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Eurogamer Expo 2009 Hands-on: MAG

Whatever can be said about MAG, no-one can take anything away from Zipper & Sony’s ambition. Getting 256 players simultaneously into a game without problems, conveying team work and objectives accurately and clearly and keeping things balanced and enjoyable is no mean feat. Initial impressions are largely positive, but it remains to be seen if the game’s balancing will allow it longevity and how the community will sustain itself – after all, this is a game which will live or die by its players.

Following some time spent with the beta and the demo at the EG Expo, one of the most apparent characteristics of MAG is that the controls feel very smooth and familiar; thanks to taking the same layout as Call of Duty, Resistance 2 and Far Cry 2. Objectives are conveyed on the loading screen before each 30 minute round starts, or via in-game waypoints, but from our initial playtests it remains to be seen whether anyone will actually communicate and work as a team, or just run around doing their own thing, as thus far seems to be the case. Clearly a headset and probably a clan will be essential to get the most out of this game.

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The game concerns three factions competing in a ‘Shadow War’, vying for control of resources in the near-future. There’s the Russian S.V.E.R., US-based Valor or European Raven, and each faction differs in style and equipment; Raven are tech-heavy and very modern, S.V.E.R rely on worn-looking equipment and cobbled-together outfits, while Valor fall somewhere in between. Each faction is fundamentally the same, meaning no one has any particular advantage over the other, and each player comes armed with an automatic rifle, pistol, grenades and a support item. There are also various weapon emplacements and vehicles scattered about for breaking out the big guns, so to speak.

Objectives appear fairly typical so far; capturing radar arrays, defending oil supplies and the like. According to information released by Zipper, players will start off in a squad of 8 (lead by a player with enough experience), having to complete minor objectives before linking up with another squad, and so on, until each faction consisting of [up to] 128 players will assault the other toward the mission’s end. There’s huge appeal in such a promise and while it’s undoubtedly exciting to be part of such a battle, what we’ve thus far experienced has seemed like little more than a frag fest when many players get involved, resulting in repeated deaths from unknown sources.

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It’s hard to get a feel for the maps based on a few brief plays, but they are fairly well-designed with one or two obvious bottlenecks as well as a collection of quieter back paths. Objectives are scattered around and cover is prevalent, which is important as health does not recharge, so retreating to a quiet spot to heal is essential. It remains to be seen whether the overall level design will prove to be as compelling as the likes of, say, Battlefield 1943 or Killzone 2, but from the two levels we’ve tried through both the beta and later at the Expo, they have a suitable mix of indoor and outdoor spaces and enough overall variety in their design.

MAG has huge potential and if it all comes together it could well be the closest any developer has been to emulating the large-scale excitement of Battlefield on a console. However, at the moment it feels like a lack of communication to the player, divided squads and potentially too many people taking part may mar the experience. At the moment MAG feels like it could go either way, and we hope Zipper use its last couple of months in development to balance and refine the experience.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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