Ubisoft's new Battle Tag runs the risk of being written off as little more than another laser tag game, which is unfortunate. It employs the sort of light beam guns and sensors and that have found a niche market as toys and military training tools over the last few decades, but makes use of distinctly video game-like rules and concepts. It feels like a first-person shooter pulled from cyberspace into meatspace.
Players don vests covered in sensors that register light beamed from their opponents' T-blaster pistols as hits. These pistols have little displays that show remaining ammunition and clips, health points, and objectives. There's a scan button on the bottom of the barrel against which fist-sized ammo packs and medkits scattered around the playing field can be pressed in order to re-supply. Players can also use these scanners to register "T-base" markers necessary to satisfy specific game goals.
Both gun and vest transmit information wirelessly to UbiConnect, a hub device with a range diameter of about 300 metres. This makes for a potentially massive play area about the size of a par-four golf hole. The UbiConnect hub is plugged into a computer where it interfaces with the Battle Tag software, which governs play, tracks results, and issues instructions to players via speakers built into their T-blasters.
Gamers who enjoy online shooters will recognize many of Battle Tag's eight modes, such as Last Man Standing (all players have only one life), Team Frag (in which opposing teams of up to four players have at it), and Free-for-All (every player for him- or herself). Nearly all of these modes offer customization options. You can toggle friendly fire, adjust respawn times, and adjust the amount of ammunition per clip or number of health points assigned players.
I tested the game with only two T-blasters inside my home-not exactly ideal circumstances-but was impressed with the quality of the hardware, the simple setup, and range of play possibilities. I've little doubt that a group of older kids in a large area could play for hours without growing bored. It's certainly better exercise than spending hours in front of a television playing Halo.
The main issue likely to hamper Battle Tag's success is price. The starter kit, which comes with a couple of T-blasters and vests, a pair of ammo packs and T-bases, and the UbiConnect hub, costs $170. Each additional player-up to eight maximum-will require his or her own gun and vest kit, which runs $80. Then there are the optional medkits, priced at $25 each. A total investment of $700 (prior to taxes and batteries) is required for a complete eight-player setup. Even if kids split the cost between them and get their parents to help it's still a lot of money. You could buy all three current generation game consoles for the same price-and these are generally considered the priciest of toys for many moms and dads.
Consequently, Battle Tag is likely too expensive to catch on in any significant, mainstream way. That said, it could fit the bill for deep-pocketed parents looking to put a different kind of game under the tree this fall.