The headset is mightier than the sword.
With all the talk this console generation about major innovations like motion controllers, downloadable content, and casual gaming, few have noticed the silent revolution occurring in how we play games. And like the proverbial fart in church, it’s both liberating and unpleasant at the same time. The advent of headset technology has completely changed the landscape of online gaming. Online shooters are now almost unimaginable without headsets, even if it means we have to put up with an endless onslaught of griefers, amateur singers, and overheard domestic disputes.
[image1]It makes sense then that Zipper Interactive, one of the pioneers in bringing headset technology to consoles, would again break new ground for voice technology in console gaming. Their latest online shooter MAG puts even greater weight on players’ vocal chords. It’s a title played as much with your ears and mouth as with your hands and eyes (and, no, there’s no nose peripheral… yet).
MAG is an online-only first-person shooter set in the near future. You choose one of three private military companies and face off in large-scale battles against another PMC. Matches are large. The smallest match type is a 32-on-32 team deathmatch mode, and the largest is a 128-on-128 objective-based battle.
Because of its size, MAG is built on a regimented command structure. Everyone belongs to an eight-person squad headed by a squad leader. Each group of four squads is overseen by a platoon leader. And—in the largest modes—all four platoons are managed by an officer in charge. Like group therapy, the secret to success is open and effective communication. Once communication breaks down, defeat isn’t far behind.
As a lowly soldier, you may not be privy to the larger ebb and flow of a match, but you always have a convincing sense of its massive scale. In the large 256-player matches, gunfire, explosions, reserve transports, bomb runs, and more all convey the enormous size of the battles. You may not be able to see the forest for the trees, but you know the forest is there nonetheless.
[image2]Those in positions of leadership have additional weapons at their disposal. Depending on which structures are intact, platoon leaders and OICs can call in additional support like mortar shells and bombers. Those not in leadership roles gain added status and experience bonuses from remaining in proximity to leaders. You won’t survive long if you go off on your own, but a well-coordinated squad can keep each other alive and killing almost indefinitely.
There are, however, some unusual quirks to the game. For example, your choice of faction is permanent. Once you choose a PMC, you’re stuck with that faction for as long as you stick with that character. You can change only if you start over from scratch or hit the level cap—entering into MAG’s version of prestige mode. There’s little importance placed on persistent battle statistics, so I don’t see the need for permanent faction membership.
Also, you always play as either attacker or defender, and each map is specific to the defending faction. This means that every time you play defense in a specific game type, you’ll always be defending the same map. Not only does this lead to potentially unbalanced factions (as of this writing SVER members outnumber the other two factions 2-to-1 because of supposed advantages to their maps), but this also limits the overall variety of your experience.
Another odd quirk in MAG is that your class isn’t determined by your equipment but by your behavior. For example, if you run around healing people and repairing infrastructure, you’ll be classed as field support. As a result, there isn’t that much distinction between classes since most everyone is carrying similar equipment. Skill trees add some versatility to your own personal play style, but the weapon types and perks aren’t nearly as distinct as in other online shooters.
[image3]As you might imagine from a game with so many simultaneous players, there is framerate slowdown aplenty. Surprisingly, however, since launch there have been no serious lag or server issues—an impressive feat for a major new online game. Graphically, the game is as scaled back as possible, so don’t expect fancy lighting or particle effects and don’t be spooked if you see some floating dead body glitches from time to time.
There is built-in clan and party support, but it’s incredibly bare bones. After last year’s amazingly clan-friendly Killzone 2, it’s disappointing to see a different shooter published by Sony without similarly impressive clan support. But beggars can’t be choosers, considering how rare clan support is even in the biggest online titles.
MAG puts communication front-and-center in the online shooter genre. Using a headset isn’t just “useful” or “convenient”. It’s absolutely necessary. Zipper’s made a ballsy move—particularly on a console where headsets are sold separately—but it’s paid off. MAG is a unique experience and is sure to gain a dedicated fan-base all its own. It’s not as polished as its peers and has some inexplicable idiosyncrasies, but nevertheless, it pushes a notoriously stubborn genre in more than a few new directions.