If gamers needed an excuse to emerge themselves in a digital playground, Google has provided a cutting edge means of escape. It’s called Ingress, and its developed by Nantic Labs, a subsidiary division of Google.
Nantic’s previous endeavor Field Trip, is an app where individuals are alerted to local points of interest like historical sites, popular restaurants, etcetera. Ingress takes the concept of Augmented Reality Gaming and tries to polish it, and make it a new medium in which players can escape reality by subjecting themselves to it. Although the game is in a closed beta testing, users can download the game in the Google play store, but must apply for a code on the website before they can actually play the game.
Because I am such a good friend, I took my friend’s smart phone (a friend who was fortunate enough to receive an early activation code), and went for it. If you’re lucky enough to get a code, or have a friend with one who’s phone is well within snatching distance, it’s time to take gaming to the streets.
How to play Ingress
So here is a quick crash course on the world that is Ingress:
There’s this organization called The Enlightenment, and they want to “hack” and control “portals” located all around the world to control the minds of the masses. The Resistance (in case you couldn’t tell by their name) want to stop The Enlightenment from reaching this goal.
Your character is indicated by a directional marker that points you to the nearest portal and your world is represented by a map of your city without street names. Portals are either attached to notable landmarks or arbitrarily placed around the city. It’s just enough variables to keep portal locations unpredictable. Once you arrive at a portal, you need to hack it. I assume this task could be expedited with other hackers’ help, but unfortunately, I don’t have enough friends to mooch off of to test this theory.
This isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. Some portals are booby trapped and can diminish your health. You have to hack portals to get “portal keys.” You use portal keys to link portals together, making the matrix stronger to counter hack than only a singular portal. You can also get “resonators” to make individual portals more resistant as well. Although it may be a tad bit confusing and far reaching, the mechanics function simply enough and you can read historical placards while you’re hacking portals. It’s a clever way for you to enjoy your local governments sign expenditure while in pursuit of metaphysical domination. Although I didn’t much care about the Battle of Rio Hill, but appreciated the time spent put in to casting a sign out of bronze to tell me about it.
Are you getting sick and tired of hunting portals only to get hurt by them? XM, or Exotic Matter is the currency of the game and is every where. You can simply wonder the streets and collect XM, represented by blue orbs on your map. All you have to do is walk and you will collect them. You need XM to hack, to heal, to pretty much do anything; but fortunately enough, it’s everywhere. If you’re willing to take the less traveled road from time to time, you should never be in need of XM.
Supporting the Ingress experience
This game will not leave you hanging; Niantic has a website dedicated to the story line, artwork, character bios, and everything imaginable experienced in the game to date. This presents the user with the option to begin the game from the beginning or join everyone in the struggle of portal superiority.
If the supplemental Niantic website isn’t enough for you, there is a community to service your remaining needs. All they need now is to green light the project and share it with the world. It seems somewhat contrived to entertain the idea of a MMO when there isn’t a massive multi player audience.
From what I experienced, it didn’t do much in the way of convincing me that any considerable strides have been made in the application of augmented reality gaming. The idea always seems to be slightly sweeter than the visceral experience. I will give Niantic the credit they deserve, in that this is the most polished I have ever seen this idea presented, and possibly when the game moves past beta testing, we will have a new frontier on the mobile platform. This will also give Google a cultural edge over the itunes market and prove just how much cooler a functioning map application can be. It’s fun for what it is, but more development could make this a heavier hitter than it’s sizing up to be now.