The tale of Ubisoft's Battle Tag has to be one of the strangest/dumbest stories to accompany any blaster release since I've been blogging about toy blasters. Launched to a very confused audience initially at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2010, initially released in a few stores mainly in Canada but as far as the US goes only in Texas; then a rather quiet full release that died in the butt within months to the point Ubisoft seemed to stop supporting it and even removed the official forum to discuss the line.
It's a real shame because to be honest, it's bloody brilliant. In fact, I'd go so far as to say Battle Tag is the Kurt Cobain of the laser tag world; young, brilliant but troubled, so much to offer and well before its time before it was taken away prematurely. And straight off the bat I'll say it's THIS close to toppling the Phoenix LTX's as my fav. home laser tag system. WHOAH! Gather round younglings and read on as I tell you why...:)
As ma late pappy used to tell me, "where there's a will there's a way" and although it's taken me OVER a year to source these Battle Tag units, I finally managed to do so in the form of the 2 player starter pack, courtesy of some US discount clearance website and a generous offer from my pal Dave to get them to me. They come in a pretty well packed box with a fair amount of kit inside.
Inside the box you get two Battle Tag 'T-Blaster' taggers, two sensor vests, two ammo packs, two "T-base" packs,the UbiConnect USB unit, manual and software.
Straight off the bat, I wouldn't suggest this system for young children, mainly because there's a boot load of setup involved before you can start to play Battle Tag, and that's just going to be frustrating as hell to short attention span wee tackers who just want to get into it and shoot things up. These T-Blasters are USELESS without the software set up and the UbiConnect; you can't just power them up and start blasting one another. I think it took me at least half an hour if not longer to get everything sorted. Software is only for PC (sorry Mac users!) and given the nature of the game, is probably best set up on a laptop for mobility.
The Battle Tag system completely revolves around the UbiConnect and the software to select various games and to keep score, in a similar way to arena style laser tag or even the old Tiger Electronics Lazer Tag Team Ops. The software however is well known to be quite buggy and it's annoying to have to sit through a long install, only for it to freeze up on the opening screen and have to be reset. Unfortunately given Ubisoft no longer seem to support the Battle Tag system, you're more or less going to be out of luck for help. I was using a 4 yr old Sony Vaio TT running Windows 7 and experienced the freeze several times, but found once I shut everything else on my laptop down, it worked. (it appears I've therefore gotten further than many other poor peeps who couldn't solve the issue and therefore were left with some pretty exi gun shaped paperweights)
|The software: Ubisoft's greatest hits. Must be DubStep for sho.. :P|
The sofftware install is relatively straight forward, it just takes time to do but once you've installed it, you're pretty much ready to go. Following the prompts, it does go online to find the latest updates (and probably the last updates ever unfortunately) and then guides you through setting up your game.
Plug your UbiConnect (the Stargate looking thingy) and the inner ring lights up orange. This is the central hub of your Battle Tag game, so you wanna look after it:) The software then looks for all of the T-blasters you have available and looks to register them to the game, allocating user names and individual logos to each player. This again takes some time, and can be frustrating when you really want to just play already!
The T-blasters themselves- are gorgeous. Straight up, they are very well made and feel fantastic in hand; the aesthetics are a simple pistol style design but we naturally LOVE the colour schemes for obvious UT reasons:) Ergonomically they just grip nicely and are comfortable for both larger and smaller handed players and feel equally good in both left and right hands. There is a good solid weight to them and the grip is coated with a matt rubbery feeling texture for a non slip feel. Around the trigger and trigger guard there aren't any sharp corners to cut into the finger- the designers of these blasters have DONE GOOD.
There are basically only two main buttons the player needs to access- the trigger and the display toggle which can all be done with one hand- trigger with the index finger and display toggle with the thumb of the same hand. This makes it really simple to use and very user friendly.
|Back of the T-blaster- the lil grey button with the orange arrow is the toggle button|
The front of the blaster is pretty simple- just a large lense where the light is emitted when firing at your opponent.
|"ensure your vest is fastened first before assisting others. Especially if u are bald"|
|The sensor vest. I got a 47" chest. Doesn't fit the best, but better than the rest. :D|
|Tap the orange side of the ammo box against the Scan button of your Tagger.|
The same goes with the T-base boxes- these are used as respawn points or bases depending on the game you select in the software. They're a nifty idea and actually work quite well- during game play you can hear your tagger shout at you that you're low on ammo and you end up doing your utmost to get yourself over to the ammo station.
|The T-Base boxes|
|Tapping of the blaster scan button on the box registers on your blaster and on the software|
So, batteries are loaded, blasters are registered to profiles and connected to vests. You've got your vests on, the UbiConnect is wired up to your PC.. fire up the software and lets play!
