MAG Hands-On Impressions

We blast our way through Sony's ambitious online shooter.

394 Comments

The 256-player online shooter originally announced as MAG: Massive Action Game has since had its name trimmed of the cut-and-dry subtitle, but the scope of the game remains just as enormous as when news of its existence first broke at E3 2008. For Sony and developer Zipper Interactive, the team behind the bulk of the SOCOM series, that means living up to some pretty lofty claims. After visiting Zipper's Redmond, Washington studio last week for a chance to meet with staff and go hands-on with MAG, it looks as though they're well on their way to living up to those promises.

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As you'd certainly expect, MAG has proven to be an ambitious undertaking for Zipper and Sony. Not only have they elected to build a new game engine from scratch, but they've also had to design a network infrastructure that will be key to making sure that these giant matches run smoothly. Zipper and its partners have been working for the past few years on this brand-new server system, culminating in full-capacity testing beginning in late 2008. Since then, it's been a balancing act of keeping smooth visuals that run at a minimum of 30 frames per second while maintaining a serviceable connection for all players. With the framework in place, next on the agenda is a public multiplayer beta, which several Zipper employees told us is a necessity to test their system under real-world conditions.

Although the tech behind MAG is breaking all-new ground, the game's setting sticks a bit more closely to first-person shooter traditions. The game takes place 20 years in the future, in a time when world powers have begun relying much more heavily on the use of private military contractors to fight their battles--what Zipper refers to as a "shadow war" of PMCs against PMCs. That lays the foundation for the game's three factions: the sleek, high-tech Raven; the burly, camo-covered Valor; and SEVR, a group of ragtag fighters adorned in makeshift armor. Each has its own distinct look, from clothing to weaponry, as a way to help players tell friend from foe on the expansive battlefields.

Get ready for some pretty huge firefights.
Get ready for some pretty huge firefights.

To keep those battlefields from getting too chaotic, Zipper has organized each team in such a way that there are multiple layers of leadership to help guide you along. Each match has a pair of 128-man armies, which are divided into 32-man platoons and 8-man squads. You've got a leader at every one of those levels who's capable of dishing out to his subordinates orders that can expand on or differ from the overall team goal. These are called FRAGOs (fragmentary orders) and include objectives such as destroying gates or antiaircraft guns, or what have you. The penalty for disobeying your commanding officer? Nothing. But the benefit is drastically increased XP, which you'll use to unlock all manner of goodies in the game's focus on persistent leveling and rewards.

So what exactly does a 256-player match feel like in action? Sadly, we can't say. Our hands-on time with MAG was set on one of the 128-player maps, with closer to half of the maximum number of players actually playing, a decision that Zipper made for easier coordination among journalists and testers. But even at a fraction of the game's capacity, the match was impressive in scale. The map was huge, and between all of the distant gunfire, parachutes dotting the sky, and splinter battles, there was a lot going on.

The controls offer zippy movement and don't feel far off from the Call of Duty games. You can choose from a number of kits that all include a primary weapon, a pistol, a knife, grenades, and specialized gear such as a medic gun or repair tool. We tried a number of weapons, including an assault rifle, a submachine gun, a light machine gun, and a sniper rifle. With so many players, we didn't survive long with our original run-and-gun tactic; we had much better luck simply going prone with a sniper rifle and picking off parachuting enemies. (Call us dirty spawn campers if you like, but players are given a number of spawn location choices.) Overall, the core gameplay seems pretty accessible and straightforward. Most of the depth looks like it will come from teamwork and getting to know the ins and outs of each map.

Maps of varying sizes will be offered for when you can't get a full match going.
Maps of varying sizes will be offered for when you can't get a full match going.

We played a mode that challenges one team with sneaking into enemy territory and stealing a pair of heavily armored vehicles within a particular time limit. There was discernible flow to the action as one team pushed deeper into the other's side, though with the number of players out there, the fighting was divided into lots of little pockets. To help get a better feel for what's going on, you can pull up a slick overhead map that shows an isometric view of all buildings, and icons for enemies, vehicles, and points of interest.

If you were hoping for MAG to turn the fundamentals of the first-person shooter genre on its ear, you'll likely wind up disappointed. But if you were looking for a familiar approach to shooter gameplay on a ridiculously huge scale, you're in luck--it seems that's just where MAG is headed. We had a fun time with it, but we're eager to experience a full-capacity match to see just how intense it will be. You can expect plenty more coverage on MAG leading up to its release in late 2009.

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NicoC90

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the beta is fun and i have it preordered, but now im wondering if all the content not on the beta is worth 60 bucks.... so far i can't tell if there's a whole lot of content there.

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Indiscrimi

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Well, it didn't make it for 2009. I wonder if it will be out this year.

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AbolfazlA

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Great Game

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Valkirye22

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great... out of 256 players there will be 100 camping noobs and another 25 teamkillers in each team.... I'm going to play COD now...

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theKOOK413

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This is one of the reasons a PS3 is in my wish list. I just worry about players killing team mates. It will be hard to control with so many players

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loopyed

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lol woudnt it lag like mental in this game?

