I had a chance to check out the MAG beta this past week. Certainly the game showed potential from the demos I had seen, so how does it hold up in action? Considering the game releases January 26 (in North America at least), it’s pretty clear that this beta is fairly representative of the final product. Thus, I will describe my experience to you in full, and I will hold nothing back.
Let me get this out of the way: for what it is, the game is a looker. It has beautiful graphics and an excellent draw distance (taking into account the magnitude of the maps). Textures are extremely detailed, the modeling is done right, and it runs at a steady 30 frames per second. That said, maybe it’s because of me playing a lot of first-person shooters on PC with frame rates of 60-100 FPS, but the frame rate in MAG was noticeably bothersome at points. Call me critical, but I like my games to have buttery-smooth frame rates, which is why I tend to avoid FPS games on consoles altogether.
To be fair, the game does boast 256-player battles, so that’s a lot of data to be simultaneously processing. In reality, keeping the frame rate at a consistent 30 FPS is an impressive feat. I’ve heard some people complain that the graphics aren’t as impressive as they expected. Obviously there are better-looking shooters out there, but what people need to realize is that in order to achieve that solid frame rate, sacrifices have to be made. It’s either top-notch graphics with shit frame rate, superior frame rate with shit graphics, or a happy medium, which is what developer Zipper Interactive found. Even then, the graphics are on par with Modern Warfare 2.
And since we’re on the topic of aesthetics, I might as well touch on the audio department. Playing on a 5.1 home theater system cranked up, this game sounds awesome. With bullets whizzing by your head and explosions disorienting you, it’s quite an immersive experience. Dialog, or what little there is, is decent. Some of the quips soldiers make, particularly when they bleed out, are corny at times, but I’ll let it slide. For what it’s worth, the musical score complements the gameplay and theme of MAG well also.
Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter: gameplay. MAG does a lot of things right, but it’s far from perfect. First let me explain how the game works. When you first sign on, you select a private-military faction: Seryi Volk Executive Response (S.V.E.R.), Raven Industries, or Valor Company. Once you select a team, the character you create (character creation is very limited by the way, at least in the beta) will be a part of that faction indefinitely.
The battles in the game take place between factions. As I said before, the game supports 256 players (128 on each team), so MAG’s name – Massive Action Game – is appropriate, albeit not very creative. Teams have a multi-tiered command system. Each team is divided into four platoons, and each platoon is further divided into four squads. There are 16 squad leaders per side, four platoon leaders per side, and a commander (officer in charge) taking control of the entire team. There are multiple channels for leaders and squads to communicate. Whether or not these channels will be fully utilized by players is yet to be seen. MAG also fully supports clans.
Players start out as a Private, ranking up as they gain XP. Once they are of a higher rank, they can apply to take a leadership position. Ranking up also unlocks new gear, which you can swap in your loadout before or during a game, and you can also unlock different weapon attachments. The beta is pretty limited in its selection of gear unsurprisingly.
The problem with MAG is that its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The squad play is phenomenal – when you’re playing with the right people. If you’re not, it’s just absolute chaos, unorganized and just plain dumb. One game can play out fantastically, while the next can play out like a French military battle – you get your ass handed to you in a paper bag and a pat on the back.
Another gripe I have is with the grenades. First, most games have a dedicated ‘nade button. MAG requires you to switch to your grenades, which in most situations, renders them useless. After you throw your grenade, you have to then switch back to your firearm, which by then, you probably already have a bullet making itself comfortable in your head. I sincerely hope this is dealt with before launch, but I also sincerely doubt it will be.
There are a number of different game modes, each with different player capacities: training, team deathmatch, sabotage, escort, and domination. Gameplay feels very Battlefield-esque, though not quite as smooth. Maps are pretty massive, and they never feel crowded despite the 256 players spread out across them. Objectives are also well-placed on the maps. For the most part, I think the maps are appropriately balanced for the colossal player count.
Action is constant in MAG. Reinforcements are spawning every 20 seconds or so either at designated spawn locations or even via airdrop. Players can select where they spawn (as well as what loadout they want) when they die. There’s also a 20-second bleedout in which nearby teammates can revive you if they have the right gear, but if you don’t have faith in your fellow comrades, you can “give up.”
The controls took me a bit getting used to, but that’s probably attributed to my unfamiliarity with the DualShock 3 when it comes to first-person shooters. Overall though, they work fine. I started out dying a lot, but once I got past the slight learning curve, I quickly started to improve. Despite this, I still can’t manage a positive kill-to-death ratio. Noob or not, I think it’s a bit too difficult to down an enemy.
Because this is a beta, I was expecting to encounter some lag issues. To my pleasant surprise, I have yet to experience any. Nevertheless, I have seen a few hitbox problems that may or may not be lag-related, which might contribute to my complete and utter sucking at this game. Regardless, I think it’s something that needs to be tightened up a bit before the game ships.
In any event, I feel that MAG’s strong points outweigh its shortcomings. It’s not the best shooter I’ve played, but it’s certainly not the worst. There are issues that need to be addressed, and there are features that need to be outright changed. In order for it to be a success, everyone needs to get onboard with the command-system concept. Otherwise it’s just another mindless, mediocre shooter. Nonetheless, the game does merit more playthrough for me, and I’m excited to see what the full retail version brings.