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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wishiwasuber

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Im not a big sony fan but this makes me kind of jealous

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Zevlar

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If this works out, it will probably be the most epic online shooter ever.

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8smokes

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Imagine this. You're playing as a lowly private in a 8 man squad. However, you can affect the whole outcome of the battle. Remember, it's the soldiers that fight the wars. At the head of this is your sergeant. He's a pretty tough guy but he gets the job done. Now you have no idea what the other Platoon leaders are telling him, but imagine being at the head of it all.

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RangerG

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So...Battlefield 2 + a lot more people?

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goyolap

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it sound good but i feel that socom syndrome is in the air

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zephyr12192

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This is looking really great. As long as they don't dumb down gameplay and keep a real sense of team play then this is a day 1 buy for me.

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baystatethrashr

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This game will be amazing BUT i know Sony will drop the ball on it and have tons of connection issues like they did with Socom and Warhawk

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nortrex

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256 players wooow that is a real warrr

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Foxtrot561

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I'm buying a PS3 just for this game lol

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advertiser33

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I just hope that you can respawn immideatley like call of duty and not have to wait for the match to finish to get back in the game

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VXLbeast

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Looks like it could be awesome. Hopefully it doesn't turn into what frontlines was.

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Solid_Cipher

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Hey AdamWriter, damn bro! thats a great way to show the issue of urs...."the Itch"...lol anyway MAG is looking good..:D

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IE_Tho

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great idea, i hope it plays well though, i can see it being too advanced for the average player who refuses to work with team mates. that is, if it avoids all the computational and bandwidth latency i'm hoping won't damper the game play.

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AdamWriter

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Damn, this looks good. I have two itches, they are MMORPGS and MASSIVE MULTIPLAYER shooters. If they don't mess it up and deliver what they promise or more, I believe this will scratch that itch.

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snake3rules

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gator-- putting people off of the game with overtly negatyive impressions of an incomplete product is WRONG .. plain and simple. And itd be one thing if there was even a hint of negativity at ANY other point in the preview ... instead it feels like a tacked on, unnecessary and unfair criticism (not to mention entirely ambiguous as to the specifics of any perceived negatives). And you seem to be confused, so let me help you -- Pointing out the good and bad is the point of the REVIEW, not the preview ... by defintion a preview supposed to an early look at the incomplete, unfinished product... so leveling criticism is unfair, especially as any and all issues could be solved LONG before the game gets released ... Would it have been fair to review the ps3 many months before it came out, and taking into account the boomerang controllers, despite the fact they were never released with the actual product? No, of course not, just like you shouldnt praise or denegrate an unfinished product... Somehow madden seems to make sure that it has "in progress" and "unifinished" attached to everything they put out for that exact reason ... its a problem, and people like you lap it up and dismiss games without any knowledge of what the final product will actually be like, or what its final "score" will be.

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thelastguy

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Im very interested

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Rammone-X

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Holy Molly!...This game sounds like it's going to deprive me of my night-life like Oblivion did for 6 months...oh well, better go stock up on tidy-Whitties & Vault soda at Walmart...

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dont_know_2

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this sucks

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Igetyourdogtag

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WOOT fps

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Jawehawk-DK

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This game sounds so friggin awesome. I think the developers should release game packs taht comes with a good headset for the PS3. That way a descent number of people, if not most will have a mic. I also hope there will be a kicking system, since I hate it when people doesn't speak english in the game, or keeps playing music. Anyway I cant wait for this one to come out.

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maverick_76

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Man I hope this game follows through on it's promises, it will be amazing if that is the case.

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Nonstop-Madness

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Picking off people on parachute's seems pretty cheap.

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Gatorelk

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snake3rules and others: wow im getting sick of all these gamespot haters and ps3 fanboys!!! if you dont like gamespot, its simple. LEAVE!!!!!!!! its standard procedure for someone to conclude with a paragraph summarizing the good and bad points of a game and give their impression of it. maybe you haven't gotten to that point in middle school where they teach you how to write, but you organize papers/articles like this based on good things and bad things. the fact that there is one paragraph on the bad and all the rest on the good things would indicate that their overall impression was good! get over yourself! the point of these articles is to tell the good and the bad of a game so that you can decide if you want to spend your mommy's money on it. in order to do that, they have to give the good and the bad of the game. if all you want is the good things about a game go to the official game website and get the company line! as for the game, it sounds good, but unfortunately until the majority of ps3 owners get and use a microphone, shooters will never reach their full potential. especially squad based shooters like this one that try to encourage teamwork. ill be keeping my eye on this one.

