What is it?
If, as a kid, you ever went along to a large industrial building next to a bowling alley to run around in the dark trying to shoot your mates with a flashing toy space gun (or if you’ve taken your children to do the same thing) you’ll understand the concept here.
Laser X is an attempt to give you a similar experience in the (sweaty, frantic) comfort of your own home/back garden/neighbourhood.
What does it look like?
The two-player pack comprises a pair of long-barrelled white ‘laser’ guns with flashing lights and a slightly kitsch 70s sci-fi vibe, each connected by a wire to a light-up target that straps to your chest.
So what can it do?
Laser X gives a good approximation of the professional laser tag experience but it’s also a lot like finding yourself inside a live action version of a video arcade machine.
Each time you’re hit you lose some ‘life’ energy, with your health indicated by the colour of your chest plate, from sprightly green through to death’s door red. Ten hits and you’re out but for every minute you survive without being shot you get a hit back.
Your gun has ten shots before it runs out of ammo and just like in an arcade you reload by pointing it at the ground while holding the trigger and shaking it up and down, which produces an enjoyable ‘lock and load’ sound.
There are equally satisfying sound effects when you fire your blaster and hit your target, as well as optional music and a battlefield ‘voice coach’ mode, which adds to the video game feel by telling you when you’ve been hit, how much life you have left, when you need to reload and by giving you handy advice like “get out of here!”. You can turn the coach off with the flick of a switch or plug in headphones to hear it so your opponents can’t.
The guns are quite light and plasticky, lacking the heft of the pro versions, but that’s only to be expected at this price range and is actually far more appropriate for a home setting.
The elasticated straps attached to the breast plates mean they stay firmly in place on adults, although you may have to make some adjustments for smaller children.
The blurb for Laser X claims the guns have a potential range of a massive 60 metres. Although I wasn’t able to test them at quite that distance, I found they registered from as far away as I could get and that they were satisfyingly accurate – aim straight at the target and I generally scored a hit, aim slightly high, low or to one side and I missed. The infra-red beams (n0t actual lasers!) also allow you to shoot through windows and – particularly good fun – aim shots to rebound off walls and mirrors to hit your opponent.
The game doesn’t have to stop at one-on-one combat either – you can add as many extra pairs of guns to the fray as you like, playing as two teams or in a complete free-for-all where it’s everyone for themselves. Switch the selector on the target to the red team and the barrel of your gun turns red, switch to blue and it turns blue (and only your enemies’ hits on you will register, avoiding any embarrassing ‘friendly fire’ scenarios), switch to ‘rogue’ and the barrel flashes between the two colours and all hits count.
What are the issues to look out for?
There’s one issue with the Laser X guns that’s pretty hard to ignore: they emit a loud, repetitive beep which, inexplicably, cannot be turned off or confined to headphones, unlike every other sound effect. While this does arguably increase the tension as you move closer to your opponent, it also pretty much kills any stealth element to the game. For me, trying to sneak up on people is half the fun of something like this so I found it quite a big problem. One solution might be for all players to wear headphones so that the music/effects block out opponents’ bleeping. But if you’re playing outside rather than in the close quarters of a house, it’s likely to be less of an issue anyway, and it certainly seems to be something that bothers some people more than others.
Reloading the gun is not always quite as straightforward as suggested and can require a bit of trial and error, which makes things extra frantic in a combat situation. Top tip, though: just holding the trigger down and shaking the gun from side to side is usually quicker and more effective than moving it up and down.
The guns each require three AAA batteries and you’ll need a small Philips head screwdriver to get into the compartment. Make sure it’s the right size too, or you run the risk of stripping the screw. All in all, a compartment that you can slide open and closed would have been easier.
So what’s the verdict?
Laser X is a fun, frantic, energetic game packed with atmospheric light and sound effects, and boasting impressive range and accuracy for its £44.99 price tag (for a set of two guns).
It works outdoors or in (providing you steer clear of grandma’s valuable vase) and for pretty much any mix of ages.
Being able to expand your battles by adding extra guns is invaluable – even if some will find the inability to turn off that constant bleeping, well, a turn off.
If you loved going to laser tag as as a kid, you’ll love Laser X. And if you never did, now’s your chance to right that childhood wrong.