Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Ubisoft Battle Tag- Smells like laser tag..

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 back of the blaster features a display or what they call "dashboard" which gives you your ammo and health status updates. Underneath it is the display toggle button.


The front of the blaster is pretty simple- just a large lense where the light is emitted when firing at your opponent.
Underneath the T Blaster muzzle is a "scan" button- I thought this button was a reload switch at first, but it actually is used for the in game accessories such as the ammo packs and t-base units. The Battle Tag system were also to come with additional Medi Pack expansion kits, but I am unaware if they were ever made available. Shame really.

 Under the T-Blaster's butt is the batter pack and the port for the cable to attach the sensor vest to the blaster.
 The battery pack is the easiest I've ever used for a blaster- there is a small button on the side of the grip that you push in that releases the battery pack. The T-Blasters take four AA's- just slide them into the shafts and then reattach the battery pack.

 The cable to attach the T-Blaster to the Sensor vest is curved and can only go in one way. It's just a matter of sliding it in and waiting for the click; releasing it is also easy with another small button on the side of the grip. Just as the blasters are useless without the software, they are also useless without the vest. There are no sensors on the T-blaster- which is fine because there are plenty on the sensor vest:)

 The Sensor vests themselves are quite well made as well and probably some of the best looking, smartly designed vests I've seen on any laser tag unit. The sit over the left shoulder and feature one chest sensor, one back sensor and two shoulder sensors, with the cable attaching it to the T-blaster coming out of the back, meaning it can go to either the left hand or the right. They are a bit of a brain teaser to figure out how to get them on (my buddy put his on first and was quite proud of himself before wondering WHY they would put a sensor under the armpit, and then realised he had it on backwards) but you do work it out.

 And.. if you can't work it out, there's instructions inside them to jog your memory.

"ensure your vest is fastened first before assisting others. Especially if u are bald"
The relief I had was the vest actually fit me; admittedly not as well as it does on the kids in all of the advertising and on the packaging, but I still managed to get it around my chest and secure it in a way that sort of resembled the way it was supposed to fit. This was a real problem I had with the Lightstrike system and meant without serious modification I couldn't use them. The Battle Tag sensor vests are made for adults and while I still feel like I'm wearing a coat a size too small, it still manages to not feel like something's biting my armpits AND I can snap it in place with the buckle. Massive win:)

The sensor vest. I got a 47" chest. Doesn't fit the best, but better than the rest. :D
 An add on to the Battle Tag system that definitely gets its cues from actual video games is the use of these accessory boxes to reload your ammo, check in to respawn points and bases, and what was supposed to allow you to revitalise your health in the expansion packs. These boxes are quite lightweight but react to the Scan button on your tagger- when you're short on ammo for instance, if you can make your way to an ammunition drop in the playing field, it's as easy as tapping your blaster's Scan button against the box and you're ammo'd up and ready to go again.

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!

 After going through lengthy tutorials, you end up on the front screen where you can choose your game, change setups (as you would with a video game) and then start the game.

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.

 Gives you tips on where you should put the ammunition boxes.. and health boxes if you were lucky enough to get any.(really, I want them. If anyone has seen them, do let me know!)

Player management screen- in this instance we have two. Dragon vs..Panda.
 You can see the players registered under Player Management. The system can detect if a T-Blaster is not operational, or if it is not attached to a vest and will prompt you to rectify this. You can add up to 8 players; there was talk of expanding this with future updates but that probably will never happen.

 Once all options have been selected,  the game can commence and you are given warning signs and countdowns that gameplay is about to begin (depending on which game you selected). There are quite a number of games to choose from, though the ones requiring health packs were obviously unable to be selected.
 Players T-blasters are then allocated numbers to indicate their player number for scoring. It appears on the Dashboard. Nifty:)

The countdown begins
 There's sounds and lights all over the place coming from the software, UbiConnect and your T-Blaster itself. The lights and sounds are well done- they do their job without being uber cheesy; there's a light indicator atop your blaster that flashes either green, red or yellow depending on what's going on; yellow when you're firing, red when you've been hit and green when you've successfully scanned an ammo box or t-base. If you/your team win, at the end of the game it lights up green or flashes red if you..didn't:)

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 Battle Tag system has NO shields unlike other home laser tag systems. I didn't really mind this, but given you've got more sensors to target than any other system, and you've got no shields means the game has you looking for cover a whole lot more (and because you've got sensors all over you, no commando rolls!)