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snake3rules

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arcanewon, thank you! I mean, so far the two biggest ps3 exclusives previewed have had the words "downer" and "disappointed" attached to their conclusions for no good reason, whether it be because the games not finished, or because they never mentioned anything but positives before the conclusion, i.e. the part almost every reader makes sure to look at ... It just reeks of bias.

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CreatureRising

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Some great promise here but we may have to see.

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Ghoul_et_OMC

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wow...

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arcanewon

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snake3rules; that was the first thing I noticed when I finished this article. I think this game looks amazing. And how are they not turning the genre on it's ear? This scale of combat has never been done before. The game type involving the armored vehicles seems pretty damn new and cool to me. There was absolutely no need for the criticism at the end. This is a preview, not a review. Save the bias opinions for your reviews please, Gamespot.

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snake3rules

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What do you know -- Another article about a ps3 exclusive that has its concluding paragraph begin with blatant criticism... What a surprise!! And as always, they spend the rest of the article praising it, which begs the question why this tends to be the template for ALL ps3 articles?!?!? And burstlimit -- They already confirmed in Game informer, and in the video interview above, that communication between squad leaders is implemented, and I think they said it would be on different channels than your squadmates, like real life communications between squads, etc. And DANZEL -- I obviously dont know for sure, but I would bet everything I have that they will NOT charge for online, as its the only way to play the game, and as all ps3 online play is free ... So, no, you wont be paying anything other than the sticker price... Of course they could add it to the selling price, like rockband or guitar hero, and sell it for 70 or 80... But Id still be surprised, as it seems like shooting themselves in the foot ... its not like they are offering a lightgun (like a guitar) that obviously justifies the additional amount.

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Gamer_4_Fun

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wow...

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burstlimit514

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this is going to be awsome!!! I hope they make it so the leader of your 8 man squad can talk to your squad and the other leaders on your side. I'll need all the help i can get cuz i had a hard enough time in Resistance 2!

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kartik24

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ps3 only haahhaa its like a slap on the face of 360 owners!!! :D sorry ppl i dont mean to be a rude but this is too good.....:)))))))))

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kartik24

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oh mannn a breath of fresh air!!!!!!!!

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cell989

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bbbbbuuuaaahhhaaahhhaahhhaaahhhaaa !!!!!!!

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cell989

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looks like it will be well organized too, I like the whole commanding officer, this will suit well for veterans that like to help noobz in their 1st skirmishes. I can wait to pwn noobs when they are dropping from the skies in chutes'. It'll be like a duck hunt game....... bbbuuuaaaahhhhhhhaAAAAAA......

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ropumar

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Looks to expensive to develop. Is it really necessary this huge game. Sony loves coming with groundbreaking ideas, but that is just too much?

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cell989

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Sweeeeettt might be the next best thing.

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Ultramarine777

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Looks awesome. Cant wait for this game.

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D4NZEL-709

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I really hope that you don't have to pay to be online cause i have read it in some magazine that you might have to pay to play online hope they change their minds cause if this game will be as good as CODmw2 in online and gameplay if it is as good it will be 8x better since there are only 32 in CODmw2 and 256 in MAG.

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AzelKosMos

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This could be amazing...

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Shadow_Fire41

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0_0 i see great noo pwning, great fun, massive battles. i expect great things from this.

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Arcana_Dei

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Even at a half scale map, (correct me if im wrong) 128 players is unprecedented!!! this is going to be a blast!! I just hope that you can fly airplanes in it... kinda like warhawk but times 8 (32x8=256)....

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coruscant

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This is going to be so much fun when it comes out, it's going to be immense!

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danopix

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I'm impressed. I thought they would simply make a game with a huge amount of players in it. But it looks like a lot of fun. The graphics are great and the game dynamics seem to make a lot of sense. I am pleasantly surprised.

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familialewis

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I have hard decision to make. MAG or COD:MW2. I hope that MAG will have some type of OpenBeta or PreOrder Access. I would not mind paying $5 to gain access to Beta just to see if this will challange the likes of COD:MW2. I can only get one though. I only have time for one.

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