MAG - PS3

We've all seen a number of different multiplayer games that see you battle it out against other people across the planet, with the sole purpose of you losing the weekend to the console being that you can brag about fragging x number of people come Monday morning.

What's wrong with that? Well if you haven't played MAG yet, the problem with your sorry-arsed story is that up until now you've only been able to prove yourself against a handful of soldiers: MAG lets you play in battles of 256-people strong.

The crux of the purely online game is simple: you whizz through a rather basic training session where you'll then be forced on to the game world. In the beginning it's fierce with a steep learning curve that will either spur you on for more blood, or leave you frustrated.

A certain skill level has to be achieved before entry is granted to the 256-player game modes. Your character's level is based on your performance and time in the game. Kill loads of people and be on the victorious side and you'll grow through the ranks quickly. Take your time and those 256-player game modes will seem unobtainable.

In fact it's here that MAG really shows you the type of game it is. Follow orders and you'll gain more experience for doing so, go at it lone and while you'll still be able to get to where you want to go, it will take you a lot longer.

To help you progress you can fine tune your character to the type of player you are, spending skill points along the way. Rather like your typical RPG, in MAG you can streamline your character to either be amazingly good in assault, close quarters, or a marksman with variations on the theme in-between.

Before you start you are asked to choose between three different teams, however it makes little difference whether you opt for Raven, SVER, or Valor. We chose Raven and then opted for the marksman career path as that means you get to spend your money on bigger guns and better optical sights. There are athletic attributes you can buy as well to improve your prowess and like a standard RPG you can find yourself with a very narrow focus some 50 hours in. Luckily if you get bored of that skill trait you've built-up for a 1000 skill points (you get 5 points for a kill, -5 for a friendly) you can have your skills reset so you can opt for a different path.

And therein lies the first problem. Coming in fresh you can easily find yourself battling in a 64 player game where your Level 4 is the lowest on the block and all around you have better skills and better weapons. Eventually you get enough experience to go into the big games, spending the first couple of hours running around like a headless chicken wondering how you can not only be helpful, but involved. Step out in to the open for longer than you should and you'll pay for it.

But the way the game is structured you need those more advanced players as they play Squad, Platoon and ultimately the commanding officer roles, orchestrating the action, calling in cluster bombs and generally watching everything from afar as it plays out.

There are five different game types in total on MAG: Suppression, Sabotage, Acquisition, Domination, and Directives. Suppression is 32 against 32 with the simple goal of killing the other team as quickly as you can. There are no missions, no in-game goals, just kill or be killed.

Then there is Sabotage that again sees 32 on 32, but this time with one team defending a base while the other has to obtain it within a set time. Acquisition is 64 on 64 with one team having to acquire something like a transport while the other team must stop it. Domination and Directives are both 256 player games and see you follow out a number of different mission objectives.

To cope with that many players in the game, the fighting is broken down into smaller pockets within the one big world. It is still discoverable, but you'll find yourself in smaller skirmishes most of the time with the same opponents.

Depending on the game type you've chosen will depend on the type of action that's required and the character you've chosen to play. Suppression, for example, involves plenty of small skirmishes for the assault teams while the snipers give range support. But later on, games like Acquisition involves you having to constantly push forward, gain two objectives before a third is opened up and all within a set timeframe. If you just dig in you're not going to win. This does create the odd bottleneck in the game play as you constantly fight to regain control of the objectives, but providing you've got a good handful of snipers on board you should be alright.

Aside from cosmetic changes with different sides, there is little to differentiate between players, something that can cause you problems on the battlefield. Luckily for the most part your HUD will show you who are the good and bad guys.

Graphics and physics have been toned down, and the experience is a far cry from the bleeding edge atmosphere of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 giving you a rather breezy approach instead of super-realistic. That said, although the gameplay realism isn't the same as the Call of Duty series, there is plenty of realism in the weapons, health and ammo stakes.

Because a lot of the skill points go towards upgrading your weapons, you can't raid guns or ammo off fallen comrades or victims. It's a shame, but you can quickly understand that doing so would render most of the upgrade paths irrelevant. What's equally frustrating is that running out of ammo, if you stay alive long enough, means you have to venture back to your spawning point to get fresh supplies.

Getting killed - which will happen a lot - sends you back to your spawning point and this can either be a matter of 5 seconds or at times up to 30 as the server presumably makes sure the game continues to run smoothly. The fact that there is no recovering health - a good thing - means if you're crap, and you will be to begin with, you'll find yourself sitting out of the game a lot at the start. 

That doesn't mean to say that there isn't ways of staying alive for longer or recouping your energy in game. Part of the benefit of sticking with the group is the ability to heal people and this will save you having to respawn every couple of minutes if you orchestrate it effectively.

When you do die, you do get to choose your spawning location and the configuration of your weapons set based on how you've tooled-up before you started. In between each round you get to manage your skills as we've said and in addition to that you can make sure your character is tooled up the way you want them. 

And that's it, there are no single player modes, no computer bots, everything you see in the game is happening because someone else in their dressing gown is making that happen - pretty impressive when you think that later in the game the map is swamped with people.

Verdict

MAG will take you time to get into and it isn't for the faint hearted, however you do have to manage your character's abilities and that brings with it a sense that you are in it for more than just the quick 10-minute play.

Against signing up is that the games physics aren't as good as COD:MW2, but for us the career elements and sheer size and scale on the game makes up for that.

If you're looking to show your mates - be it a clan or not - that you really are the top dog, then fighting against 255 other players and winning is the ultimate way to prove that.

If you've got a PS3 and like your online multiplayer action it doesn't get bigger than this. 



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