Wait, I'm reviewing a digital product? And it's FREE? And it's a Mobile Device exclusive??? What on earth is happening to me now?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ss-Z-QjFUio

What is it?


It's an Augmented Reality game, by NianticLabs@Google.

But WHY would Google build a game like this???


To reteach people to explore the urban sprawl. And more importantly get off their arse and walk!

The core concept of the game, is to make players attack and try to control as many portals as they can, using eXotic Matter (XM) and weapons to destroy resonators and control the behavior control ability of XM. The best part of this game, is that the portals are located in culturally important areas (Landmarks, Sculptures, Cenotaphs etc). And most of those are located in areas that are inaccessible to cars, so people are forced to get exercise.

What's the backstory


It is not terribly clear, or easy to get your head around... It's got something to do with an organization discovering XM, some scientists going AWOL before they can be silenced when they find out it can be used to control behavior, Intelligence agencies trying to hunt them down, and the Scanner software being leaked to civilians so they can crowdsource data.

Although that's only what I think it is, it's hard to make sense of, since there are gaps although the back story. It's hard to tell if it's by design or just that the developers hasn't actually completed the backstory for the game, since the actual game, doesn't actually use it or really mention it.

I find it kinda ironic that there is a company that I can think of, that does just this. And it fits in with it's information gathering and control behavior. Not a government organization, but a private company... who does it for money. But nobody cares since they only believe the media, so if it's not the government they don't get any coverage.

Anyway enough with the annoyance of the media and it's biases and lack of journalistic integrity...

The Tutorial


The tutorial is very lacking, it's pretty much: This is a portal, press this button to hack, go nuts. It's like playing Angry Birds with no tutorial. The staring tutorial doesn't mention some core mechanics, like pitch, zoom, the inventory, weapon employment, mods, resonators etc. The learning process is literally tap and drag and see if it does something. This makes the game very unfriendly to new people.

And legacy users too boot.

Leveling


At this point in time there is 16 levels. The first 8 is based on doing things and getting AP (Does XP by any other name feel any less sweet?). The second 8 are based on arbitrary achieving achievements in a specified order.

If you look at it, the game you are presented in the start is completely different than the end game. The beginning follows the nature of the game, it's a free world adventure, you gain points how you choose, you can attack, defend, reinforce... Effectively doing the things that your team needs to do to win. The second half is the opposite, it's linear, you have to do what you're told, you have to either attack or defend or reinforce, in a defined order. You either lose all self control or not get more efficient tools for you to use to help your team. It just doesn't feel right for a free world adventure game.

The User Experience.


Well it's based on Google Maps, sans any good features. It shows some roads, and only some walkways in grey, on a black background. With no geospatial information this makes some of the finds really infuriating, I spent 45 minutes trying to find a portal, only to find the area looks nothing like the picture, it was hidden behind a ramp, in the middle of a building. I'm not even sure that it was the correct object since I couldn't actually find it even standing on the exact position where the portal is.

This image shows how dangerous this game is. It doesn't differentiate between walkway, and road. You could be walking down a walkway, and suddenly find yourself in a middle of the road. That backwards L shape that the arrow is pointing at? It's a massive car park.


But it is possible for a low level person to take a portal. Sure I lost it at 2030 the same day. But I took it from someone of significantly higher level than me!

Is it fun?


Ohhh yes. There is nothing like a high tech scavenger hunt + war.
If I had to give this an subjective score I would give it a 9 of 10.
Would work much better on the Google Glass since you can see where you are walking at the same time. But still amazingly fun!

But the leveling system and tutorial is screwed.