et me preface this review by stating what needs to be said: MAG is an outstanding game. Its grand scale coupled with a deep leveling system makes for the most engrossing first-person experience available on any home console. Reading about 256-player matches and experiencing them are two entirely different things — once you've been part of a game populated with a few veteran players, MW:2 will feel like a poorly planned spring break in Panama City by comparison.
Vehicle combat: always a pleasure.MAG's maps are unique in the first-person arena. Their vast size plays some role in setting them apart from those of Halo or Call of Duty, though there's something else that's nearly impossible to overlook: their lack of choke points. Where most games funnel characters from place to place along predefined paths using terrain or other "trickery," MAG's world is generally wide open. Oddly enough, you'll still find plenty of enemies to engage in these open world free for alls — all sides are competing for the same objectives, after all, its just that holding a particular point won't be the game winning strategy that it can prove to be in other titles. By the same token, players really need to keep their heads on a swivel. By limiting these popular "camping grounds," MAG's developers have essentially made every inch of every map a potential ambush.
Further separating MAG from the pack is a character development system that's unparalleled in the genre. Moving up through the levels (and through the ranks) will unlock new skills and abilities that will completely change the manner in which you play the game — the resuscitate skill, for instance, turns your character into a field medic, an invaluable asset to any team. Once you reach level 15, you'll be able to lead your very own platoon into battle, issuing objective-based orders to your "troops" and buffing their stats and experience accruals.
When you begin playing MAG, you'll choose one of three factions with which to align yourself: the ragtag and clandestine S.V.E.R., the tech-driven Raven Industries and the American armed forces-inspired Valor Company. Balance seems to be excellent between the three factions, yet your decision will alter more than just window dressing. Weapon loadouts and available equipment change depending on your faction. This being a near-future combat experience, many weapons are fictitious in nature, but their roots are always firmly planted in reality.
So. MAG seems to have a lot going for it, right? What could possibly go wrong? Well, despite the usual server-side issues which always seem to plague a game of this scale, little that is directly under the control of developer Zipper Interactive. Ever since the Beta went public over a month ago, MAG's been plagued by an elephant in the room: voice chat. You see, as mature as PlayStation 3 owners may be, and as dedicated as the MAG user base may ever become, this remains a simple fact: the vast majority of PlayStation 3 owners do not own headsets. Sony's official line on the matter is that any Bluetooth cell phone headset can be paired with the PS3, but really, who's going to do that? The fact that Sony's own headset was available as a pack-in with the most recent SOCOM release but not with MAG is a testament to how badly the publisher has missed the boat. Sure, the diehards will slog through menus and manage to get voice chat up and running as they play MAG, but what of the "everyman" that actually drives video game sales?
MAG is a brilliant shooter experience which far too few will be able to experience as its developers intended. While I'm sure it will see a great deal of success far into the foreseeable future as a niche classic, the limitations of its platform will more than likely keep it from enjoying mainstream success. As immature as the users of Xbox Live can seem from time to time, they do have one thing going for them: an infrastructure on which to enjoy the games they play. Until Sony wakes up and starts to support its developers with a solid social network, titles like MAG will continue to be the "best games you've never played."