Does MAG manage to deliver a solid, playable 256-player online experience? Absolutely. Technically, it's a masterpiece of clever network coding and an impressive showcase of what's possible when developers really get to grips with the PlayStation Network.
As with Zipper's other online shooter, SOCOM, this game lacks personality and that explosive wow-factor, which rivals like Modern Warfare 2 and Battleﬁeld Bad Company 2 have in spades. During combat, be it the 'smaller' 64 player skirmishes or the full-fat 256 player battles, you never really get the feeling that you're doing anything of that much consequence; that you're contributing to the larger war effort - it's more about individual squad objectives and personal character advancement - at least early on. Blow up an AA gun to grant your commander the ability to use air support and you're treated to a lame explosion, +15 XP, and a message telling you to move to the next target. It can sometimes feel like a thankless grind, and never conveys the feeling that you're part of a huge battle between hundreds of virtual soldiers - until you get to the higher levels of command that is.
And when you don't get the wow-factor of its massive scale, MAG is nothing more than an average online shooter. Sure, the shooting is balanced - though you'll have to get used to lining up headshots to avoid frustration. Well-armoured enemies can take a lot of bullets before going down. The sniper especially feels ridiculously under-powered, and we found it just as easy to pick people off from distance using standard assault riﬂes. As you level up, you can spend XP to enhance guns with grips and sights like Inﬁnity Ward's game, but the 'perk' style character additions are far more grounded in reality.
Similarly, the command options - where squad leaders, platoon leaders and the OIC co-ordinate the attack feel underwhelming. During our review session, where headsets were provided, players largely ignored squad objectives and commands in favour of stampeding into the middle of the map like cattle - an experience that will almost certainly be mirrored in your ﬁrst few sessions. The result can often feel like a massive, endless corridor of death in the centre of the stage, which you can currently 'enjoy' in any regular online FPS. It's a shame, because the theory behind the big-scale battles on well-designed, though repetitive, maps is sound.
Your squad is meant to tackle micro-objectives in stages, with everyone contributing to the overall victory. So, depending on the commander's choice, one squad might be tasked with eliminating defences like turrets and AA guns. It sounds great on paper, but fails to accommodate the average, egotistical online gamer who just wants to blow stuff up and feel like a badass. However we've noticed that, as player's learn the mechanics, the double XP 'Frago' bonuses for getting kills, healing members of your faction, or supporting your squad, along with the subtle buffs (increased running speed, more resistant armour) that kick in when you're close to your squad leader, do a good job of encouraging players to follow orders and make efforts to co-ordinate. As for the community, you'll deﬁnitely meet a few foulmouthed infants online, but MAG has attracted a few mature gamers who are making efforts to aid newbies, and generate a feeling of camaraderie.
Even better, if you're lucky enough to gather eight friends, you'll instantly get a feel for MAG's strengths and depths of combat.