What is camping? If you think about it, camping is actually a pretty strategically sound thing to do: sit in one spot that gives you a good view of the battlefield and ample time to prepare for counterattacks, but the fact is, camping is almost universally viewed negatively in gaming. It's like an unspoken rule (the rule is never spoken, the berating always is) of multiplayer shooters. "If I'm going to run around risking my life looking for you, then you have to repay the courtesy by doing the same."
So, the first think that should tip you off that MAG is a different kind of shooter is that camping is not looked down upon. In fact, by developer design, a player gets more XP for staying put and fighting near objectives. Added this to the fact that MAG matches can't be won simply by racking up kills, and it's quickly apparent that MAG may be the FPS for the more strategically minded shooter fan.
Forget about graphics and sound effects because ultimately those things won't matter. All you need to know is that those elements are all solid. The greatest strength of MAG's design is its team and command structures. If you were thinking that for the 256 player experience of MAG, you would need 127 friends to team up with, you should be happy and relieved to learn that all you really need is 7. The seven other players on your squad are the only other players you have any real contact with, and it is those seven players who will help you get the most out of this game. Have seven friends with headsets? You'll have a pretty good time; however, pure headset based strategizing (ever been to a meeting?) would still have been tough though, and that's where the clever command system comes in.
MAG's developers came up with a pretty nifty system in which a squad's leader can mark objectives on the fly, so everyone knows where to go to get bonus points for fighting near. Rewarding players with extra XP for following possibly a random match made player's commands? A pretty smart way to get strangers to work together, I say, and it works. Or I should say, it would work if it weren't for the game's design's biggest failing, not actually telling anyone how all of this command stuff is supposed to function.
Unless I completely missed it in there, MAG's training mode covers all of the basics, but none of the MAG specific stuff. Running to go faster, crouching to go under things, shooting to make people dead; we already know how to use all of that. From playing several games with squad leaders who did no leading, I can tell you that they didn't know how to set objectives. They didn't know that there were carpet bombs to be called in. Even if a poor squad leader is acceptable, poor squad followers are not. I've noticed that often times, most of my squad will completely ignore our leader and hang back getting points through kills, seemingly unaware that actually helping with an objective gives double the points for each kill. I guess that wasn't covered in basic training. Nope, it wasn't.
While I'm pretty confident that those who stick with the game will figure out MAG's systems eventually, it is a shame the developers didn't go for "bakery fresh," instead opting for "gets better with age." MAG is going to need a lot of player to keep going strong, and if initial impressions turn people off, it'll be than much harder to keep on rolling. When the other reviews finally get off the presses, they will vary greatly depending on initial impressions, which is probably why the reviewers are taking so long. They'll range from the "wait 20 seconds to spawn, run 30 seconds, get shot from places unknown, respawn and repeat," to the "and then we had two guys covering each of the entry ways as I sneaked in, knifed the two guys guarding the console and then set my rifle to total pwnage." I have experienced both and the winning one is cooler, but the losing is not totally inexplicable.
So, should fence sitters buy this game? If you've got a headset and the heart of a natural born leader, then yes. If you've got seven friends who love to play co-op, then yes. Also, if you're a team player, then yes. MAG is an excellent, modern day shooter with a lot of depth that should be experienced by all shooter fans. It's just a shame that the best parts of the game are hidden to all but the dedicated and patient.
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