MAG • Page 2

Army of Two-Fifty-Six.

On top of that, regardless of the population of any map, most of the time people will play along. Not only has Zipper been smart with its detailing - you get bonus experience for following orders and perks for staying near your commander and not breaking up the squad - but the objectives are suitably basic most of the time to allow for a core group of daredevils to do all the tricky stuff, while a gaggle of more casual players can either hang back and snipe, or dash about and go nuts with assault rifles.

(The only casualty, in fact, may be the casualties, because for an awful lot of the six-hour event people were ignoring the game's bleed-out mechanic and failing to revive wounded team-mates. This may be because people who write about games for a living are all are bastards, but it may also be down to the fact that MAG's maps, although large, are suitably busy that stopping to help a colleague generally ends up with you both getting shot. Who wants that, eh?)

If anything, however, for the most part the game's focus actually sharpens as the player-cap increases. Of the four modes available, ranging from limited-headcount tutorial missions all the way through to Domination, the 256-man beast in all its glory, it was invariably the smaller games which gave way to aimlessness and stalemates, largely because, the more fixed the objectives, the more likely it is that bottlenecks will be created around capture points.

Once the numbers start to get bigger, and you're moving between small squad objectives to larger battles requiring input from the whole fighting force, your mission orders are moving from one target to the next with a pleasant speed, keeping the whole of the map in play without ever leaving you dizzy or confused.

And when MAG really gets going, it's like nothing else on a console. To see a battle raging all around you and to feel a part of it is quite an achievement, especially when the interface is kept so simple that you have a pretty good chance of actually understanding the role you're playing as well.

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MAG's HUD is, thankfully, extremely easy to get your head around.

But that's the thing: if the clich is that an overwhelming majority of games like to give you the role of a god or a monster - when they drop you into the shoes of a soldier, it's either one of the super- variety, or a plucky grunt given a deadly secret mission - MAG takes the bold move of making you a nobody.

For your first few levels at least, you're a cog in a machine, shooting and dying for some rather ordinary objectives, and any moments of glory stand a good chance of being lost in the crowd. That's hopefully where the metagame will kick in, allowing the hardier, cannier players to rise through the ranks until they lead the armies rather than simply belonging to them.

The feeling I was left with after the final bullet had been fired was that MAG's name might be quietly inappropriate. There's a massive scope, certainly, but this action game feels far more interesting than a generic crowd-pleaser tailored to prove suitably inoffensive to as large an audience as possible. It seems like a bold move rather than an easy blockbuster, and will perhaps latch onto a smaller following but then grip them very hard indeed. Consoles may well be all the richer for it.

MAG is due out next Friday, 29th January. We'll be reviewing from retail code on retail servers in time for release.

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