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Army of Two-Fifty-Six.

It's a MAG press event just off Baker Street. PS3s and huge HD screens are lined up in a subterranean hall, waitresses move through the crowds with bullet-studded belts, nobody during a presentation ever misses an opportunity to refer to the assembled gaming press as 'operatives' or exclaim 'Let's DO IT!' and a nice Sony PR lady has just taken to the stage to set things rolling.

"I'm going to call people to the demo pods in waves," she says. "So if you've been assigned a number lower than 39 - that's lower than 39 - please make your way over to the play area immediately. I'm going to--"

Actually, we never find out what she's going to do, as everyone in the room has just started heading over to the demo pods, quickly resulting in the kind of charming pile-up Sony probably hoped to avoid. This isn't necessarily because people are unusually excited to get their hands on Zipper's massively-multiplayer FPS - although there is a quiet buzz about the room, actually - but because crowds don't generally listen to orders. They hear "demo pods" and "make your way over" and then they make their way over to the demo pods. It's astonishing that we ever got to the moon, really.

Here, then, is MAG's biggest potential pitfall writ large: when you've got 256 players - actually, there's only half that here, the rest will be joining us online - how do you get them to all play nicely?

MAG's maps are pretty rather than excessively detailed.

You've probably read quite a bit about MAG by now - Dan Whitehead's recent beta hands-on is pretty thorough, and even finds the room to include the terms "boom-bang-a-bang" and "bongwater", so should have pretty much everything you need - and you might also have had a chance to play the beta as well.

If you haven't, though, or if you've just dipped in and out for a few rounds, you may still be wondering how such a gigantic online crowd will behave when it all gets together on the first day of release. Will it obey the rules, form clans, and use headsets mainly for organising pincer movements or will it - y'know - just make its way over to the demo pods?

Stampede to one side, Sony's recent London event gave a real taster of what to expect. In many ways, it was almost an idealised version of how MAG will feel online: everyone had a headset, nobody could ditch out if things didn't go their way, and if you couldn't find the jump button there was probably someone from Zipper nearby to point it out to you and provide you with a potted history of the control mappings. It was slightly artificial, in other words, but there was still plenty of opportunity to get a real feel for the game lurking behind the big numbers.

Weapon-balancing will almost certainly be in order at some point - supposedly close-range guns are still a little too effective over long distances.

We've described the structure of MAG before - the PMCs you can join, the ranks you can earn, the experience points, the skill trees, the unfolding hierarchies and emerging weapon combinations - but it's worth remembering that, even if you aren't going into it for the love of the stats and the long-term picture, Zipper's game is still a pretty good online shooter. The basic untweaked weapon loadouts are simple and effective, the audio conveys the zing of bullets and the rumble of distant explosions with brutal clarity, and the DualShock's dead zone seems to be largely missing in action.

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Christian Donlan avatar

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.