The games will tell you what to expect and how the accessories work. It's pretty easy to follow and here is where Battle Tag is different from most home laser tag systems and more like a video game.
You can play around with the game settings, making it easier or harder, duration of play and so forth.
|Player management screen- in this instance we have two. Dragon vs..Panda.|
|The countdown begins|
|Here I've got two ammo clips and have 12 rounds left of one of them.|
The sensors on the vest also flash if you've been hit which is a great visual cue, and there are also audible feedback to let you know if you've been successful in a tag. If your low on ammo, there's also a voice in your T-blaster telling you to recharge when you're down to one clip. Sounds are also coming out from the UbiConnect, often with annoying taunts like "do you need glasses" but I found I was ignoring those anyway:)
|No clips left, or rounds. I'm a sitting duck till I can find an ammo box.|
The UbiConnect tracks every move your T-Blaster makes, and records it in real time on the software window of your laptop. It makes it pretty interesting actually for spectators because they can see the way the game is going while it keeps score of who's ahead and who's cactus:) There's also a very clear countdown in the corner- quick games are 5 min but they can go much longer if you want.
|You can see the scoreboard in real time. Yup, I'm winning.|
Soo.. how do we find Battle Tag? So far, I've been blessed in that reports of the software hanging in mid game, or the blasters dying have not occurred to me (touch wood); I had a few frustrations initially with the software freezing up but once I sorted it out, everything has run smoothly. The installation and setup is a pain and I actually DO wish there was some sort of dumbed down basic mode that you could use the blasters as some sort of "every man for himself" way without needing the UbiConnect and software. Given the reports that the software IS so buggy, it's a big gamble to be spending that amount of coin on a system that MIGHT not work for you; for me even more so given it was never supposed to make it to Australian shores so the chances of getting any support from the online store let alone Ubisoft were pretty much zip. But hey, it all works thus far so that's not a worry for now.
That's not to say the UbiConnect is bad; it's actually really cool. It works as a control hub, but in some games you have to shoot at it too which makes it another target and integrates itself nicely in the games. The fact it can track how you're going and keep score is fantastic which I really enjoyed. I love how you can customise the games to suit your players and even toggle assists and beam power for longer range play.
|T-base boxes- different signals for different bases|
I LOVE the use of the ammo boxes and really do wish I could get my hands on the medi packs. It changes the way the game works (assuming you don't just pocket the ammo box and just reload constantly) and means you're monitoring your firing.
The T-Blasters rock. They look AND feel awesome- they work a treat and integrate very well with the sensor vests so that cable doesn't get in the way of some serious gameplay. The sensor vests also look great and the fact they fit was a plus- I also am a fan of the amount of sensors available for targeting as it makes you so much more vulnerable. I had to change my game tactics considerably compared to when I go at it with the Phoenix LTXs or Light Strikes and that made things very interesting.
With everything working, this system is FANTASTIC. It really brings that simple, back to basics arena laser tag to the home and I'm impressed by the way everything just gels together so smoothly. Ranges and accuracy are tight, the gear is very well made and looks and feels great, the scoring system is awesome. I've only been going at it for a night, but it really is some amazing kit and it's where I am genuinely very disappointed that Ubisoft have made the decision to dismiss this as a failure and support it. Because it's really an amazing system that could have really been a contender, even against upcoming laser tag releases. It's a shame they didn't talk to us sooner, because we would have been happy to promote the hell out of Battle Tag. If only their software wasn't buggy, or they had been a tad smarter with their marketing and distribution, and maybe even released it THIS year, we could be seeing some pretty fantastic things for Battle Tag (I saw rumours of a rifle/machine gun blaster that looked TOUGH!)
The system IS expensive, but I can kinda see why due to the build quality and performance, though I was lucky and got mine from some clearance discount site in the US from a tip on my FB page so I guess they'd still be floating around for cheap. The risk of the software not working on your PC would be the worry I'd have in recommending it, but other than that I'd be saying if you can get yourself a pack, do so because they're brilliant and maybe might even gain cult status like my beloved Phoenix LTXs:)