Whilst I own each of the major consoles I have always been a PC gamer. I have put up with upgrading and incompatibilities because often PC games will offer slightly more than console games. One area I have always felt this is with First Person Shooters. For years PC gamers have had huge battles, even on dial up connections, but it has always seemed that consoles can't keep up with this. MAG is here to change that. Rather than go for a slight increase over the opposition, MAG is about blowing their competitors out of the water, from a number point of view that is. MAG offers 128 v 128 gameplay, yes that's not a typo, a full 256 players in one game.
Bigger games don't always equate to more fun. One frustrating part of being part of a huge team is that your efforts and victories won't always equate to victory on the field. In other FPS games three or four members of a team working at their best can dominate an opposing team. In huge games that doesn't necessarily work. On several occasions on the sabotage map type I have been part of a team that has successfully taken over a satellite uplink and held it for a huge period of time. This was done through teamwork. Unfortunately the team responsible for taking the other uplink didn't take it even once, meaning we eventually lost the battle. This is a fairly obvious point to make, in huge games one man (or a small group) cannot affect the whole field, only a small area. It's frustrating, but I'd rather have this than small games.
Other than the basic team death match that helps you adjust to the control setup and playstyle, there are three game types; Sabotage, Acquisition and Domination. Each map type has an attacker and a defender.
Sabotage requires that the attacking team takes over two satellite uplinks, if they can take hold both at once then they become locked and a third objective becomes available, capture that and the attacker wins.
Acquisition is a more complicated affair. Attackers first need to breack through defences and disable anti air before they can then steal enemy vehicles.
Domination is the much talked about 128 v 128 mode. The attackers must fill a damage bar, which is done by holding capture points. Before you can get to capture points you must first fight through various layers of defences and also capture earlier objectives.
In all three game modes defenders win the battle by sitting out the clock. Another area where MAG stands out from other games in the genre is the length of games. Domination has a 30 minute timer, meaning that if you are a defender you've got to hold out for the full duration to take the win. The only way to get a quick game in one of the large game modes is to attack and win quickly, which is far from easy.
Obviously games of this size require a leadership structure. At level 15 a player can apply for a leadership role. A good leader can turn the tide of battle with the various abilities given to them. Firstly, they can set an area for bonus experience points. Every point earned within the area will give double points to the person earning them. This is a good way of encouraging players to hit certain objectives. Leaders also have more obvious abilities such as being able to call in Mortar strikes or guided missile. Each squad leader can then also speak to officers further up the chain of command who are co-ordinating the larger battle.
The game types and leadership abilities aren't really explained in any detail in the game. At the beginning of the game there is a tutorial that teaches you the basics of the control systems. This doesn't go far enough to explaining how the different game modes work, how squads are mad up and objective bonuses. Whilst an average gamer will pick up most of the important stuff within a few games, its possible to misunderstand game elements and the first few games can be very intimidating.
As mentioned above in the leadership section, leaders have the ability to speak to others in the command chain. Here lies a failing of MAG (though not through the fault of the devs). A vast number of PS3 owners don't own a microphone and therefore communication at times is abysmal. Many of the squads I have been I have had only one or two people who speak. Quite frequently groups I've been in have had leaders without headsets. This makes victory far more difficult.
As your character levels up you gain access to more skills and equipment. This is done a little differently to the popular Modern Warfare 2, which I'm sure you're all very familiar with. You are offered a significant amount of freedom with how your character progresses. Your character has a number of areas where they can improve. Examples are support, athleticism or marksmanship. Every level you gain gives you a skill point, which can be spent on giving you a skill, such as improved grenade throwing distance, or unlocking a piece of equipment, such as a rifle scope. Each area of improvement has a number of tiers, and you can't progress to the next tier until you've spent the required amount of points in the current tier. This gives quite a freeform system allowing you to develop in areas of your on choosing. Personally I picked from a number of areas initially rather than running down one line.
As you'd expect you can create a number of character set-ups such as a sniper or scout type. For each 'build' you have a number of points to spend, with each item having a value. Weapons can have multiple attachments, such as foregrips, bipods and scopes, but its unlikely you'll afford all of the attachments, plus armour, sidearms and equipment on one build.
As mentioned above you play as one of three factions. The game limits you to one character and therefore you only get to play as one faction. If you want to switch factions, you delete your character and start a new one. This creates a bit of a problem, there is no try before you buy, so if you don't like your faction, tough. I would have liked to have been able to have tried out each faction up to a sensible level, e.g. up to level 10 it would have been nice to have swapped around to get a feel for the different factions.
A significant gripe I have with the game is the map rotation system. Each game type has 3 map types, one for each faction. This means, for example, in Domination you will always be defending your own factions map and attacking the other two. Add in your factions training map and essentially you will only have access to 10 maps. This may not sound like a ridiculously small amount, but remember in other fps games you will have multiple game types per map and get to attack and defend.
Another area of the game that could be tightened up more is the control scheme. It feels very odd compared to other games of the same genre. Hitting your accessory button will cycle through grenades, first aid kits and rocket launchers. Meaning that there is no quick button for your grenades, you must first switch to grenades and then throw, this can add a significant delay which can in turn lead to death.
If MAG has proved one thing it is that a console can successfully run bigger games than we are used to. Hopefully other developers will take note and start increasing their player limits. Overall the game is a mixture of successes and defeats, a lack of variety, structure and forcing you to stick to a team don't really help the game, but underneath MAG is a very enjoyable FPS game. If you are looking for something a little different to MW2 then MAG could be the game for you. If you do pick up a copy, please buy a headset.