Laser tag – in big ‘arenas’ – was quite a big thing when I was a teenager. Big, warehouse type spaces were kitted out with moody, ultraviolet lighting and appropriately dark scenery, sporadically decorated with coloured neon and infused with dry ice wafting through the arena. It was wonderfully atmospheric and felt incredibly immersive. Often playing in teams, sometimes in free for all battles, your scores would be uploaded at the end of each session and you’d be given a printout of your stats – such as your score, your overall position in the game’s leaderboard and your accuracy.
There were often difficulties, however. It wasn’t always easy to co-ordinate with your team, as you’d tend to go with one or two mates and be in a team with people you didn’t know. There’d be the annoying power players who knew the arena inside and out – and had also worked out how to hide their sensors so they wouldn’t be shot so frequently. There were campers, too – players who sat in one place for the entire game and sniped or ambushed others. There were silly, but necessary safety rules such as NO RUNNING – which seemed daft in what was supposed to be a simulation of future warfare. Equipment broke down, arenas fell into disrepair and eventually closed. For the most part, PC and console first person shooters, with their online multiplayer modes, scratched the same itch at a more expensive initial outlay, but at a much cheaper long term cost. Big scale laser tag mostly died out, bar the odd arena here and there in the UK.
In the last few years, however, devices for playing laser tag at home seem to have made a comeback. I recall games such as Photon, in the 80s, with unwieldy helmets and guns, that were too expensively priced to ever get a decent number of friends together and play – but the more modern equivalents are a lot less prohibitive, both from a cost and technology point of view.
It’s one of these newer product ranges that I’ve tried recently with a couple of eager participants. If you were anywhere near a wooded area or the ruins of an Abbey last weekend in Hampshire and you saw three middle aged idiots with laser guns running around and loudly shooting each other, well – that was us. And I’m not even sorry.
Nerf Laser Ops Pro – which, according to Wikipedia, seems to have been around since 2012, though I’ve not long had my attention drawn to it (and it seems to be on its way out, sadly – the reason my friends and I have picked it up in the first place is because it’s now incredibly cheap, at around £14.99-£19.99 for a pair of Alphapoint guns in the UK, complete with stretchy wristbands that’ll hold most phones) – eschews the separate sensor that many laser tag products have; all of the necessary shooting and receiver tech is housed in the gun.
What makes things really interesting is the addition of an Android/iOS app that works in conjunction with your gun – giving you the ability to see health and ammo levels in real time, count down the time remaining in your game, level up, use power ups, play a single-player AR game and even upload your scores to global leaderboards. It’s not essential to use the app – the guns do function without it -though you’ll probably want to ensure that at least one player has a device available with the app loaded.
Let’s start with the guns themselves. There are two types: Alphapoint – the standard laser pistol – and Deltaburst, a much bigger laser rifle. Each has a large red dome type area on the top; this is what your enemies will be aiming for in order to hit you. It flashes red when you’re hit (and makes a kind of zapping sound at the same time), so both you and the person shooting at you knows when they’ve hit you.
On the Alphapoint, there’s a lit, coloured cross on the back of the gun to give you an at-a-glance idea of your remaining health – green is full health, yellow is lower and red means you’re almost out. When you’re out of health, you’re Disabled – and your gun makes a distinctive siren sound that alerts you and other players that you can’t be shot for a short amount of time, allowing you to reposition and hopefully gain a bit of distance – and scenery – between you and the person who shot you.
Underneath the health indicator is a lightning symbol, colour-coded just like the health, to represent your ammo levels, again with a green-yellow-red system. The app shows these at more precise levels during play.
The Deltaburst has an LCD screen on the back of the gun, showing a visual representation of health and ammo. The app displays the same information.
Reloading is just a case of hitting the orange reload point – underneath the ‘clip’ on the Alphapoint and under the front of the Deltaburst where your non-trigger hand will be steadying the gun. It’s a brilliantly tactile feature.
Setting up the gun – providing you’re using the app – is incredibly straightforward. You link your specific gun to the app using Bluetooth, then give it a two-word name from a selection of words presented in-app (I’ve opted for Neon Glow, as you’ll see in some of my screenshots). Each time you play, you’ll pair your gun with the app and either set up or join a game, using one device or with you all using devices. If you only use one device, the app will simply display a countdown and then ask you to all come together at the end, at which point everyone’s guns will upload their stats – the app then compares them, declares a winner and hands out achievements for things like Best Accuracy, Star of the Match and Least Time Disabled. With just one device, the app assigns you to teams randomly – you’ll be on either the Red, Blue or Purple team, with a light on top of your gun displaying which team you’re on.
If you’re all using an app on your devices, you can choose what team to join, as well as use power ups (health packs – either for just you or for your entire team – and more powerful, one off shots, for example), take advantage of levelling up (which can mean increased health, shorter time disabled and faster reloading, among other things) and each have a countdown, along with having your ammo/health counts displayed.
The sound effects on both gun and app are brilliant. Satisfyingly dramatic music accompanies the proceedings and the different audio cues on the gun are very well thought out so you know exactly when you’ve been shot, when you’re out of ammo and when the game is over, for example.
There’s indoor and outdoor modes on the guns, though being in the UK – with our relatively small homes – means that I’ve only been able to test the outdoor mode at length. I’ve not yet had a chance to try the AR mode as it needs a specific attachment – which is only available in the single Alphapoint pack and the Deltaburst, neither of which I’ve had access to yet.
However, I’m pleased to report that both one-device and all-device multiplayer is brilliant fun. The guns seem to have a decent level of accuracy and excellent range, with a reasonably solid feel. Reloading, as mentioned above, is a pleasingly tactile joy too. The all-device multiplayer is by far the best mode if you can play it, however, with the power ups and levelling up adding a massively compelling edge to the game – it feels very video-gamey and brings the feel of an online FPS battle to the great outdoors. Fresh air is out there – who knew?
It’s very addictive overall and suitable for all ages (not just geeks in their early 40s). It’s real triumph of design; I’m hugely impressed even with the battery life, which seems to have lasted on a single charge (the Alphapoint takes 4xAA batteries) for quite a few hours; I’ve not yet had to change mine and have played for around 8-10 hours.
What makes Nerf Laser Ops Pro even more compelling at the moment is the price. My fellow players and I split the cost of two double packs between three of us (found at B&M for £14.99 per double pack of Alphapoints). Sure, we have a spare gun, but at a tenner each (and an extra gun if we enlist a fourth player to join us), it represents phenomenal value. Amazon in the UK currently have the Alphapoint double pack for £13.99 (and the Alphapoint single – with the AR attachment – for a little over a tenner). The Deltaburst usually comes in at around £24.99 these days, though seems a little harder to find (remember, this also comes with the AR attachment and the gun itself is a decent size, with an excellent upgrade in the form of the LCD display).
Perhaps laser tag isn’t quite destined for a comeback, given how cheaply this range – and other, similar ranges – are now being sold off for, but if you can get hold of a few friends or family members who are willing to run around in public with chunky sci-fi weaponry (and their phones on their wrists!) I promise you that, no matter your age or experience, you’ll have an absolute blast.
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