MAG feels bare bones. With no single-player component, barely functional menus and only four game modes, you're not getting much for your money.
Zipper will, of course, cry "COMMUNICATION!". MAG's all about communication, you see. It's not a game for lone wolves; the John Rambo types you often get in Halo. The game is best played when people are talking to each other on microphones, calling for revives, letting downed players know revives are coming, announcing FRAGO commands and generally all heading in the same direction.
The reality of the situation, however, is that most players aren't using headsets. This is our experience of the game, anyway, having played it since its US release on live servers. The odd player does, but most don't. The inescapable truth is that if you're not in a clan or taking MAG very seriously, it's not fun. If you were to play MAG with 127 mates it would probably be one of the most thrilling multiplayer experiences around, but we can't play it with 127 mates. We don't have 127 mates.
Again, there are a few simple tweaks Zipper might have implemented that would have made MAG more enjoyable for the headset-less or the clan-less. Why not have your squad leader clearly identifiable, for example, so you can quickly and easily see where he or she is and make sure you're there, too, enjoying the FRAGO bonuses? Why not have an auto "I need a revive" call, or a quick to trigger "I'm coming!" call?
There are other problems. The controls are just bonkers. To get to your grenades, medical kit or repair kit, you have to cycle through your "Gear" with the L2 button. Why not throw a grenade at the press of a button? Again, not particularly realistic, but much more enjoyable. In MAG, if you're in the thick of it and you cook a grenade, you're already dead.
Put simply, MAG is an impressive technical achievement and a great idea, but it has been poorly executed. Hardly anything is explained. The woeful tutorial might as well not exist. The four game modes are a cacophony of failed and completed objectives that seem to bear no relation to what you're doing, or impact the overall goal. This problem is at its worst in the 256 player Domination mode, which really could have done with a video tutorial of some description.
It's a shame MAG suffers so, because buried underneath the rubble of frustration is a superb, unique, often thrilling shooter. When you find yourself in a chatty squad, one packed with players willing to revive each other, stick together and play smart, MAG's great, and unlike anything else. Unfortunately these joyous occasions are rare indeed.
The game modes are designed to keep squads apart, almost doing there own thing, until the match reaches its climax, when, basically, everyone runs at each other shooting – a bit like a 25-a-side next goal wins game of footie. Take Sabotage, the 64-player mode, for example. Here, one team defends A and B as the other team attacks. If A and B are taken at the same time, the action moves on to C, where all 32 defenders run to defend, and all 32 attackers run to attack. The idea is that as matches go on, you gradually feel less like your squad is fighting in its own little world and more like you're in a giant scrap fighting with hundreds of other players for survival. Here, the idea is realised.
And, from a technical point of view, MAG's impressive. Its graphics won't send anyone at DICE or Infinity Ward running for the hills, the environments and effects are bland, and there's loads of texture pop-in, but the fact that the framerate remains solid and everything looks crisp and clear, even in Domination mode, is impressive. We haven't experienced any noticeable lag, either, which is another plus. Everything you see in the war-torn maps is player driven, from billowing smoke clouds to burning turrets, from air strikes to parachuting enemy soldiers. Nothing is scripted, and that's spectacular.
The upshot of all this is that, like all MMOs, MAG is a work in progress. It's not the finished article by any means, and through updates Zipper may realise its potential. It needs more game modes, tweaks to the spawn system, better controls, and it needs to make everything a lot clearer for those who find clans and massive action intimidating. If it does this, MAG will gain a foothold and thrive. If it doesn't? Well, with Battlefield Bad Company 2 looming ominously over the horizon, MAG may find itself full of blanks.