The only reason I avoid multiplayer-centric games is that I don't get along well with other people. This is going to cost me in MAG.
Take for example my mild obsession with driving tanks. Valkyria Chronicles might pander to it exclusively, but in MAG, you've either got to spawn inside an armoured vehicle or find one controlled by your team and get into it without getting run over. I managed to accomplish this feat after a player parked one of our tanks in an awkward corner behind some dumpsters.
I hopped in, spent 10 minutes un-parking the tank and then headed for the next objective point. I got to a gate that needed to be blown up before we could continue, so I hopped out of the tank and ran up to the gate – but an overzealous teammate I'd left in the tank shot me with the tank gun in a misguided effort to blow up the gate. I spawned back inside the tank and hopped out again to go blow up the gate, only this time some other teammate of mine ran up to the tank, took the driver's seat and drove the tank all the way back to the dumpster parking spot.
What the hell, man! I don't care if that's a clever way to protect a mobile spawn point from being destroyed. I was driving that!
What Is It? MAG is a "massive action game" themed around constant warfare. The fiction is that it's the year 2025 and countries pay one of three private corporations to fight unofficial wars for them. Your faction choices are Valor (America), S.V.E.R. (Post-Soviet region), and Raven (I forget where they're from, but they're very high tech). Players take the role of a persistent character within a faction and begin leveling them up by participating in one of four types of game (Suppression, Sabatoge, Acquisition, Domination) and completing objectives assigned by squad leaders. Depending on the game type, there are between 64 and 256 players at any time – no AI controlled opponents, no singleplayer mode to speak of.
What We Saw I borrowed someone's level 15 Valor character for a Suppression match in MAG's open beta.
How Far Along Is It? The game is in open beta right now, but it'll be officially live January 26, 2010.
What Needs Improvement? Very, Very Busy Screen: Objectives appear both on a mini-map in the upper right hand corner and on screen as bright red or blue icons and little arrows pointing to where they are. Between that and the actual people shooting at you, plus your squad mates' health bars and name tags, there's way too much to look at during combat.
I Hope The Training Mode Rocks: Unfortunately, I didn't get a look at the training modes or tutorials. However, after being instructed by the developer and then dropped into the action, I cannot stress enough just how much is riding on the training the game provides you. MAG really doesn't feel like any other shooter or war game I've played and while that's not a bad thing – it takes getting used to.
What Should Stay The Same? Fast Paced Action: I died like eight times, but I never felt like I was out of the game too long. Once I got back in, I could pick up right where I left off in the action without missing a beat.
Sooo Many People: The more, the merrier. It helps to have groups of players separated by eight-person squads for organizational purposes. However, knowing that there are maybe 63 other people out there is both overwhelming and exhilarating. Best of all, you'll rarely ever wander into any no-man's-land zones where you can't find somebody to shoot at.
Panama-themed Map: The map were were playing on isn't modeled after a real city per se – however, it did have a distinctly Panama theme to it. It was well-made, too, with lots of alleyways and debris-cluttered streets to provide cover and ambush spots.
Good Matchmaking: I just clicked "join queue" and the game found me a match in less than 30 seconds. God, I hope it stays that smooth at launch.
Final Thoughts If you're the type who can get along with other people and likes realistic-ish war shooters, MAG is probably for you. If you don't like other people but you do like realistic-ish war shooters, MAG is probably still for you. After all, you don't have to do what your squad leader says – you can just wander off and try to drive a tank over people like I did and the game won't penalize you. But still, with so many people in a game at once, being antisocial seems like a waste of good game design.