By Daniel Lipscombe
256 is a big number, in fact in gaming terms, it’s a bloody big number, 256 different players running hither and thither with large guns across much larger maps. A first for console gaming, to see such a number going to war with each other, doubts have to creep into mind. Will the servers cope? Will there be any latency in the matches? Will there even be enough people online?
Approaching such a title with trepidation is understandable, it’s not every day we see an online only shooter released for consoles and if we do usually they fall into insignificance quickly. Team Fortress 2 is rather empty most of the time in its console outing and Shadowrun failed despite being a robust shooter. So why should MAG succeed where others have failed, perhaps it’s generic war shooter styling is a good thing, pulling people over from the Call of Duty’s and Battlefield’s.
Despite the aesthetics making me feel at ease when I first launched the game, my enthusiasm waned a little as I moved from the robust tutorials and into the real battlefield. Learning the basics is as simple as moving your way through an obstacle course and training how to use your weapons and equipment, but no matter how helpful you find it, you’ll still get your face blown off when you get online.
Now I’ll admit that the following only happened twice out of a week of playing off and on, but the connection can be a little flakey. Playing on an average 4meg broadband connection saw me experience swathes of bullet lag as I shot the opposing team for them to simply walk through the hail of lead and knife me and this was if I could even shoot. Another issue caused me to die but not bleedout or respawn simply lay there throwing grenades and shoot with no kills or harm coming to anyone.
This is a rare occurrence but needs to be kept in mind; if your connection is slightly unstable then you have no single player game to fall back on here. This is also a problem when learning the ropes. Whilst the actual pulling of triggers is enjoyable with each gun feeling weighty and satisfying, it is hard to really get to grips with each weapon as the learning curve is quite steep. With most shooters you can dabble in the single player while you learn which guns you like and what the arc is on the grenade throwing, this is tough when you have six snipers aiming at your cranium.
If you do find yourself getting fragged all the time then getting better will mean an endless assault on your foe trying to dodge headshots and grenade storms. If you do of course manage to hold your own then MAG is a very solid shooter. Starting with a robust character creation section, you can choose whose cause to fight for, SVER, Valor or Raven and then tinker around with your loadout selections too. Once all of this is decided it’s then time to start ranking up and opening new games modes.
Starting with your basic team deathmatch, you can play until your level is high enough to unlock other traditional online modes, Capture the flag, territories and such. Experience is earned in the usual ways, killing people, assists, healing your squadmates and of course ranking up then means new weapons and quite importantly, being able to become a leader on the battlefield. The latter means that you can use abilities on your teammates and generally lead the team in battle.
This brings me to the most important aspect of the game and one that Zipper Interactive cannot really take fault for, teamwork. Currently when venturing into a firefight the warzone is a scatterbrained event with people running around like headless chickens. Squads with too many snipers and not enough cohesion between people, this is down to one of two things. Either people don’t have a headset in the first place or, and this isn’t meant as a jibe, but they may not speak your language. This is obviously a problem when playing a game so heavily based on teamwork, as running around like Stallone on a power trip will find you bleeding out and waiting for a team member to heal you, thus costing your team the win.
For all its efforts, MAG is a confident shooter, and when it works, it plays very well, when your team is working as a unit, you will win games, but be prepared to slog through countless deaths to get there and be prepared to run around in despair as your team all go their separate ways. If you’ve got a bunch of friends with the game, create a clan and have a blast but as a lone soldier, the battlefield could not feel more cold and lonely.