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bessy67

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Hooray!! Instead of one team-killer on my team of 4 or five, there'll be 20 idiots running around killing their own teammates.

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oista

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I'm sure the game will be great, it's the people who play it that worry me. Hopefully there will be some way to regulate those retards out there.

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freeofkings

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as long as they keep with the tried and true "battlefield" type of multiplayer gameplay this will be a great game... i might have to get a ps3 just for this.

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ThaElementz

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I agree with doomgladiator, really hoping the multiplayer experience feels remarkable and somewhat fresh, with smooth gameplay. Can't wait to see more coverage on this. With all the great games coming out for the PS3 I really wish I just have the time to play them all. If only a day was longer than 24 hours :D

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doomgladiator

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If they can keep a steady framerate, good graphics, and avoid chaos, this will be the most amazing technological feat a game has yet achieved. I'm absolutely ecstatic about this game. Here's what I'm afraid of though: Sony was too ambitious and bit off more than they could chew, making a huge but weak multiplayer experience. PLEASE prove me wrong, sony. I sincerely hope I am.

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Angrytreeanimal

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look like I'll be getting a $$$ wireless router for this one ; )

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Doglipstik

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With the team based gameplay this should be awesome i mean you watch films and think i wish there was a game of that ,bam.

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SilverWeeZy

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I AM getting a PS3 just for this game.

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Darkman691

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@smoolander Because of the way the xp system is set up people will get less xp for spawn camping than working near their objective, unless of course the spawn point is their objective. Because of this there is less incentive to spawn camp in MAG than say COD.

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Smoolander

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I think this is a fantastic idea, but can see it turning into a spawn camp session

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Jamin_Macartney

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who is amped? I NO I AM!

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AfroDeLiGht

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Never wanted a PS3.... until now.

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hockeyfreak611

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My god ive been following this game for a while and I cant stop drooling. its the game ive always dreamed of:D

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Shlomiki

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GOTTA GET THIS ONE

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lilv8

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looks sick

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wucasella

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@urieldishi-yeah just a regular squad based shooter with 128 players to shoot at and shoot you in a massive environment, you should be shot, you muppet

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saskue327

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finally a FPS that has over a 256 players and will show the true potential of the PS3. Guess The Battles are going to be epic and people will make movies of them playing

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Jon71992

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I dont have the ps3, and i dont really like it either, but if this game is that good, i might get one

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division_9

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Seems like a good reason to get a new internet connection.

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poorisaac

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@korno640 Thats right! Halo 3, Fable 2, Gears of War 2 all add up to about one. My math must be way off because I got 3. I ain't knockin the PS3, just your math.

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Raider1386

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This kind of scope is awesome. I especially like the addition of commander units and doing submissions to aid an overall objective. I hope this fairs better than Planet Side.

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p4kman88

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it would be way sweeter if it was 3rd person shooter instead of fps....

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LithuanianGamer

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256 player match INCREDIBLE

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urieldishi

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so... normal size for the squads = just a reguler multiplayer fps for us guys...

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furu13

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this is big guys!!!!!

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jshint

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FINALLY!!! A game that's PS3 exclusive and using the full potential of the Blu-Ray Discs. Finally a game company that doesn't sell out quality for quantity of sells, by making the game smaller so it can be on the 360. Finally getting to see what the PS3 can really do.

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RDawg7

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Gonna be epic

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fantom513

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[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

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mclane____

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yes you can go prone by the way chevaldefer

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mclane____

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lol kolewan, looks good its going to beat bad company 2 most likely which is a shame:(

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kolewan

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I vote for some 256 player Free For All >=) That would be just pathetic

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brendanhunt1

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i like games with more stealth like mgs

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brendanhunt1

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is it pay to play

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Flibble12

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this game looks sweet as

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Sa_SPEED

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looks cool, i surely hope it doesnt take a million bullets to kill someone like in killzone and halo

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GodsPoison

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I want too see some actual gameplay footage and not just screen shots......

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swoosh18

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is it online only? doesnt matter to me cuz the epic battles look amazing

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korno640

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yet another exclusive for the PS3! whereas the 360 has about, one.

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allotheabove123

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killer man i will be completely broke:(:(:(:(

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chevaldefer

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Can we prone in this game, if not it will be boring. I hope the map will be huge, I also hope that this is not a goddamn fast pace shooter otherwise it will suck for sure, I like realistic shooter where you only need one shot or 3 to kill or get kill, where you can hunt your pray without being seen, more like America's army online but with better graphic. Even if they worked on that game for the last 4 years or so doesnt mean it will be good, just look at SOCOM waist of money, Far cry 2, waist of money, Kill zone, waist of money, All had great idea but it went all wrong in the process. Hope this one pull it off.

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Sn4k3l

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I have high expectations for Modern Warfare 2, I think it will be a lot better, but i would buy this too if I had a PS3 just to compare both and see by myself which is better :)

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Myzz617

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I am pretty sure this will be a GREAT game. It has been in development since the PS3 came out basically. This team perfected the SOCOM franchise and i am sure they are going to do a SOCOM 4..well i hope. But this game should be great. I imagine it coming out in OCT or nov close to compete with COD6.

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