Is bigger better? If I have one piece of delicious cheesecake, then isn’t having two pieces twice as delicious? Twice as awesome? If playing a video game online with, say, 20 people is a good time, then what about 40? What about 80? What about 256?
Zipper Interactive’s new title, “MAG,” or “Massive Action Game,” is betting on more being more. This first-person shooter allows gamers to play alongside 255 other players in some scenarios. The idea is that two massive armies clash over a set of objectives (fuel stations, vehicles, communication towers) on a huge field of battle. Guns are blazing, enemies are everywhere and wits and comrades are your only assets (except for lots and lots of bullets).
That, at least, is the theory. In practice there are some nagging, unfortunate problems that end up making “MAG” a thoroughly mediocre and occasionally frustrating experience.
There’s not much in the way of story behind “MAG.” Set in the very near future, the world has been divvied up among three private military contractors: S.V.E.R., Valor and Raven. Players choose one of these corporations when they first start and build a career fighting for the company. “MAG” is an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, so once the titles have finished rolling, players are immediately connected to the internet and pointed toward any of the several games in progress across the “evolving field of battle.”
So how do you make sense of the chaos that is 256 players at once? You try, as creator Zipper Interactive tried, to parse it down. To put that many shooters against one another in a simple death match would be pointless. What we have, then, are objectives. Each corporation in a given battle is broken down into platoons and then squads. Leaders (higher ranked players) are then assigned to take command of both and instruct their underlings to bomb a specific roadblock or demolish a certain bunker, all in hopes of achieving the larger goals for which the scenario calls.
In this aspect, the managing of objectives and the teamwork those objectives require, “MAG” is almost brilliant. When you have a disciplined, organized squad with a competent squad leader directing players toward challenging but achievable goals, “MAG” is a blast. There’s nothing else out there quite like it; the teamwork necessary to get anything done in the more advanced scenarios creates an atmosphere of camaraderie rarely seen in video games. Sure, there are plenty of two to four player co-op games out there, but to feel like you’re working in sync with more than 100 other players is really, really cool. The defeats are more bitter, and the victories much, much sweeter, accented by the hoots and hollers of your fellow soldiers.
Unfortunately, matches that actually demonstrate that kind of teamwork and organization are painfully rare. Far more common are 100 to 200 lone wolves, killing the first thing they see and getting killed immediately afterward. And having to re-spawn back into the game after death is no picnic; there can be up to a 30-second delay and there’s a good chance the player will start on the far reaches of the map, sometimes a full minute or more away from any action. That may not seem like a lot, but try spending 12 minutes of a 30-minute game waiting to actually play the game. It’s no fun.
And that’s not the biggest problem. This first-person shooter’s flaw is that the first-person shooting just isn’t that fun. The controls are clumsy, the aiming feels awkward and the weapons are dull. The character customization tries to address some of these problems with perks for leveling up, but even after hours and hours of gameplay the issues aren’t resolved. You can’t help but wonder if bothering with “MAG” is worth it when there are other titles out there doing the same thing, but better.
That being said, if the idea of teamwork on such a massive scale intrigues you, give “MAG” a try. But if you’re going into this title expecting “Modern Warfare 2” multiplied by 20, you’re setting yourself up for one hell of a disappointment.