Review: Ubisoft Battle Tag – Home Laser Tag System (In-Depth)

Official Site: battle-tag.us.ubi.com

Intro:
There seem to be a shortage of more in depth reviews of Ubisoft’s Battle Tag system out there so thought I’d post one. I’m a 26 year old male, and picked up the system in March, 2011. I’ve gotten to play with up to four people at a time with smaller kids 8-14 years old as well as 19-25 year olds. Let me just start off by saying, it’s a blast!

Simply, it’s a home laser tag system. Supporting up to 8 people at a time right now (I’ve heard rumblings of up to 16 at a later date), you can essentially create a lot of the styles of games you find in modern day FPS computer/console games, but play them in your house, in the backyard, at the park, wherever!

What is Laser Tag:
For those of you that don’t know what a laser tag system is, basically each player has a gun and a sensor vest that are attached together via a coiled electrical cord. You use the gun to fire an invisible infrared beam at your opponent’s vest and when the sensors on the vest are hit with the infrared beam from a gun, it sends a “hit” signal to a radio transmitter inside the gun that relays the information back to the base station which is small 8” diameter glowing ring that connects to your computer and is powered by USB. The base station and computer software keep track of who hit who, health, deaths, lives, shot accuracy, game time and points.

The guns also have an LED screen on the back and a button that lets you switch between displaying your remaining ammo or health. The guns also have a speaker that makes the firing laser “pew pew” sounds at a volume level you can set on the computer. They will be releasing updates to the software soon that will allow you to customize the firing sounds from what I’ve read (a welcome addition). The speakers also serve to tell you when the game is about to start (automatically via countdown after activation on the computer or by player 1 pulling his trigger), when the game is over, and if you set it, who’s in the lead for points and other information (when you have it on this setting it even starts calling you names and telling you how lazy you are if you haven’t gotten a kill in a while hahah)

With the starter packs you get four small 4”x2”x2” plastic blocks that act as your bases and ammo packs (more on this below).

From my experience, the gun range is around 40-90m depending on environmental conditions (ambient sunlight and beam strength setting) and a play area around the base station of about 100-200m diameter, also dependent on the environment the transmitted radio signals must pass through (walls, brick, etc) as to be expected.

Game On:
After the initial, sometimes buggy and annoying software installation and launch, you’re presented with a bunch of different games to choose from in the software. There’s everything from free-for-all, to a version of “tag” with points (very fun and intense), team death match, last man/team standing, and quite a few more unique ones. A lot of these are possible due in part to the unique base and ammo pack “blocks” that you place in your playing area.

So with each starter kit you purchase you get two bases and two ammo packs. These work as RFID tags, so that when you pick them up and tap them on a button underneath the barrel of your gun it registers that you’ve used it.

To give you an idea of how this works and creates for some interesting game play I’ll give you a great game I was just playing with some of my 19year old cousins this past weekend. We had 4 players and set up for 2 vs 2 team deathmatch. We placed team 1’s base in the backyard, team 2’s base in the front yard and an ammo pack in each alley way on the sides of the house that you’re not allowed to move (great choke points). With the base station in the center of the house it had no problem with the playing field extending about 100m to the back of the back yard and 50m to the front.

In this game we set it up to start with 27 rounds of ammunition (3 clips of 9rounds) and 5 health before you died (both programmable in the pregame setup). When you run out of ammo you have to get to one of the ammo packs we’d placed on the side of the house and “use” it. The fun part is you can set it up so that you HAVE to alternate between the ammo packs so you can’t just camp around one of the ammo packs.

When you lose all 5 health points you die and have to run back to your home base and tap it with the button on the bottom of your barrel, this regenerates your health and ammo and you can set a time delay of 0-15 seconds before you’re activated again and back in the game. When the game’s done, everyone strolls over to the computer to take a look at all the stats and get the final scores.

Having bases, limited health and ammo like this prevents the game from turning into everyone just running next to each other and firing forever. Yes, you can play this game too (free-for-all with infinite ammo and health) but that gets old and boring quickly. They’ve really captured the heart of the first-person-shooter genre of computer games with the different types of game modes and that’s what I really like about it.

The neat thing about it is that although it requires a computer, you could drive out to wherever you wanted to play, leave your laptop and base station in your locked car with a cigarette lighter adapter for power and then you have an instant +200m diameter playing area without worrying about your laptop getting stolen while you battle it out nearby! Think of all those times you’ve thought “man, this old factory/deserted underground parking lot/rocky field/grandparent’s basement/shopping mall would be awesome to have a shootout battle in…” and now you can! Ok, maybe that’s just me, but it is pretty sweet to be able to now!

Accuracy:
Now if you’re an older player (read as: young kid trapped in an older body) then you’re first question about the system is probably about the accuracy and range. From having played paintball extensively, I can say that they are near equivalent in range and overall accuracy, the only difference is that you don’t get the physical pain of being hit, just a vibrating gun and your vest lights flash red.

The gun beam spread at the longer distances is still quite narrow which is good (I’d guess around 5” diameter spread at shots over 50m distance). Complaints that people had about accuracy while I was playing was mainly because they weren’t actually aiming well. It’s hard to hit a moving target, as it should be, but if you aim well, you can make those hits. I feel like they’ve struck just the right balance between sensor placement/sensitivity to gun range and beam spread/accuracy.

