• Review: Ubisoft’s BattleTag

    Posted by Mike Yawney on December 4th, 2010 View Comments

    Ubisoft’s long awaited BattleTag is slowly making its way into stores in Canada and select states south of the border. The game is essentially an updated version of Laser Tag mixing infrared technology with RFID Tags. We’ve had the chance to put BattleTag through its paces. Read on to find out if it’s worth tracking down this holiday season.

    The Concept

    The concept is really quite simple. The goal is to hunt down your enemies and shoot them to win. Between 2 and 40 players are equipped with a gun (T-Blaster) and a vest with sensors. The gun emits infrared beams which are detected by the vests. A computer program tracks stats to help declare a winner. That’s the game in a nutshell, but, of course, you can add your own twists to gameplay such as limiting ammo and health.

    The Equipment

    The 2-player starter kit comes with a number of items including guns, vests, ammo and health packs along with a UbiConnect sensor which monitors data from the guns. All of the items can be seen in our BattleTag unboxing feature posted earlier this week.

    The guns (T-Blasters) are well-made but still fairly light. Each one is made of hard plastic with slightly textured hand grips to ensure it it doesn’t slip from your hand. A T-Blaster is powered by 4 AA batteries which are not included.

    Each T-Blaster has a speaker on the side which plays a myriad of sound effects. Every time a player shoots, a “pew pew” will emit from the speaker. It is also used to give players countdowns to the start of games and a “game over” announcement when a game comes to an end.

    On the back of the gun you’ll find an LED display that shows you how much ammo or health you have. The green and red display isn’t terribly fancy, but it gives you the data you require.

    The guns are connected to the vests via short (almost too short) telephone cord type cable. The vests are made from nylon with a bit of padding sewn in between the fabric and are quite light giving you good mobility. The sensors are covered by transparent plastic bubbles. We did find that after extended play, they do scratch quite easily, but that never affected their performance.

    The UbiConnect is a loop style sensor which links the equipment to your computer for monitoring. Software that you install on your PC monitors how many shots are fired and who is winning the game. The sensor (like the other equipment) is well-built and designed to withstand drops. Once it’s plugged into your computer, it emits a cool orange glow.

    The UbiConnect will allow up to 8 players to play at once. You can daisy chain up to 8 Ubiconnects to one computer. This will allow up to 40 players to play together at once.

    Finally, we have the ammo and health packs. These lightweight hollow plastic cartridges contain RFID chips. When scanned by the guns they can replenish ammo or health. The packs are very lightweight–maybe too light since they can make loud hollow sounds when placed on hard surfaces or dropped on the floor which can give up your position.

    The Setup

    BattleTag is very easy to setup. First you must install the BattleTag software on your PC. Sorry Mac users: the game is only PC at this time. The install takes about 1GB of room on your computer’s hard drive and will install in about five minutes.

    Once your software is installed, it will walk you through the setup. First it will ask you to plug in the UbiConnect. Then it will update the firmware on the UbiConnect and ask you to turn on your guns. We found the software wanted to update the firmware on the guns as well. This did not take more than a few minutes. Once that was done, you are asked to fire a few shots at the UbiConnect from each gun in order to calibrate them.

    The next step is to connect the T-Blasters to the vests. Once this is done, you can start playing.

    The Games

    BattleTag allows you to play a wide assortment of games. Of course, there is your standard free-for-all where each player must try and shoot everyone else, but there are many more options. You can split up into groups and have players compete as a team. Or even have a wild west dual where each player gets one shot. My favourite has to be the games where both health and ammo are limited. Once you run out of ammo you must find one of the ammo packs and scan them with your gun. It’s as simple as pressing the ammo pack up against the barrel of your gun. Once it’s scanned your ammo will be replenished and you can carry on. The same goes for health.

    Having more than just one game to play gives BattleTag some longevity. Ubisoft also promises to release even more game packs as time goes on. That’s a great idea to keep us playing.

    The Performance

    We played BattleTag for quite a few hours in various modes and have to say it works quite well. I was especially blown away by how powerful the UbiConnect signal was. The manual states you can be 300 meters from the base before you lose connection and sure enough we found that to be quite accurate. We even played in a building that had a solid concrete core to see of the signal would be able to get around the cement elevator shafts. No problem.We never once lost connection between the T-Blasters and the computer.

    One issue we did run into was the effect bright light had on the infrared beams. We brought BattleTag onto a morning television show for a demonstration. We found the bright studio lights wreaked havoc on the sensors. The vests just couldn’t tell when they were being shot. The same goes for bright conditions outdoors. We ran into a bit of trouble on bright sunny days. The effect wasn’t nearly as bad as the television studio lights, but we found the vests didn’t always register a hit outdoors.

    The other issue we had was the software itself. We found it crashed a few times during startup. We often found ourselves relaunching the BattleTag program. This happened on a number of different computers–each with different specs. We also ran into some problems while launching individual games. Sometimes the game would begin but none of the guns would be active. A restart was required.

    The Downsides

    I have already talked about the effect bright light can have on the sensors and the somewhat buggy software, but I also have to mention the other issue. Price. The 2 player starter kit is $169 CDN which is quite expensive for a game. Not to mention the fact that each player needs to have a gun and a vest. This can quickly add up.

    The Bottom Line

    Despite a few hiccups, BattleTag is a lot of fun to play. The guns are quite precise, requiring you to actually aim and the wireless range is outstanding. The variety of games you can play also gives BattleTag high replay value.

    Yes we did find the software to be a bit buggy and bright light did have an affect on sensors, but it wasn’t enough of a problem to deter us from having fun. BattleTag is certainly worth seeking out…if you can afford the hefty price.

    The Good

    Good quality equipment
    Variety of different gameplay modes
    It’s fun to frag your friends!

    The Bad

    Bright light can have an impact on sensors
    Software is buggy

    • Michael V

      Any idea when this will be available for Mac’s? Just wondering.

    • Kiba5597

      I read some where on the ubisoft website that you could agest the sensors for bright areas and dark ones ..

    • TVippy

      Very surprised it was actually released. Was a major embarrassment during the conference.

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