Zipper Interactive was once one of Sony’s most important studios and became a household name due to its work on the SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs series during the PS2’s heyday. However, its most ambitious title was MAG (which stood for Massive Action Game, because of course it did), which was one of the Redmond, Washington, developer’s few flops.
Long before players were wowed by the ability to play 100-player battle royales, this PS3 exclusive featured a gigantic war zone that housed 256 players in total. That was a feat so impressive that Guinness World Records even awarded the multiplayer shooter with an award for the most players in a console first-person shooter when it released a decade ago on January 26, 2010.
One thing that didn’t help it succeed was that the PS3 had a much weaker online community compared to the Xbox 360. The system simply wasn’t where players went to play online due to its lack of party chat and poor infrastructure when compared to Xbox Live. Zipper Interactive had an uphill battle, but if any company was going to create a thriving multiplayer-only title on PS3 it would be the team that made the Playstation 2 Network Adapter a must-own for millions of players.
Sadly for the studio, MAG didn’t light the world on fire despite it being a solid game. Zipper Interactive was shuttered by Sony just two years after the launch of it and almost immediately after the studio shipped Unit 13, an underrated third-person shooter for PS Vita. Sony kept the lights on for two more years, but on January 28, 2014, the servers for MAG officially went offline, killing the game just four years after it debuted in stores. With little ongoing vision and support, Sony never gave the shooter much of a chance to succeed. It was simply released for the wrong system and died a quick death due to it.
MAG was ahead of its time and was filled with innovation
While MAG wasn’t a huge commercial success and died just a few years after it was released, that doesn’t mean the first-person shooter was a complete failure. It was full of great ideas such as its leadership feature, which went a step beyond what Battlefield was doing with its commanders at the time. At the top of the totem pole was the officer in charge, who could issue leaders to all 128 players on their side. On more micro levels, each individual squad had a leader, and there were four platoon leaders that managed four squads a piece. They could decide when to strike, what type of defense they’d use against the opponents and other tactical choices. It created a fulfilling experience where the best reaction speed didn’t always win online matches but rather leadership and strategy.
The first-person shooter also had a great leveling system that used elements of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and expanded upon it. Like Activision’s beloved shooter, players could “prestige” by becoming a veteran and starting over from level 70. This gives players a 10 percent experience bonus a special insignia, and allowed them to keep all their statistics and leadership points. Leveling was important as it was how players unlocked new weapons and abilities from MAG‘s skill tree. There were several classes ranging from assault and marksman to more niche ones such as medical and vehicles, which allowed players to do more to assist their team than just shoot enemies as they could revive teammates and repair vehicles.
While the big draw was its Domination mode as it was the only one that supported the full 256-player limit, MAG had several great modes. The Interdiction mode was a fan-favorite as it pit two 64-player teams against each other as they tried to capture and hold three bases. There was a 20-minute timer, so battles didn’t always feel as epic as they could’ve been, but it took good advantage of the squad concept as the different teams were all going after different bases.
Likewise, Acquisition (which was essentially capture the flag) and Sabotage all encouraged teams to work together for a larger goal. The goal of working together to achieve something larger than the individual squads really helped MAG feel unique and each mode impacted the in-game “Shadow War” that took place with players gaining in-game rewards if their faction did well.
Could MAG see a second life on PlayStation 5?
With large-scale multiplayer shooters becoming increasingly more popular, Sony might give MAG a second shot at success (although it might be best to rebrand as I’m not sure the on-the-nose name really holds all that much value). Regardless of what it’s called, there’s a good idea here and even today, a 256-player shooter could prove to be a showcase for the PS5’s power and online capabilities.
The main drawing point of MAG was its huge battles, but delivering that sense of scale was actually one of the areas where the game struggled. Each section of the map was typically comprised of two 16-person teams battling it out. So, 99 percent of the time it felt like a 32-person match rather than the true 256-player experience. It was possible to move the spawn vehicle to another battlefield in order to overwhelm teams, but it was a move rarely executed in combat. So, if it gets brought back, Sony needs to make sure that the battles truly feel like they’re on a giant scale. Just knowing that other players are fighting alongside you somewhere else isn’t enough, they need to see the action and be able to team up.
If there was a major issue with MAG it was that it didn’t have much of a hook beyond its sheer size. Call of Duty had superior gunplay and both Killzone and Resistance offered up more interesting worlds. It actually had an interesting backdrop of private military companies fighting one another, but it’s not like it is really shown in-game and there was no single-player portion for players to learn about it. If the idea is brought back, Sony definitely ought to inject some personality into it.
MAG isn’t the most beloved PlayStation property but it certainly has plenty of potential still left in the tank. A PS5 revival, especially one that was free-to-play, would show that Sony is serious about online play and would be a good reason to pick up PlayStation Plus for those on the edge.