lag and dropped connections.  In fact, I never got dropped once when I was playing it.
Posted by zer0faults

 After watching the preview the game looked to be lacking. I did like the aiming, it  looked better then Bad Company, but little else really seemed to attract. The matches seemed to chaotic, and more about a constant rush then a real planned attack. Even if you can assemble and guide with real precision, you are at the mercy of 4 or more other groups that you are hoping are as organized. I was real close to jumping on this, especially since the graphics and maps looks so good, but the game just seems to be lacking in important areas. The last complaint is that you never see these 100+ people that are also on your team. I dont want to play simultaneously with 128 other people. I want to interact and play around them, not know they are far far away never to be seen but hopefully possibly doing something.

Edited by GeneralNonsense

It was hard at first, running around not knowing what to do for the first few matches. But then, speaking with other teammates, we made a plan, executed it and guess what: IT WORKED! If you didn't like MAG, you really just need a good attitude and a good plan. Set objectives, follow the plan, work together, this is were the riches of MAG truly show. There is nothing more rewarding then taking out a S.V.E.R bunker with your best frends or people you just met. I think that this game, when played correctly can be a very staisfying experience.     
Posted by sexymonkeys

You get to understand the scale of the 256 battles better once you move up into the higher leadership roles, but pretty good review anyway.

Posted by JoelTGM
@handlas said:
" pretty shocking.  Didn't sound like he was enjoying it during the THING videos.  Regardless, they compelled me to give it a rent which I'll do once Mass Effect 2 is done with. "
in the 2nd or 3rd one he says he's enjoying it.  Just in the first one at such a low level he couldn't do much other than get shot.
Posted by hencook

There's no way anything under level 20 is far enough to review this game. How many times have you commanded, Jeff? This game deserves a FAIR review, not a speedy one. I'd also say that joining a clan is extremely crucial to getting any vital voice chat time, to which the game's strategy opens up immensely from one person to one squad...

Posted by CowsWithGuns

awesome.  I was really getting shaky after the beta but apparently it holds up well.  Thanks Jeff! 

Posted by DrWhat

I really think seeing this done with a squad all with voice chat enabled, and with some real leadership going on and usage of the map view (you can use it to set objectives, etc, apparently), would really have been useful and interesting. The whole game revolves around the idea of teamwork, so it seems.
 
I dunno if it's not considered okay to review a game while part of a clan or using a headset or whatever, but that really does seem to be part of the experience of this game -- how about join up with Arrow Pointing Down (or whoever), maybe even with some other guys from the Giant Bomb crew, and see how that goes?
 
(incidentally I totally think this is how you should review most multiplayer/squad games. you guys have more than one of each console don't you? or you could bring them in. I don't know if you can do multiple simultaneous video recording but I don't think that's necessary, anyway, just show us one screen, with audio from various dudes with lapel mics, and let the tape roll for an hour or so! I think it would be a great thing to watch.)

Posted by Curufinwe

Good review.  Very informative.

Posted by Rocospi

Is this game now being reviewed based on the gimmick of 256 players or is it based on the actual gameplay? 
Because what I've seen so far, is that MAG looks like a pretty bland generic shooter, and people are only attracted to it because they keep shoving the idea of "256 players" into people's faces.

Posted by handlas
@Rocospi: eh what?  Are you saying this based on his review?  Did you even read the 1 sentence summary?
Posted by artofwar420

Well, happily surprised to see it's alright.

Posted by Rebirth1337

I may rent it one day. Doesn't seem like a solid buy IMO.

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