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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claykenobi

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Please, please, PLEASE make this game work! Don't release it until you're certain, Sony!

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SignedAdam

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This one look's good, I'd see about buying it if i was you!

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_Khaos88_

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I find myself without the proper funds to purchase all of the wonderful games of awesomness that will be coming out the rest of the year :'(

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leopold_legand

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WOW

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kaijukrash

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Been waiting for something like this. HUGE scale multi. I hope they don't blow it.

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The_unKnwn

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holy junk!! now thats a war game

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blazey09

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more ppl to kill the better lol

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beekayjay

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Its going to be a standard shooter, just more people. I'm interested, curious, but lets all keep expectations healthy, realistic, and low.

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GameFreak523

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This looks like BF, except with more "BOOM!" and "OH SH-T!"

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Cloud310

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this will be good, interesting at best

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c02z

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the real question, can you drive vehicle in this game? like tank, hummer, quad, chopper?

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rohit9891

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Looks like a fun game...definitely different from most of the other games out there.

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kiraniata

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Im happy theres some exclusivness to this game, i get fed up of owning a 360 and PS3 and feeling as if i only really need to own 1 of them. Looking forward to it =]

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BoredKoi

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I hope this isn't SniperCamperFest 2009 with the Uber draw distance. I'll still play it tho....: 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.)

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fantom513

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@ gtaking5 "Also if your having trouble with the aiming for controllers turn the sensitivity up to max. It might take some time getting used to but when you've mastered it you can spin around 740 degrees and blow some dudes head off with a sniper in CoD" 740 degrees??? That's turning in a circle twice and then moving only 20 degrees... by then I'm pretty sure your head would be blown off by a sniper. @ejstrup "I kinda hope the game wont have grenades. Nade spamming from 100+ people is just no fun." Obviously you didn't read the article. They specifically said "You can choose from a number of kits that all include a primary weapon, a pistol, a knife, grenades..." I'm sure it won't be that big of problem though because if its online only the designers are going to make sure the game is fun to play. Overall MAG looks quite promising. I'm just hoping I can get in on that beta

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Nathan-Hale

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Finally i'll actually be playing my ps3 now. With uncharted 2 infamous Mag and starhawk if they are working on it, i'll be really busy.

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peteypeeps

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LOL @ Comment from 'TheDecoy2124' 'Looks like my 360 and Wii won't be on for a while. Well, the Wii's never on at all actually. ' Soooo True! ... This game will be great, hopefully it sells a few mil of ps3's to catch up to the 360 console number.

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SephireX

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I think they will make a network framework that's well beyond what we're used to if they want to run a game at this scale smoothly. However, there will always be a certain amount of lag depending on players' connection speeds and latency. This game has the potential to be a huge success and if so, PS3's should sell a lot more in the US. Technical difficulties and a lack of a single player campaign might get in the way of that though. Let's hope not!

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ali_hamza

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people are talkin a lot about what lag might be like for such a big game.. the thing is, they wouldnt make a game like this if there would be lag issues because the only reason someone would buy this game is for the online. Games that are centralized around online multiplayer (like this game) make it a 1st priority to have smooth servers, and they do this through beta testing..... i wouldnt be too worried about it, thsi games gonna be siiick

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gil_flatlander

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omg this game looks like its gonna be greeeat! Killzone 2 til then, and then MAG. something good to look foward to =)

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TheDecoy2124

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Looks like my 360 and Wii won't be on for a while. Well, the Wii's never on at all actually.

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broncofancrazy

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Only for PS3. That's what I love about it.

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gtaking5

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TheSteelest it's been reported that the human eye can't pick up more then 40 FPS and 30 FPS is just as smooth as 60 FPS. GTA SA runs at 25 FPS and it's smooth 90% of the time. the 10% of the time it's not smooth is when you have the infinite ammo cheat on and are blowing cars to ****. With the amount of action going on in the game were lucky to get 30 FPS. 25 would be better because then they could spend more time on the graphics by upping them just a bit and still have a perfect frame rate. But like every one knows graphics are only for aesthetics and contribute nothing to the game. Well every one except kreemghandour. vicsrealms pick up a frag FX. It's a mouse controller for the PS3. But some people said it's only good for CoD. Also if your having trouble with the aiming for controllers turn the sensitivity up to max. It might take some time getting used to but when you've mastered it you can spin around 740 degrees and blow some dudes head off with a sniper in CoD

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vicsrealms

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Maybe if it was on the PC it might be interesting, but I have never been a fan of console FPS games. No mouse and keyboard is a real killer, as I can't hit the broad side of a planet with a console controller. Which leads to the reason I avoid FPS games on the console. Good luck though, it looks like fun. I will just stick with getting my backside shot off in COD4: MW. ~grin~

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kreemghandour

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It looks okay............ But them are not the best graphics I have seen come on Sony lets make this game shine and dont serve me another Socom Confrontation. Are their destrucatble environments, because if not BF might still own this genre of gaming.

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acsam12304

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now this beats BF2142 and BF2 64 player per server map! ^_^ cant wait for this game

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sirzepp

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Freaking awesome...can't wait.

