Under-Appreciated Games: MAG

If the box art doesn't grab you, nothing probably will

Recently, I had just finished playing the not-so-long-ago-released “Singularity”. I found it to be a very solid game that was ultimately sent to die by it’s publisher, and largely ignored by the press and public gaming community.

That got me thinking – What other good games out there have been released and mostly ignored? Whether as a result of a poorly-timed release date, or just bad press, or little-to-no word of mouth; games are released every week, and often, you mostly hear about one game per month. I thought I’d take a few minutes each week and try to shine a spotlight on a game that I felt like was pushed aside. The ones we ignored. The under-rated or under-appreciated. Perhaps, even, unfairly treated.

First up is an online-multiplayer-only, first-person-shooter exclusive to the PlayStation 3 that you very well may have heard of: MAG.

First announced a couple E3’s ago, MAG, initially, didn’t really have much in its favor. First-and-foremost, the name isn’t very appetizing, especially when they tried marketing it as M(assive) A(ction) G(ame).  Audiences and critics everywhere generally groaned at the anagram. Eventually, both Sony and the game’s publisher, Zipper Interactive ceased to mention what “M.A.G.” stood for, and just called it MAG, which sounds and looks better. Still,  the sour taste remained in most people’s mouths.

MAG's interface at E3: very rough, early stages

When Sony first unveiled the game at E3, the game play footage that was shown was confusing. The only part of the footage that seemed clear to everyone, was that you were watching a game that was consisting of 256 players battling each other. Most people seemed impressed by that number, but, just watching it on screen, you couldn’t really feel like you’re in the middle of a huge war. The visuals weren’t very striking to boot. MAG ended up leaving most people not knowing what to think.

So, from the very start, MAG was an underdog. It was going to have to prove itself to us. Would 256 player online-multiplayer work on a home console? How will PSN really hold up with all of that? Can an exclusive online-only shooter really compete with other hugely popular titles like Halo or Call of Duty? And hey…isn’t Modern Warfare 2 (at the time) coming out soon? Why the hell should we care about this one? Add to that the release date pinning it against one of the most-awaited sequels of this generation – Mass Effect 2 – and you have, what looks like, a game being dumped out into the market, hoping something sticks.

Personally, I had a passing interest in the game from the start. I like online-competitive multiplayer. I like first person shooters. PSN works perfectly well. Sounded good to me, but, for some reason, I wasn’t sold either. I went to GameStop’s midnight release of both MAG and Mass Effect 2, and it really was a shame to see absolutely NO ONE waiting in line for MAG, myself included. Poor little guy. Just didn’t look like he had the chops up against Microsoft’s (well, surprisingly, not anymore) exclusive sci-fi 3rd-person-shooter. I vowed to myself that, once I was done with ME2 (and, man, who knows how long that would take?)  that I’d give MAG a chance.

MAG released to pretty decent reviews. No one seemed to be particularly glowing about it, and no one seemed to think that it was a failure, either. Currently, the game sits at a comfortable 76 rating on Metacritic, and that score has remained stable since it’s release. Again, not the game’s greatest selling point.

However, I’m not here to harp on the game’s troubled journey to its release. I’m here to try and convince you that MAG is a game that needs to be played to be appreciated. This is a game that deserves to be defended and stood up for, and damnit, I’m gonna try and do it if no one else will.

MAG's more recent visuals/interface, nicely cleaned up during the beta

As you often hear with people who defend MMOs, if you want to get a really good feel for it, this is a game that you’ll need to sink a decent amount of hours into. It comes with a very basic tutorial level, that, honestly, doesn’t really give you any idea of what the game is about, or how to strategize. A lot of online shooters do rely on some strategy (“you go this way, I’ll go that way”), but, with most of them, as long as you kill the most enemies, you have a decent chance at winning. Those games are about your personal strategy and how you implement it, whereas MAG is about your team’s strategy.

