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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Alphamale001

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If this works and isn't pay to play, IN!

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Gen_Warbuff

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If they can make this work, it will be most good.

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antibanner

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hahaha i remember an xbox fan saying MAG was corporate advertisement. (and he was so serious )i feel sorry for them

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ldavidtw2000

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Normandy Normandy Normandy Normandy Normandy Normandy Normandy Normandy!!!!!

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dubb55

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love the idea hope the lag time is minimal

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CVM_123

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i hope theres no laggggg

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playagamer

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Owning all consoles rock.

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SuperMario254

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also.. SMG, Zipper made SOCOM 1 - CA... no SP.. MP only, much like the new SOCOM. and for those wondering how you are going to get 128 people to play when you only have 100 people on your friends list.. they'll either bump up the # of friends, or the'll use this as a way to push home.. i.e. hop onto home, find a few cool people and start a game up with them

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SuperMario254

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@ razattack... its a sony company, so its not going to go to pc.. only SOE does that with mmo's... and im still no word on if its pay to play.. they should dispurse this rumor asap, unless they are really doing it and are going to spring a price point at E3.. o well

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razattack

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No PC?? FPS games are best on PC.. come on.. wtf...

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bloodshot191

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if you want to see gameplay go see the new action trailer

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Hellknite190

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256 players? this is gonna be such a good game! :D

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konradak

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This sounds very promising. I hope the gameplay itself holds up.

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smghottie

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ahh so they didn't really say anything cool in this article.... Large maps w/ scalability determined by player size? Shadow wars fought by PMCs? single player campaign? only multiplayer? I dunno what has Zipper ever made? this game could turn out to be a huge busssstttt, or at least a mediocre multiplayer game

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BenBenBen93

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i wish they show us some in game footage of people playing around the world ie people in japan USA, England German Australian all on one server. Then imagine all the team killing or people just not playing. NO GO FOR ME

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Bwags

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MEH...

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1conradthegreat

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wtf if gamspot had a hands on of the game why can we see gameplay !!!

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Amir29

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This is VERY exciting news. But, one thing that bothers me a bit. As someone mentioned below, it's most probably going to be chaos. I agree with that. But also, this game exceeds the capability of the hardware. With a limit of 100 friends on the XMB, how are we supposed to develop outside of the game for strategy and chat?

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NarcMonkey

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It would be nice if a developer finally made a shooter that worked well as a first-person AND third-person experience. I much prefer Metal Gear Online to any FPS online shooter, and Third-Person to First-Person any day of the week. So if someone could create a game that serviced both worlds and could work fairly, that would be amazing. Just a thought...

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Ace77765

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By this time most should have a ps3 lol this game will be worth it. Main thing zipper needs to focus on is servers now and getting things right with that but even with socom unless a person lagged intentionally lag wasnt sobad.

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Doolz2024

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"The controls offer zippy movement and don't feel far off from the Call of Duty games." that's good to hear...

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yoda87

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its gonna be chaos, how many kids do you know are going to listen to someone telling them orders, its going to be waves of madness, no one works together unless you have 8 friends squad up, but then the PS3 doesnt have the same kind of party system to make that easy as the xbox does. But if people work together then it could be pretty sweet.

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SithProphet

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So Gamesmasterx ... What your saying is you will snipe and get 1.2 kills every second of the game. Man you must be good ... or really bad at math. This game will not work well enough to be a huge hit. People keep trying to make these games and they never work because bandwidth is way to volatile. I figure after a month or so there will be times that 256 people aren't even playing on some servers.

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xrydersx

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yeah i know what u mean with the frikin connection...laggglaggglagggg but overall looking good... but then again looks can be deceiving

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gnrlstuart

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tajirere, i totally agree, but trust me, the maps will be well crafted, and enormous, so you wont be sniped as soon as you spawn, tbh the only gripe i have atm is the gun placement is a little towards the end of the screen.

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nitsud_19

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It will work and i can't wait. Anything with a similar feel to the Bf series im in. Its funny how you dont hear people say that Huxley is not going to work.

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tomnuke

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looks good but connection problems i see in the future just cause not everyone has the best but if you find 256 people with good connection lets rock and/or roll!!!!!!!!!!!!

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tajirinere

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it's gonna be in unreal GOTY when u put in the max no of bots on a small map like space knoxx. u'll be losing ur head be4 u even knew u had it. its going to be a tad frustrating but lets see how it plays

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rougewarrior198

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It is seriously looking better than I thought. If everything goes as planned it will be great. Now I need to get into the public beta......

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killer_rabbit20

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Hopefully this will be good(by the looks of it it'll be pretty sweet), instead of just another mediocore FPS game for the PS3.

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kvan33

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I just don't see how this can possibly work. Gamers want to feel like they are making more of an impact in team based games. Being 1 out of 128 players dillutes that feeling.

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SicklySunStorm

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The principal sounds great, but the execution could be a whole different story... I'll reserve judgment til I've played it I think...

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shadowkiller11

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looks epic

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duke-nukem11

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i like the sound of this

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Gamesmasterx

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If you get extra XP for being 'NEAR' the point set by the squad leader, then what if your a sniper, picking off people at a distance? Thats not near, so no extra XP... Regardless, I don't play online games from getting useless teamates, but that many players means you must get some good allies. Can't imagine what peoples high killcounts would be. I think the best of them like myself would get around 500 kills (guessing at 10 min matches)

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DAZZER7

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confucioussayyo: yes, absolutely know what you mean. Again, they should borrow from BF2 on that one where there is a vote to kick commander :)

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confucioussayyo

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Sounds like hard work, trying to get 256 people online at once. The two problems I see: Not enough people to fill the matches, and those all-too-familiar asshats that we've all played with in some form or another being given posistions of command. You know what I mean. The punks who got rap music blaring on the headset and shout profanities the entire match and don't sound older than 12. We'll be needing some kind of mutiny button for squad commanders like them.

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havocmerc

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Booooo.

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allmightygamer

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seems interesting a better make than planet side. i'm mostly concerned about the lag and what happens if/when one side because too powerful controlling/winning battles on a regular.

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ALLoY1717

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Snipers are going to be plenty in this game

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REflexHalo3

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With so many people playing, there will be one hell of a lot of lag but we'll just have to see.

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airsoftmanic

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this would be my perfect game if they pull it off and they decide on a persistant war system. that would be my perfect game. EDIT* okay i missed the bit about the persistant game in the vid. this is now my perfect game. i want a PS3 right now.

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brunompcoelho

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I'm looking forward to see how they put this game running. Just a few more months and we'll see it... :D

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MeRc_KiNg89

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this game looks ace hopefully its lag free, none the less it looks awesome

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cheezy909

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Im realy anticipating this game. Hopfully thy can pull it off. This is wat the PS3 needs.

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beryxez

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256 is alot i wonder how the lag will be, but it sounds awesome. I think they should penalize people who aren't within a radius of a squadmate, something like lower health or lower damage, because theres always that lone wolf sniper who wants to be rambo or something.

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JasonDarksavior

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Seriously....This looks good.

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minimme

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impressive ps3 only :)

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Sloaf

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If they pull it off, it'll be the battlefield we've always wanted. Assuming you don't get spawn camped into logging off (Bad Company). I don't know anyone who owns a ps3 aside from myself, but it's definently a better console than the 360 and if either of them can pull this off, it'll be ps3. I just wish the analog could be swapped with the d-pad. Feels so unnatural.

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Mr_Fujiv1

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WOW! thats wicked that would actually feel so good to play

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