At the Sony booth during E3 2009 I got a chance to become a part of something much bigger than myself, stepping into the shoes of a soldier in Zipper Interactive's MAG - Massive Action Game.
What Is It? MAG stands for Massive Action Game, and that's exactly what it is. Up to 256 players can participate in a single battle at one time between three different Private Military Companies. Wins and losses affect the global standings for your PMC, with players able to rank up to become squad, platoon, or army commanders, granted access to special powers as they grow in experience. A massive online shooter with persistent elements.
What We Saw I played a good 15 minutes of an ongoing multiplayer match set on a cluttered industrial battlefield.
How Far Along Is It? Everything seems to be firmly in place for a Fall 2009 release.
What Needs Improvement? Personality Deficit: Looking through the fact sheet for MAG reveals an interesting back story about a dark future in which Shadow Wars are fought between private military companies, but the game itself doesn't seem to reflect this. It feels like any other online multiplayer game. It isn't bad, but it doesn't really stand out. Perhaps the portions outside of actual game play better reflect this, but what I played just felt a bit too plain vanilla.
Lag Issues: Even in the controlled environment of a trade show demo the lag monster rears its ugly head, and I found myself firing at enemies that were there one moment, gone the next, disappearing from my sights only to reappear as a corpse a moment later. Conversely, at least once I was shot by a guy who I swear wasn't there a moment before. I'd hate to see such an ambitious game ruined by networking issues.
What Should Stay The Same? The Shooting Is Just Fine: The actual game play may lack personality, but it is smooth and satisfying. Perhaps a bit too smooth, as I took a tip from my nephew's running sniper Halo style, bringing up the scope and taking out enemies with headshots while running through the thick of battle, but that's exactly how I like it.
So Many Objectives: The map I played on was littered with strategic battlefield objectives, giving players many different ways to advance along the battlefield. Blowing gates to push your way into enemy territory is much more satisfying when you manage to do it on your own while the rest of your squad keeps the enemy occupied at another point along the line. Opportunities to stand out in the crowd, especially when the crowd is theoretically this big, are always welcome.
More Than Killing: As players progress they can invest in additional skills that allow them to become more useful in battle, such as the ability to revive fallen teammates and repair objects. Aside from giving players something to do, it also helps encourage little side skirmishes. I spent a couple minutes participating in a pitched battle around an anti-aircraft battery the enemy was trying to repair...a little battle within the battle.
Final Thoughts Though MAG promises massive battles between 256 players at a time, I've still yet to see a battle on this scale. I got to drive an APC to an area where such a battle would eventually take place, but the way that battles progress makes it hard to actually demonstrate the feature. What they need to do is set up one of these massive battles and let us wade into that. Until I experience that, MAG will remain as generic as its name in my eyes.