Call of (infrared) duty: A noob’s guide to Milwaukee tactical laser tag
When one person says, “Bang, you’re dead!” and another person says, “Pwing, you missed!” which one is correct? Multiple ways to determine the answer have been developed through the ages, involving tools ranging from oddly shaped dice to high-velocity paintballs. The most recent innovation in this struggle, an attempt to enjoy the adrenaline-pumping joy of shooting at other people while avoiding the pants-shitting terror of getting shot at, is known as tactical laser tag.
Tactical laser tag is aimed at an audience that was weaned on video games like Goldeneye, Halo, and Call Of Duty. Instead of futuristic light-up guns and kiddie trappings, tactical laser tag has realistic modeled weapons, machine gun noises, and objective-based missions. Looking to get our game on, The A.V. Club undertook a few missions at Milwaukee’s CMP Tactical Lazer Tag and returned with a hundred-yard stare.
Getting in the door requires $25 for 90 minutes and the signing of a waiver. Once inside, potential Rambos get a brief orientation on the dos and don’ts of the game. The big rules are common sense:
• Don’t run. The game areas have a lot of blind corners and cramped corridors.
• Don’t blind fire. Waving your gun around is a good way to get it smashed into someone’s noggin.
• Dead people can’t talk. If you die, you’re expected to silently and sullenly walk back to the respawn point in your home base. This rule is the hardest to keep in mind, and it’s easy for the refs to mistake a frustrated bird flipped at your killer for a signal to teammates.
The laser tag rig itself is simple—a nylon headband with infrared sensors is strapped to your head, and a vaguely realistic gun is slung over your shoulder. Most players get an SMG-style gun that fires bursts, but each side is also given one heavy, fully automatic gun. All the weapons have optical sights, and offer a muzzle flash that the other team can use to find your position. When you die, the rig lights up like a Christmas tree and lets everyone know how badly you suck. After that, it’s time for the walk of shame back to your home base.
CMP has two arenas—one is a dimly lit office complex made up of stacked boxes and cubicles (and plenty of suspension of disbelief), while the other is done up like a cramped European street mixed with a Habitrail. The city arena has multiple levels, rooftop sniper positions, and cramped tunnels connecting the buildings. It’s a solid level design that gives you that Black Hawk Down feeling, without the inconvenience of having to put up with Josh Hartnett’s dull, lifeless expression.
The most entertaining missions are the ones that involve doing something beyond simply holding a position. The complex features a mission called “Domination,” where each side must place a colored cone on top of a post in the center of the arena. The team that has its cone on top at the end of the time limit is the winner—of course, the last minute or so can get very intense as everyone rushes the middle, gets blown away, and comes back to do it again. The city’s best mission is “Search And Destroy,” which features a dummied-up bomb with toggles, switches, and a disarm key. One side has to plant the bomb, and the other side has to disarm it. Everyone can hear the bomb ticking, which cleverly ups the tension regardless of whether you’re playing the heroic soldier trying to save the orphanage, or the not-so-heroic freedom fighter trying to blow up said orphanage.
Tactical laser tag shares a lot of the advantages and disadvantages of first-person-shooter video games. The more is not necessarily the merrier—when two teams of four buddies are playing against each other, tactical play shines, and games end with good-natured trash talking and vows of revenge. When 15 on a side clash in a chaotic mix of gunshots, motion, and respawn, the tactical objectives become much harder to achieve; frustration sets in. Sure, there’s a certain perverse joy in repeatedly laser-killing Bieber-headed 14 year olds, but most people can do that on the couch at home.