The same applies for running and gunning. As in paintball (and real life I’d imagine) it’s damn hard to run and shoot accurately at the same time and actually hit a target, and this system really makes you realize that.

Yes there will be times where you are aiming perfectly and your target is not registering the hits, but on the whole it is very good. If someone is making a break out into the open for some nearby cover and you have a clear shot at them, you will likely tag them a few times. There’s just enough inaccuracy between the shooter’s ability and the system where they have a chance, but not enough to actually frustrate everyone trying to pick them off! It makes for some very intense sprints for cover with limited health that, like in paintballing, can be quite rewarding for position on your opponents.

Comparison to Paintballing:
I already spoke of the accuracy compared to paintballing above, so I’ll just talk of the other aspects.

First, in paintballing you have paintballs whizzing by your head and the associated pain/shock of being hit which adds to the realism of the game. You obviously don’t have that in this laser tag system (for now…I’m looking to change that though muhahah).

You would think this completely eliminates the incentive to play well/smart, and it does when it’s the simpler games of infinite ammo/health, but when you’re playing the other style of games where dying means a long jog back to your base and out of play for 15seconds, you start to subconsciously internalize the implications of getting hit so you actually start playing much more smartly, it’s an interesting transition that takes place.

Ultimately though if all you do is complain about how unrealistic it is, you won’t have fun. But if you’re playing well, and are playing with other people that are taking it seriously (in a fun way) then it is actually a blast. You’ll find yourself swearing and cursing the other people when you get shot or miss a shot just as you do in paintballing, it’s great!

What you lose in realism from paintballing, you more than make up for in accessibility, cost and ease of play. All of a sudden inside your house can be an arena, playing in the streets with the cars, trees and other urban cover is a blast (although trying to remember to look for cars driving down the road is usually an afterthought while sprinting for cover behind the SUV parked across the street hahah…seriously though, be careful…) and you don’t have to worry about stray paintballs or people getting upset with paintballs flying everywhere.

Once you make your initial investment of the system and guns, you’re good! You don’t have to go out and constantly buy more paintballs or refill your air tank whenever you want to play. Although from what I can tell, they will be sure to release cool hardware updates (there’s an unused electrical interface contact for future accessories on the front of the gun under the plastic cover, future “grenade launcher” perhaps?) that will make you want to spend more money, but you don’t have to as the base system is great as it is!

If you’re a hardcore paintballer, then I suppose you will at first find this system “childish”, but if you can get past that, the potential for some great games is enormous, not to mention you can play with everyone of all ages and have lots of fun.

The Current Issues:
The main issues that I’ve had with the system are on the software side. They involve dropped players during a game (infrequent though), frustrating installation on certain PC configs and operating systems and a somewhat slow UI to set the games up (not actually that bad though).

Hardware wise, I’ve had a weird bug where one vest just self registering hits every time I fired in a specific game mode (was fine in all others…), on one of the guns where the rubber cable attaches to the gun broke, but the wires are still in tact so fixed with some electrical tape, and another vest that only works intermittently.

These are all mostly minor and haven’t affected the overall experience, but they are there and do need fixing. The nice thing on the software side is that as it’s computer based, the software automatically checks for updates on the net before loading and a lot of the issues that plagued early buyers at the end of last year have been resolved.

The Bottom Line:
It’s a fun system with a few minor issues. I would absolutely recommend it to people with the caveat that it’s still in the teething phase of its true potential but otherwise it’s awesome!

Pros:
– Solid feeling and well designed equipment, well placed sensors
– Decent range on both guns and distance to base station
– Fun for all ages (seriously, four of us twenty year-olds were playing and I think we had as much if not more fun than when my little 12 year old cousins were playing)
– Awesome upgradability likely to come in the future
– Great way to get some physical activity
– Potential to be integrated into some amazing drinking games (if of drinking age of course)
– Bases, ammo and different game mode keep this from just becoming a walk up to someone and shoot game like laser tag at arenas can turn into.
– LED screen on back of gun for health and ammo is genius!
– Battery life is great! I’ve used them for about 10hrs so far and still no low battery signs.
– Battle arenas and variation of games are limited only by your imagination!

Cons:
– Installation of software buggy and downright frustrating at times, but once you get it usually functions well (DirectX and intro movie are the causes of the issues usually)
– Not enough customization of games/avatars/sounds possible right now. An advanced mode with full customization would be appreciated for us older players to tinker around with
– A gun may disconnect from the base station from time to time during play
– Rubber cord wears quickly at the gun connection and has broken on one of my guns exposing the wires. Advice: throw bit of electrical tape around this bend point to
– No way to securely holster your gun when you’re putting your shoes on and off or don’t want to hold it between games. You can kind of holster it in your chest vest but not a great way to do it.
– At $170 Canadian for a starter kit of two guns, it is kind of expensive for small kids, but for the technology you’re getting in it, it’s actually a pretty fair price.

If you have any questions feel free to PM or comment here and I’ll be happy to answer!

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