Massively Aggravating Games

MAG is here. MAG is glorious. MAG is a reinvention of the FPS. MAG. Will. Piss. You. Off. It will also give you something you've never experienced before. Unfortunately, both are inevitable.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 12, 2010
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I've never played a game with such ridiculous bipolar disorder as MAG (nee Massive Action Game) presents in its take on the well-worn genre that is the online multiplayer shooter. In any given game you'll experience absolute dizzying highs as you gun down enemies with relentless fervor, repair key installations, bring dying comrades back to life and systematically repel or encroach upon enemy forces. In another, you will hear teammates alternatively yammer into their headsets about pointless bullshit or stay deathly quiet despite opting for a leadership role where they should be telling everyone in their squad what to do, even as the rest of the squad runs off to shoot at trees or their own teammates like heavily-armed post-lobotomy patients.

The problem with this latest offering from Zipper Interactive, the same folks that made the SOCOM series a staple of (and nearly only long-term option for) PlayStation 2 online play, is that it's so contingent on the player base that no matter what they've done to make the game focused and interesting, everything boils down to the people you're put into as a squad. It could be a stalemate, it could be a railroad victory, it could be pure, unstoppable rage. And you'll never know until you start the game.

Again, this isn't really Zipper's fault. They've taken putting 256 players into a gigantic level and let them just sort of have at it. That is, of course, grossly oversimplifying things. You're dropped into a squad of eight players. Four squads make a platoon, and four platoons make a full side, allowing 128 players to square off against the opposing private military companies of the same size in an effort to gain contracts that let them wage war for a country that cannot deploy its forces outside its own borders because of the Millennium Accord. This "Shadow War" is crucial to warfare in 2025, and underscores the increasing reliance on PMCs in modern (or, in this case, near-future) warfare.

It also provides multiple stops for someone to provide a crucial role in the overall conflict. No matter the size of the battles (and you can opt into fights that comprise 32, 64 or 128 players with scaling levels of complexity to the objectives), you're always given something to do, and in all but the "training" battles (dubbed Suppression, and the first stop after you complete the "actual" training mission that gives you a one-time boost in experience), what you're supposed to be doing is determined by your Squad Leader.

Anyone who has experienced the particulars of any online player base will know what a dangerous game Zipper is playing asking the general public to provide a leadership role. Most players are, frankly, morons, and are ill-prepared to dispense advice about things, much less dole out orders to seven other players. Level up enough in MAG and you can offer your services as a Platoon Leader or Officer in Charge. And Lord help the team that you try to manage if you don't know what to do.

And this, of course, is the linchpin to the MAG experience. Graduated from the simple goal of "kill that other guy," this becomes an experience with goals -- goals that are absolutely vital to the success of the overall side you've opted to fight from; the scrappy and under-funded Seryi Volk Executive Response (S.V.E.R), the ex-military ranks of Valor Company or the money-backed high-tech might of Raven Industries. Goals, unfortunately, that are ultimately determined by the player base.

It should come as little surprise, then, that newcomers to the series, switching over from perennial multiplayer staples like Modern Warfare 2 and Halo or even Zipper's old SOCOM franchise (since taken over by Slant Six Games) are playing the game wrong. This isn't an experience about shooting the other guy; that's sort of a passive benefit. No, it's about sticking with your Squad Leader and listening to what needs to be done. Needless to say, a headset is required for this game.
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