Pending Infrared Mayhem

I have a long history with Laser Tag games. It all started in the late ’80s, when World of Sports opened a Photon arena on their premesis. The gear was bulky, the helmets made it impossible to see to the sides and guaranteed you’d be bouncing off walls and teammates pretty much continuously, but the arena was great — two levels, with connecting ramps, lots of obstacles and gaps to shoot through, fog, beacons, sirens, strobe lights, and even an observation deck with guns where noncombatants could watch and take pot shots at the players. We loved the place, and used to make regular pilgrimages out there on Sunday nights after church with a bunch of youth group kids. (I even remember us all sticking our guns in together and having a pre-game prayer. What a bunch of youth group nerds we were!)

While I was in college, Worlds of Wonder released the original Lazer Tag gear. More fortunately for us than them, they went out of business just as we were discovering their products, so we were able to pick up a ton of kit on the cheap. I eventually got to be a dead-eye with my trusty Starlyte, though Bob Albright was nigh-unstoppable with his Starlyte Pro. We invested in the extremely silly looking target hats as well, as the chest sensors were too easily blocked, and even had a couple of StarBase units for use in team games. Many was the night we’d skulk around campus, unleashing Lazer-flavored death on each other and surprising the heck out of the security guards.

I left my gear with a friend when I returned to Texas, and though I’ve dabbled with paintball and airsoft intermittently since then, nothing has grabbed my interest in the same way — until now.

Shoot the Moon Productions, which were the big throbbing brains behind the original Lazer Tag gear, have signed on with Hasbro to deliver the oh-so-wonderful Lazer Tag: Team Ops. They’re ridiculous-looking ugly-as-sin guns, presumably so as to prevent users from getting shot by zealous law enforcement offers, but — oh, the things they do! While the old-school gear was pretty much limited to shooting (in the gun’s case) and getting shot (in the sensor’s case), the Team Ops weaponry adds a bunch of ideas from arena-style tag games and first person shooters, plus some new tech (like LCD displays and omnidirectional transmitters), to deliver a whole pile of new gameplay.

Cool stuff: Each gun has a Heads-Up-Display that shows you when you’ve got a lock, when you hit someone, or when you’ve been hit. This is a little semitransparent doohicky that sits in front of your eyes, so you get these indications superimposed on your field of vision. The new omnidirectional transmitter allows you to be alerted when an enemy is nearby, gives you IFF indicators so you know if the person you’re pointing your gun at is on your team or not, and even allows you to designate “zones” which can affect scoring. There are several different game types, all of which support up to 24 players on up to 3 teams. When a game concludes, all the guns talk to each other as part of a “debriefing”, and you can see how many times you shot your little sister and how many times she shot you. And there’s a (currently unused) port for a rumble pack, so presumably you’ll eventually be able to add a gadget to let you feel it when you get hit.

Best of all, the gear’s not too pricy — $50 for a two gun set. I hope to get a couple to try out, and if they’re as good as they sound, convince some friends to invest too. Here’s a review, another review, and the manual.