The odds are that you haven’t heard of the game Battle Tag that was released by Ubisoft in November of last year. How do I know that? Because so far it has only had what must be called a “soft release” and is only available through Ubisoft’s online store or in stores in Canada and Texas. Aside from some attention garnered at E3 2010, there’s not many ways you would have heard about this game. What’s surprising about this is that Battle Tag is far and away the best laser tag game I’ve ever played and may even be one of the best back yard experiences I’ve had in my entire life.
I found out about this game because my wife and our friend Joshx0rfz heard about it from a mutual friend and immediately decided it would be perfect for my birthday party last weekend. They kept it a secret from me, but through some hints I had an idea of what was going to happen, but Battle Tag was way beyond anything I expected. The key element that sets this game apart from other back yard battle games is that Battle Tag requires you to use computer software hooked up to a Ubiconnect antenna. The included software lets you name players, set up teams, and change many of the elements of the game such as health, ammunition, rules for each game such as Free For All or Team Frag, and even set the beam power depending on if you’re playing indoor, outdoor, in bright light, or in the dark.
With a company like Ubisoft behind the game, I was not surprised to find that the software made the game feel more like all of our favorite FPS games than a simple game of laser tag in our back yard. In addition to the software and the ability to customize the details of the game, it also incorporates small plastic boxes for home bases and reload stations which you tap to the bottom of your gun to respawn or to reload your gun. In addition there are eight different game types out of the box that includes one or two which involve shooting the Ubiconnect antenna or tagging specific bases as a part of scoring for that match. For our first outing with the game we stuck almost entirely to the Team Frag game type, but once I got home and looked at the different variations I decided that we definitely need to try them all.
The one major downside to Battle Tag is without a doubt the cost, but when you consider how much you would spend on playing laser tag at an arena or paying for paintball equipment and course time to me it still comes out ahead. Battle Tag costs roughly $60 per player and the current software handles up to 8 players so the investment you’re looking at to get the most out of the game is steep at around $500. The two player starter set costs $130 and includes two vests, two guns, one CD of the Battle Tag software, one Ubiconnect antenna, two bases, and two ammo boxes. There is a single vest and gun expansion as well as a med-kit and two extra bases expansion but both appear to be sold out (from everywhere, unfortunately) at the moment.
When we started to set up the game and try it out, I believe that we all shared the same apprehensions about a back yard laser tag system and the problems we’d encountered in the past with similar products. Thankfully, we were pleasantly surprised at every turn. For starters we each expressed concern over the range of the guns and the distance that they would work from the Ubiconnect antenna. While in bright daylight the gun range was a good bit shorter, at night or indoors the range was decently accurate up to at least 150 ft and possibly even beyond that.
The distance that the system works from the antenna is nothing short of impressive. I believe the packaging advertises an effective distance of 300 meters and while we didn’t measure exact distances I didn’t notice it being much shorter than that. Suffice to say, while we were playing everyone was tired and worn out before they got close to leaving the range of the system. Once we noticed how large the play area for the game was, our minds began to wander to all of the different places we could potentially play laser tag that would be new and exciting. That said, large buildings (especially metal structures) interfere with the signal so there are some limitations but in a normal residential setting I’ve tested the connection from two stories away and it still works fine. Another fantastic feature of the system is that upon losing connection to the antenna each player has 30 seconds to get back into range before they are disconnected from the current game so the signal strength won’t instantly ruin your game if someone accidentally runs out of range.
Thank God, No Bulky Vests and Stupid Looking Guns
One of my biggest pet peeves in the various laser tag arenas I’ve played in is the bulky and cumbersome vests that many of them use. One of my other big pet peeves is the fact that you can’t run in any of the laser tag arenas I’ve ever been to, and if there’s one thing I want to do while shooting at friends it’s RUN. With the bulky vests, for starters, my biggest issues are the lack of comfortable and they make moving around and interacting with people cumbersome, not to mention sweaty. Both of these issues are avoided in the design of the Battle Tag gear. The vests at first appear awkward and strange, but they are intelligently designed to ride high on your torso and shoulders, giving you an incredibly free range of movement while still providing prominent sensors for others to shoot at. Each vest holds 4 sensors that register hits, one on the front, one on the back, and one on each shoulder all of which flash red when you are hit by another player. The vests are also incredibly light weight and from the use we put them through over several hours they seem extremely sturdy.
The guns are also very light weight considering they seem to hold the primary components for the system as the gun remembers user names that were assigned to it between games and also require updating when the software is updated. Only one type of gun is available for the game (at the moment), but it is a sleek looking pistol with a single coiled cord that connects to the back of the vest. It looks like the gun was designed with future expansion in mind (with an electronic contact hidden under the plastic casing), so I am incredibly hopeful that attachments and upgrades become available sooner rather than later. Each pistol also has a simple but easy to read display on the back that can show a player’s current health, ammunition, number of clips remaining, and even what objectives (if any) need to be completed.
No game is perfect, and when it comes to back yard laser tag systems the list of negatives is almost always longer. Thankfully with Battle Tag that is not the case, but there are still a few issues. The software that comes with the game often has issues while installing on certain systems, and sometimes freezes when you start it up. Each time this happens I simply quit the program and it restarts normally. From what I’ve read online there were even more issues with the software back in late 2010, but they’ve released updates and thankfully many of the issues seem to have been resolved. I’ve also had the program freeze once during a game which caused all of the guns to lose their connections and required the program to be restarted.
Over the course of a few hours, every once in a while a single player would have a connection issue and need to restart their gun, but I would say this only happened a handful of times throughout the day and was always easily resolved. As I mentioned earlier in very bright sunlight the effective range of the guns was much shorter at about 20 to 30 feet, and we experienced several games during the day where some players had issues hitting anyone or with not being hit very often but they may have just been an expectation that the range was not effected very much by the light levels. Unfortunately out of the eight vests and guns purchased, one vest ended up not registering hits at all and I’ve already returned it to Ubisoft for a replacement. Each gun runs off of 4 AA batteries which is not bad but we did change several of the guns out after a few hours because of the connection issue we were having, so I can’t say exactly how long the batteries last but suffice to say I’m betting the game eats through batteries very quickly.
Overall it seems as if any issues we encountered were infrequent and aside from a malfunctioning vest making one of our players unintentionally invincible for several rounds none of the issues prevented us from playing and enjoying the game for a long day of intense entertainment. Although there was a fairly steep initial investment, the amount of fun we had as a group in just one day makes it more than worth it and the fact that we have the equipment to repeat the event is all the better. If you’re like me (I’m willing to bet that a lot of you are) and playing laser tag in or around any location you’ve ever been to is a dream you’ve longed to live, then you and your friends need to get Battle Tag as soon as humanly possible.