“Improvise! Adapt! Overcome!” barks your superior in the middle of MAG‘s brief, thrilling opening cinematic, and it’s an axiom obviously intended to be taken to heart. zavvi.com found MAG an almost impossible videogame to review, simply because almost everything that is memorable and cherishable about it is down to the hard work of you, your teammates, and the silent mass of your opposition. You may as well try to review a real-world game of paintball.
That is intended as the highest compliment to Zipper Interactive, because MAG is so fluid in its design, and its customisable elements are so finely-tuned and wisely selected, that it might as well be taking place in the real world. Tactics have always been an essential part of FPS gaming, but here in MAG’s dystopian near-future hellhole, without them, you might as well throw yourselves under a heavily armoured vehicle. Even in first person shooters that are primarily reliant on team-based play (DICE’s Battlefield series being an obviously excellent example) there is always room for one kamikaze nutjob to flank the entire opposition, securing their team an easy victory and themselves a multitude of respectful pats on the back. Anyone who pulls a similar stunt in MAG and actually succeeds at it, is either cheating, or deserving of some kind of official gaming knighthood.
You are heavily advised to begin your MAG career with a spell in the game’s Training Camp – an obvious instruction, but one that should not be ignored by the more bullish players who perhaps enjoy an overly confident belief in their own FPS skills. It is the only part of the game that doesn’t involve other players, and consists of completing a short series of tasks in a timed environment. You’ll learn how to shoot, repair damaged vehicles (utterly, utterly essential, especially during Acquisition games) and how to secure the large objective sites. It is among the shortest in-game training exercises in the history of videogames, but everyone is sincerely advised to partake.
Because after that you’re in the field, and it isn’t difficult to become immediately overwhelmed. Even in Suppression mode – which is a glorified testing arena that only allows for 64 players in total, all brandishing non-lethal ammo – the sheer scale of MAG operating at full-tilt is intimidating. You can’t tackle any objective or potential kill in the same way that you normally would in a team-based FPS, purely because at any one time, there could conceivably be 64 sniper rifles all pointed at your head. This fact represents a violent learning shove rather than a curve, and some are undoubtedly going to be aggravated by it. But how else could it function? Because of its fundamentally gargantuan breadth, there is simply no quick and easy way to learn the ropes in MAG.
And to a large extent, you’ll never stop learning them. Once leadership roles come into play (roles that you are freely encouraged to nominate yourself for) the depth of the whole enterprise begins to beggar belief. In one of our first online bouts, an insanely focused, obviously experienced American fellow was our squad leader in a game of Sabotage, and he flipped between three voice channels throughout the game (one of the many perks of being in charge) to guide three different factions of us grunts toward different locations on the map. When he issued orders for us all to simultaneously charge the objective, the enemy had absolutely no chance of defending against such a devilish attack. Winning has never felt so good.
The way the game’s perks reward camaraderie within the game ends up inherently creating camaraderie outside of it, and whilst this wasn’t obvious at the official launch event that took place in London last week (largely because the headsets were rendered useless by the sheer volume of the place) it only took us half an hour to feel like we were part of a tight-knit team, and dedicated to using communication to assist in our victory. This may not always be the case – many PS3 users perhaps haven’t been given a good enough reason to invest in a Bluetooth headset before – but brilliantly, the bell-clear voice of your Captain will blare from your TV whether you have one or not.
Nevertheless, anyone who may be considering buying a Bluetooth headset in preparation for MAG is advised without qualm to do so. The tactical brilliance of the game’s most vital mechanic – the ability to instantly revive fallen teammates in the field with a med gun – is enhanced tenfold when you are able to advise your teammates of the ideal moment for them to make a move toward your position.
There is not much more that needs to be said. Explaining away the finer details of MAG would completely devalue the experience of learning every last one of them for yourself. The controls are absolutely pitch perfect – they basically take their initial cue from Call Of Duty, and who wouldn’t? – But nothing else about it bears fruitful comparison with anything.
It is a monstrous game, and a monstrous victory for the perusing mavericks at Zipper Interactive. Sony’s press team would surely be eager to suggest to you that 256 players equals 256 times the fun. Don’t bet against it.
Watch the PS3 MAG: Massive Action Game trailer here…