M.assively A.trocious G.ame Beta – Demo Impressions

When MAG was demoed at E3 2009, I was giddy with excitement. All of a sudden everything that Hideo Kojima wrote in his Metal Gear story-lines had been compiled and repackaged as a huge 256 person shooter on a free online service. Zipper Interactive carved their way into my fanboy head with promises of organized gameplay and in-depth class systems that had as many possibilities as their were people online. The public beta is now unlocked and can be played by anyone who owns a PS3. What is the verdict on this massively open beta?

Utter, utter, utter disappointment.

How bad is it? Well, from this demo alone I am not going anywhere near this title until every single person that I know buys a PS3 specifically to play this game. After playing with the beta for hours, I am positive that no one will. Let’s start with what works and then we’ll work our way down the line of the constant ball-droppings. The best part about the beta is that it does take you by the hand and guide you step by step through the process of getting to know the mechanics of the game and what it is all about. First you design your character, then you move on to a tease of different loadouts that your character can have (and they change your appearance too which is a nice step up from Modern Warfare 2). Then after a bit of tutorial reading of the game types and button layouts, you are driven into a match where you are matched up with other players of equal skill and off you go into the battlefield with your compatriots to turn your foes into swiss cheese.

Now for the negative side of things. First of all, the game looks absolutely awful. The visuals are crude and plastic-like which makes it very hard to see up the battlefield. The HUD for your character gives hints as to where the opposition may be, but based on strict vision, it is next to impossible to see your opponents. If you do learn where the team is, you will gasp in horror at how clunky your enemies move and operate. The character models run and move in a general way that just looks wrong. Its almost as if the mocap for the models was done by the same dude who did JarJar Binks, only he showed up for work on meth or seriously drunk. I understand that the technical aspects of this game are impressive as a mess-load of people are playing at the same time on the same map, but if  the visuals suffer this much then maybe the time is not yet right for this game. Maybe the next generation?

The controls of MAG are really not well though out either. It employs a similar button lay-out to Modern Warfare 2 in that the knife is done with the click of the joystick and there is a aim and fire system that is exactly replicated from the PS3 version of MW2, but the crouch button is triangle while circle seemingly does nothing. If you were going to steal from the design of MW, then wouldn’t you just make the controls identical just to save me time and frustration of pressing circle all the time when I want to crouch. To throw a grenade is even more of a headache here than any moment in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. You need to select the grenade to hold it in your hand and then press the fire button to throw it and to switch back to your gun, you need to hit the switch weapon button. Oh my god, is this annoying. This means that if you have four enemies hiding in a bunker, you need to stand there exposed for ten seconds to switch weapons, throw the grenade and wait for the grenade to explode. This is to say that you are still alive by the time it leaves your hand. If another enemy comes into the room while you are getting your multi-kill then you are done because you have to cycle through your weapons to get back to your primary. All of this is sort of ironic because it takes an hour to throw a grenade and return to your primary, yet there is no time at all in between your aim from the hip and looking down the sights. You press the aim button and “FLASH!” your gun’s sights just appear in front of you. The camera doesn’t guide the view to the sights, it just appears out of some epileptic’s nightmare and straight to your television. Yeah, this may be the product of the beta but this is polish that is usually applied at the close of the alpha stage.

MAG does not even deliver on the number one reason that people play first person shooters- the guns are not at all fun to use or play with. When I had an M4A1 in my hands and I was running down the map to get into a fight, I would find an enemy looking the other way and blast into his backside with NO smile on my face. The sound designer has somehow mixed up the big budget sounds from this game with premiere Counter-Strike mods from the 90’s. Every gun sounds like they are being fired in a lab with awful acoustics. It’s just ghastly what the sound team has done, but if they wanted to it compliment the visuals then job well done.

Zipper Interactive, why oh why did you even attempt to make this game? Everything about the details of the gameplay sounded epic on an untapped plain of gaming. Yet the design choices and the half-assed mockery of a brilliant shooter leave MAG in a place where it’s only friend may just be Silicon Knights’ flop, Too Human. Next time you guys want to make a game that is groundbreaking but still steals from other titles, please take the route EA and Visceral Games are taking with Dante’s Inferno. Yes, impersonation is the best way to flatter but when its not good…it disses it on a whole new level and you wouldn’t want to diss the best selling piece of entertainment ever, would you?

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