Unlike most shooters, MAG relies almost solely on your team’s ability to communicate with each other. If just one person on your squad is out of line, your chances of success are minimal at best. Kill/Death ratio is not the key here, and it, alone, won’t win the game for you. So, if you go out away from your squad, thinking you’re Rambo, not only will you not survive very long (you VS 40 at a time, maybe), but, your team’s chances of winning are weakened that much more. You can certainly earn XP by killing, but, you earn the most by focusing on your objectives given to you by your squad leader.

Speaking of going out on your own, that can be one lonely journey that can only end with a bullet in the head. The maps in all of the 5 major game types are MASSIVE (Eh? See what I did there?) and you are bound to be either lost or killed in a matter of moments. That’s what’s special about MAG, there is no need to be a hero, and for once, that feels like a good thing. All the gameplay is just as solid as most shooters out there. You’ll find yourself shooting, parachuting, repairing or destroying different sites on the map, and driving to different areas where your help is needed most. There are a lot of things to do here, and you can see the effort that was put into the development.

An example of just how large and detailed the maps are

There are five major game types in MAG:

  • Supression: your basic team deathmatch, only by 2 squads of the same faction.
  • Sabotage:  2 squads of one faction try to gain control of 2 enemy sites, then a 3rd site once both are in control at the same time.
  • Acquisition: gain control of enemy transport units and escape with them intact.
  • Interdiction: two factions fight for control 3 different sites on the map
  • Domination: the most action-packed mode, featuring the full 256-players (128 per faction), one faction destroying access points and ultimately trying to gain control of the opposing base.

Each of these modes provide different experiences with just about equal excitement. Zipper Interactive has also done a terrific job of supporting the game post-release by constantly providing software updates / tweaks, taking polls from the community, a couple free DLC packs, one paid DLC packs with new maps and a new game mode, and that’s just in the 8 months since it’s release. Even today, August 24th, Zipper is releasing a new free beta for current and future owners of the game that’s seemingly going to add and change a TON of features. Zipper has previously claimed that MAG would be an ever-changing experience for those who stick with it, and at this point, it’s as if they’ve already made a sequel out of all the updates. Compare that to MAG‘s biggest competition, Modern Warfare 2, which has been on the market since November of last year. A fantastic game that is only patched occasionally when someone finds a glitch, and has released just 2 DLC packs that both cost a pretty penny. Not to downplay Infinity Ward, or MW2 (you’ll see me playing that game daily as well), but, it’s just nice to see a developer like Zipper really pay attention to their community and take care of them as much as they can.

It isn’t a perfect game though. You’ll have trouble finding a squad where every teammate has a headset, and even if they do, they won’t use them often. It’s also difficult to stop a lot of players from going off and doing their own thing. But, once you get in the right lobby, the experience can be very rewarding, challenging, and fun.

I was once like you. “MAG? Who cares? I’m busy with Call of Duty 9, and Halo 10!” But, when you get the time, do yourself a favor, and check the game out. Sink some hours into it, make some friends, join a clan, and blow some stuff up. It looks and plays better than you probably think.

Hell, you might find yourself agreeing that it’s the most under-rated, and under-appreciated game of the year. Just make sure to bring your headset.

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  • Brian Heitzenrater (FrehleyzComet)

    I have this but have yet to play it. I actually won it on Twitter. The funny thing with your story is one of my good friends was dling the new beta for it tonight and we were talking about hooking up to play it. He has quite a bit of time in it so he could help “learn me the ropes”. heh

  • dude, supression is against other teams now, and sabotage is faction neutral, dont forget to mention interdiction and the new escalation (beta for now). Also, the entire interface such as buying guns and earning skills is being COMPLETELY DONE OVER.

  • srry i didnt see interdiction in there….

  • Ad

    Hear, hear. One of the more underappreciated but seriously great PS3 titles. Hopefully it’ll keep going as a slow burner.

  • V8SuperCars

    Great article, agree 100% had MAG for a few months without playing it, once i started it was one of the best gaming delights i have had and straight to my best game of 2010, until GT5 comes anyway.

  • Tim

    Terrible game. Paid for the Interdiction DLC, and it crashes my 60GB PS3. That, and many nights I can’t find enough people to play… Does anyone play this any more?