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ejstrup

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I kinda hope the game wont have grenades. Nade spamming from 100+ people is just no fun.

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edub272

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people are talkin a lot about what lag might be like for such a big game.. the thing is, they wouldnt make a game like this if there would be lag issues because the only reason someone would buy this game is for the online. Games that are centralized around online multiplayer (like this game) make it a 1st priority to have smooth servers, and they do this through beta testing..... i wouldnt be too worried about it, thsi games gonna be siiick

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mikel222222

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Dedicated servers should be used on all online games, see you later lag! ...Hopefully the system will kick out players with crappy connection bogging the down the servers. Only problem i see is getting enough players together to play.

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danielcliment

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did they comment anything about destructible environment? or s going to be the same old, bullet proof cardboard box? look incredible fun do, but i personally think its gion to be a bit caothic....

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ZeerusX

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And to add to that, Lag is simply overcomed by how much dang money you invest in your servers, and smart locations. Of course, those random people with crap connections/ISP's/Way off the charts locations are always going to suffe.

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planbfreak4eva

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if ppl didnt know, ps3 has more dedicated servers for games, resistance 1,2, warhawk, are all big games, and dont lag, and gears wid 5 vs 5 ppl lags, because the game doesnt have dedicated servers, so the amount of ppl doesnt really matter much, its all about the servers...so am pretty sure mag wont lag, it will have loads of dedicated servers, and good servers, not half job done like skate for instance, or gears, or halo, as previously mentioned

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ZeerusX

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Well, it all depends on your server architecture. Many companies have much better proprietary server technology then Bungie/Microsoft. A company that comes to mind is CCP and StacklessIO. Been doing the one-world-server thing for years now. I remember some blurb about this game way back saying it was going to use some sort of software that was inititially developed for the CIA to handle latency and reduce it dramatically, but it could have been about something else.

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hapydirtyhippie

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im very interested to see how lag and latency problems will be delt with on this, even big team matches on halo 3 can have problems and the jump from 16 to 256 is massive

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businessfox

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Now here is something to look forwarded tooo !

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tworkma

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I'm not very impresses with ps3 online to begin with. Add to that the people like to wait up to 20 minutes to get a match going and this project has many challenges to overcome. Lag times, waiting forever for a match and a lack of a singleplayer to ramp up for online play will hang a question mark over this one. The solution for me is to download a demo and be impressed by it. As it stands I'm a battlefield bad company online person so if they can achieve similar short times to get into a match I will be all about MAG. Either way consider me interested but skeptical.

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Jhraxlin

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Vid doesn't work on my comp.... =( @Vlad, it's set 20 years in the future, so the guns will be modernish I think. That one in the first screenshot looks like a shotgun. If this game fails a good fallback is COD4.

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Genson77

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Shaun McInnis: I am amaze how out of place you are and amaze how gamespot let you review games. MAG is not pointing to change the fundamentals of the first-person shooter genre (a 5 years old kid can know that) MAG is pointing to change the whole multiplayer experience by doing something no other online multiplayer game has done. Did you miss that MAG is for Massive Action Game Shaun? God... what a low class reviewer you are.

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Vlad211

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Is this modern warfare or futuristic? I can't really tell by the weapons. If it's going to be futuristic then this game won't be bought as much as other games. Still a great idea on the 256 player battle but I'm concerned about lag and bandwidth problems because of that.

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MarcRecon

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WOW

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Petercairns

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This looks cool, i mean that many people at one time...dam!

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JohnnyDrama8

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256 plsyers Whatttttttttttttttt Crazy Im ready for Team Deathmatch 128 vs 128.

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R2H2O

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

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R2H2O

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I dont know about this game the FPS will make people get sick of it quick. Most of the hardcore Socom fans will be expecting MAG to refill that void of Socom 2 which that it wont cause its a FPS game. I hope Zipper can come up with some content at a later date to add Third Person View. Most of us in the PS3 Community is looking for a comfortable game and if this game is like anything like KILLZONE 2 which was a headach everytime you made movement the screen was all over the place. I just dont see the diehard Zipper fans that played awesome games from the Socom franchise get a great vibe from this FPS game and it has a noob feeling to it with the respawn mode system then taking it to far with a medic gun... I am not trying to diss this game i just speaking out for Third Person View for a later date....

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SavoyPrime

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"The controls offer zippy movement and don't feel far off from the Call of Duty games." Man, if the controls feel as good as Modern Warfare's, then I'm in!

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Arcxe

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my friend just flat up said "no way I'm getting it. No way it's better than COD." If I can't convince him, I'll just be buying two FPS's this year, this obviously being one of them.

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ph1nn

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Well it'll either be between MAG or Bad Company 2 for my next winter/spring FPS then. Depending on reviews and how the final products look, but are probably gonna be awesome. I have no interest in Modern Warfare 2

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xboxps2cube

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most ps3 online games dont lag.. and most have 32+ players in most online games..... thats one thing I can say that it has a leg up on xbox live on

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Hendrix392

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modern warfare 2 will have more depth to it, while this will have a much larger scale battle. looking forward to them both

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