Review: Massively Addictive Game... for a couple of hours.
MAG is the new first-person shooter from SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs developer Zipper Interactive, and while it doesn't feature the license of the United States Navy, it does boast impressive 256-player battles. This online-only game manages to support that milestone number of console players without much lag and very few glitches. It also has interesting gameplay twists going for it, namely the ability to upgrade your solider through experience points and revive fallen comrades on the battlefield. But, as solid as it may be, this PS3-exlcusive still plays like a typical, stat-heavy PC shooter.
There's no single-player or offline component to MAG and it doesn't focus heavily on a storyline. The action takes place in the year 2025, when three warring private military companies attempt to wipe each other off of the military-for-hire market. Players serve as a member of the ragtag Middle East and Russian S.V.E.R. company, join the high-tech Western European Raven faction, or fall in line with the standard North American and UK alliance of Valor Company. These competing factions are slightly different in terms of gameplay, and once players pick a side and select a character face and voice, there's no turning back.
That's the extent of the story, though, so you never have the driving ambition found in the SOCOM series. No, there was no story-based multiplayer in SOCOM either, but the sense of U.S. Navy SEALs vs. terrorists was an ideal match-up that needed no introduction. In MAG, without a strong premise, the question is: ?Why do I care about S.V.E.R. vs. Raven vs. Valor Company??
While there's no story-based motive to play MAG, the game does excel at keeping its most dedicated players addicted to respawning again and again by allowing them to unlock additional game types, advance in rank and evolve their soldier. There are a total of four game types and a brief tutorial that's almost as non-existent as the thin plot. But out of these five choices, only tutorial and Suppression are available from the get-go. Deploying to Sabotage, Acquisition and Domination requires an increase in rank.
Points and Upgrades
Gaining experience points with every kill and, conveniently, each assisted kill nets +5 and +3 points, respectively. Actions also contribute to the XP total. Reviving a recently fallen fellow soldier generously awards +10 points, while sticking a wounded ally with the same needle gun gains +3. A similar looking repair gun revives mechanical defenses, racking up a +1 for every few seconds of repair.
Building on a medic's ability to revive fallen soldiers, a player who's KIA has the intriguing choice of lying there to wait for the chance
of a medic to come or press X to bleed out in order to respawn in a few seconds. Hanging around for a second chance at life is a calculated decision, and one that's best saved when not behind enemy lines in a spot that's too far to be reached by fellow soldiers. Most medics will rush to your side for the compassion, for the +10 XP and for you to stop screaming into the headset for help. Medics, be warned, though: Dead bodies are often prime targets for proven snipers to strike again. Thus, saving a brother in arms and waiting to be saved become strategic decisions that are complicated and engaging enough to feel like a fulfilling game in and of itself.
Upgrading a soldier with skill points also places emphasis on good judgment. These points are more rare than the experience points that players rack up each round. The medic gun to heal yourself and other players is an earned privilege, not a device that comes standard as a new recruit. Finer enhancements to weapons, body armor and human ability can give dedicated players the edge, depending on how they spend their skill points. For example, a grip on the sniper rifle is a wise decision for anyone who uses that assassin-style gun, while springing for the sprint recovery is a more vital enhancement for players who like to run and gun with the M4A1.