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Beta Impressions: MAG
by Linford Butler

When Massive Action Game was first announced to games journalists and an audience of hundreds and thousands (via high-speed internet streams), people were impressed. Whether it was the idea of a semi-realistic military shooter, or the idea of a full chain of command system, or the promise of 256 online players per match, I don't know, but it's safe to say that Zipper Interactive's promise - to bring a true MMO shooter to a console - shook the gaming world a little, like the aftershock of a mild earthquake. Or something like that.

However, over time, everyone has grown up slightly, has slightly less hair, is a little tubbier than before - and many have forgotten about MAG in the light of other triple-A releases and the wonderful news that Gamer's Guide to Life will be live at the Eurogamer Expo this year. Which is sad, as MAG made such an impression at E3 '08. There are some who haven't quite forgotten about MAG, though - and they're already playing a pre-release beta version of it.

When I got home on 23rd September to find a rather slick-looking email from the lovely people at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, inviting me into the beta testing phase of MAG, I can honestly say that I was giddy with childish excitement. I had friends who were official SCEE beta testers, who had already been in the beta for around a month, and every competition I entered didn't see me come away with a shiny redeem code, so my hopes for getting to play MAG before retail release were considerably lower than they were a few weeks previously. I needn't have feared, it turns out - I was one of the lucky few who Sony decided could make a good job of beta testing what could possibly be one of the most high-capacity games ever published. And I'm ever so glad they did.

The beta test is by no means as large as the full game will be - each match only features 64 players - and yet it still impresses. The games are frantic, fun and - surprisingly and impressively for a FPS - teamwork is pretty much essential to deciding whether you win or lose. It does nothing much new at all for the genre, bar the command view and faction concept, but what it does do is decent enough.

Gameplay is fluid and works very well indeed. Featuring many of the guns which FPS gamers will have become accustomed to, or at least some variants of those weapons, the game's combat is fluid and has the same feel as many other FPS games. Weapons are good, and all feature the aim down sights (ADS) view customary when it comes to today's shooters; however, some weapons - particularly the starting loadouts - lack a punch which leaves you a little disappointed at first. The game features armoured personell carriers too, so those with a flair for driving are catered for - these vehicles are solid-feeling and work really well: each have three seats, of which one is reserved for the driver and one for the gunner, whilst the one left over can carry a passenger. The turret view in these vehicles is excellent, with a high-tech look and feel which works just perfectly when driving into the heat of battle.

Graphically, the beta doesn't deliver quite as much as you'd think it might. Menu screens are very nice and look sleek and high-tech, but in-game screen resolution isn't fantastic, despite being in high-definition. However, various sources claim that the beta version of the game only features a fraction of the graphical intensity which the full retail version will have to offer. Weapon and character models are good though, and textures are pretty much standard quality FPS textures. In fact, there isn't much wrong at all with the beta's visuals, apart from the low screen-res. I'm sure this'll be upscaled in the final release, though.

MAG is an online-only game, and you can tell that a huge amount of effort and work has gone into making it a good online experience. The lack of lag is certainly noticeable - there is only ever lag when someone has an extremely low connection, and even then it doesn't affect the entire game, only that single player. There's no peer-to-peer server kafuffledegook*, either, as all of MAG's matches run from official servers setup to do the job of hosting. Voice comms over microphones and headsets are clear, crisp and audible, and work well in-lobby and in the midst of battle. There are options for building clans and getting friends together in one lobby, with the only exception being that they must be in the same faction as you are. However, if you play with those friends option, then you should already know which faction you're going to join before even installing the beta.

In all, the Massive Action Game beta certainly does what Zipper promised it would do when they were stood on stage at E3 '08. The battles are frantic, and teamwork is almost essential to avoiding defeat. The maps are huge and the game handles a large number of players well (although there are only 64 per game during the beta - the game will feel even more frantic once the retail version is released and 256-player battles are waged). However, so far, I've not seen much which does anything new for the first person shooter genre, so those of you expecting something revolutionary - gauging this from what I've experienced of the beta - think again.


Unfortunately, we could not provide in-play screenshots from the actual beta for legal reasons.

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- Linford Butler

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