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.
 A the end of the game the T-Blasters send out an audible confirmation it's game over, and the light indicator tells the players who won and who lost. They then can go over to the UbiConnect base and see their actual results, and either bask in their glory or feel totally humiliated at their score:)

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:)


  1. In 2010 when the two new systems were emerging (Light Strike and Battle Tag), I had my money on this system being the better of the two. Unfortunately, it also COST a lot of money, and I really think that was it's Achilles heel. The cheesy E3 Debut, the flopped "Soft Launch", and the pull-the-rug-from-out-under-you support Ubisoft gave it was it's downfall, not the system itself really.

    I don't quite get how your Phoenix LTXs have gained "Cult" status, since they're still being produced and have a compatible system, the LTAR, coming out in August. Battle Tag has no foreseeable future, is tough to come by, and is just flat-out expensive even if you do manage to find it.

    The fact that this system can only function with a computer host has killed any hopes of integrating it into anything else without a major overhaul. In the end, they at least supplied us with a nice Sensor Rig that some of my guys are working on to adapt to our other laser tag systems.

    1. Hi Mike, Was hoping to hear from you on this one!

      To my knowledge the Phoenix LTX (and any of the original Lazer Tag line actually) has never been available in Australia; its popularity here came mainly by rumour and discussion rather than sheer number of domestic sales and only the die hard would import them at inflated prices (due to shipping and crazy eBay seller costs). But even against more widely available home laser tag lines (Like the newer Laser Challenge gear and Light Strike) the LTXs are still considered the most desirable to laser tag fans- hence "Cult" status in this here country of ours:)

      Battle Tag was also never released here, hence the next to impossible mission in getting a set. Maybe we're just not considered the market down under!

      There's also no word LTAR will be available here either.

  2. I did a little research after your post. aperently the expansion packs were produced and offered. however, i can't find the damn things either.

  3. Great post, gonna look into if I can get one. What was the retail price?

    1. Something like $249.00 for a 2 player kit. I got mine for 69 I think from one of those "Deal a day" type sites.

  4. Seems like a good (if expensive) system. It seems like it had a good chance of succeeding, just that small chance happened to win.
    Is this the longest post on UT?

    1. It's a long post mainly because we had to review a whole system rather than just the blaster itself. The blasters are pretty useless by themselves so it's all about how it all meshes together.. like the circle of life... :P

  5. Why isn't there an Open Source DIY Lightgun group yet? You'd think there would be one with all these android/linux/arduino groups building just about everything imaginable.


  6. I've seen the medipaks in my local Zellars. I wanted these, but they're too expensive.

  7. I have been a fan of your website for quite some time and I feel it's damn shame that Hasbro is wasting their resources trying to save "secret" information instead appreciating what you have accomplished for the company and its past, current aand potential customers. I would like to see this webssite continue, nut I definitely understand your new lack of enthusiasm for Nerf. If Hasbro has such a problem that they need to send agents to to your house, then it needs to explore different .....ventures besides mere entertainment! :p Keep it up! The fans are with you!!

  8. With all your fun blasters, how do you store them all? I know things have certainly changed from he post you made about it quite a while back...

  9. http://www.buy.com/pr/product.aspx?sku=230239799&sellerid=28001358

    65 bucks now for starter kits!

  10. I just bought this, one of the t-blasters is showing "F" on the gun. Other gun appears to be fine. I can't find any info. what this means.. any idea?

  11. Do you have more than 8 connected? We have a support forum setup at www.battletagforums.org

  12. Deffinitly check out the site Guruguys mentions above, i'm a regular poster there. It's a good sized community willing to help with small game bugs and even competely new game types.

    As far as the software being difficult, i don't really think so... of course i'm an IT guy by trade. It really isn't all that bad. (i currently have a set of 20 guns)