Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Monday, February 01, 2010

Game Play: MAG

In a very singular way, MAG is fairly innovative. The schtick here, if you haven't heard, is that MAG can pit up to 256 players in large scale tactical matches with an impressive library of matchmaking and lag management. MAG is online only, except for a handful of training missions, so these tools are good because it means players can pop in the disc, pick a gametype and become part of a squad within a very large battle.

In terms of the overall gameplay, Zipper has clearly done its homework. In the main gametype, Domination, you'll find a series of objectives which directly effect gameplay. For instance, destroying the defending team's anti-aircraft guns may mean that you can send in a helicopter to use as a spawn point. There's not an overwhelming use of vehicles, which I actually find pretty refreshing, and they're generally mobile spawn points with large guns.

These objectives can be called out by your squad leader as a "fraggo", which means it will get special treatment on your HUD and also XP bonuses for getting kills, healing people and repairing things in the general vicinity. Once you get used to this - you'll realize how valuable the squad leader role really is - MAG forces tactics on you by being on such a scale that simply wandering around searching for enemies will surely be a loss for your team.

In many, many other ways - MAG is by the numbers military shooter. In fact, this is where it suffers the most ... by repeating many things from other games which really could use a tweak or three. For instance, wannabe snipers might actually look at a weapon setup other than, well, a sniper rifle. I first realized this when I kept getting out-sniped by assault rifles. You can spend XP on upgrades, and it doesn't take long to equip a decent rifle with stability and a scope that fires many more than one bullet at a time.

Another one - and this is also a pet peeve of mine, is the versatility and utter lethal nature of the combat knife. I get that it is a very cheap and easy way to determine the outcome of melee battles - first twitch wins. And perhaps sneaking up behind someone with a knife who isn't moving - I could see where a trained soldier could bring that to a quick conclusion. But simply running real fast into another player running real fast swinging a knife around randomly ... I saw a guy clean out a whole room this way. We're playing soldier here, not ninjas.

Still - these are just overall crimes of the genre, not really Zipper's personal creation. There are lots and lots of small tweaks which could be useful - better demotion of squad leaders, a HUD which more accurately describes your squad's situation rather than the large scale battle - but my only technical ding is really the occasional lag I ran into one night. Which, all things considered - the game performs pretty well even under lag and considering all the objects the server tracks, a game this early out of the game is pretty damn stable.

Comparatively, I can only hold Killzone 2 in the same general rank as MAG - with Modern Warfare 2 bumping around somewhere. But the bottom line is that MAG's trick works, and succeeds where those don't - and manages to bring decent squad mechanics to a console shooter.


sterno said...

The only thing I think I'd add is that I'm concerned about the number of maps. Each faction has a handful of bases and each map correlates to one of those bases. So you're always defending the same bases but you'll attack bases that are a mix of either faction you're facing.

Having said that, the maps are truly enormous, so it will take a while to learn all the nooks and crannies of the different maps. But this is definitely a game that would benefit from some map pack add ons.

I could also see some value in adding new game modes. But overall this feels like something that's got a deeper and more sustainable game play than most FPS games I've seen

Josh said...

Yeah - and each map is somewhat similar, and a little monochromatic at times.

The game could do more with DLC than a normal shooter, for sure. I got so bored with the Killzone 2 DLC because it just didn't take long to get used to the new maps and they changed so little in terms of gameplay. New MAG maps would take a while to explore, and new gametypes time to master.