What an excellent game here; what shooter do you know that has two hundred fifty six players on a battlefield.
MAG's big battlefields are a great place to wage war, as long as you can handle some of the rigors of combat.
- Well-integrated command structure
- Quick, tense action
- Lots of ways to make your mark on the battlefield
- Large, well-designed maps.
- Can be tough to get a command post
- Some technical awkwardness
- Occasional connectivity issues.
When you first hear that MAG supports 256-player online matches, you may be inclined to picture hordes of soldiers swarming on top of one another and filling the air with thousands of bullets. The reality is that skirmishes play out on a much smaller scale, yet MAG still boasts some of the busiest battlefields in the genre. On the objective-rich maps, defeating the enemy squads arrayed against you demands individual skill and team coordination. Powerful rewards and intriguing command abilities await determined soldiers, making the tight combat all the more satisfying. There are some rough edges to contend with, however, including technical problems and a creeping sense of repetition. Yet though MAG is sometimes frustrating, it is more often engaging and occasionally thrilling. The sharp combat and exciting command roles make MAG a great destination for soldiers of fortune.
Jumping into MAG requires you to choose a faction. Three private military companies--S.V.E.R., Raven, and Valor--are engaged in a so-called Shadow War for military contracts, attacking each other's facilities in order to gain an edge. If a faction has enough success in a given match type, it earns a contract that gives its players a slight bonus every time they play that match type. These bonuses are fairly minimal (+5% experience points, for example) and don't tip the scales too much, serving more as an indicator of faction status than a tangible goal to strive for. Each faction has a different appearance, different guns, and a different attitude, and you make your choice based on a brief recruiting video. This isn't much to go on, but they all have similar arsenals and the same skill progression trees, so they are essentially interchangeable.
That doesn't mean you can change factions, however. After enlisting, you are stuck with the faction you chose unless you delete your character or reach level 60, at which point you can start a new career. This persistence builds faction loyalty and increases the likelihood that you'll see familiar teammates. You also get very familiar with the maps because they are faction-specific; you always defend your own turf and attack your enemies' territories. This consistency has obvious benefits, and though there are only ten maps, most of them have multiple fronts. The biggest maps have four such fronts, each of which has a different layout and presents its own challenges. Even with this variety, you can reach a point where you start feel like you've seen it all before. Fortunately, the maps are very well designed, and there is so much going on in each battle that this feeling doesn't become a problem.
There are four match types in MAG, though only two are available to you early on. Suppression is team deathmatch within your own faction. Sabotage introduces the concept of taking and holding objectives, challenging attackers to capture two points in order to unlock (and subsequently destroy) the third point. These 64-player matches are very straightforward and provide a good point of entry into the game. You can certainly find some hotly contested matches as players hone their weapon skills, but these modes ultimately lack the dynamic intensity of MAG's larger-scale battles.
When you move up to Acquisition (128 players) and Domination (256 players), then you're playing MAG at its best. Though these matches are still designed to concentrate 64 players in a given half or quadrant of the map, they have a scope and intensity that sets them apart. In Acquisition, the attacking faction tries to infiltrate enemy territory, steal a vehicle, and return it to their insertion point. In Domination, the attackers must seize a series of objectives in order to access the central capture points, which they must then hold long enough to win. In addition to the mission-critical objectives, these battlefields are strewn with strategically valuable targets. Bunkers provide armored refuge on the front lines where defenders can spawn, resupply, and control mounted turrets. Sensor arrays and mortars allow commanders to call in powerful combat abilities, while motor pools supply vehicles for extra mobility and firepower.
These facilities serve as lines of defense, and whether they stand or fall has a large impact on how battles play out. Attackers can plant charges to destroy these assets and gain a foothold, while properly equipped defenders can repair them to push the tide back. These struggles are intense and engaging, as players strive to thrust at the enemy, support their teammates, and leverage their individual loadouts to help their faction gain ground. MAG's controls and shooting mechanics are equal to the task, rewarding you with a satisfying squelching noise whenever your shots hit their mark. This fun, frantic combat is the foundation of MAG's appeal, but it's the command structure that takes the game to a new level.