Ingress: Augmented Reality Done Right

Release Date: November 16, 2012 (United States)
Developer: Niantic Labs
Publisher: Niantic Labs / Google
Genre(s): MMOG, Augmented Reality

Rating: ★★★★★
System: Android/iOS
Review Spoilers: Low
IGN | Gamespot | Metacritic

I have a new addiction.

I am glued to my phone everywhere I go. I am now the person who stops in the middle of a busy sidewalk on campus for no particular reason. I have almost gotten hit by a bike a few times now.

I am addicted, and that addiction goes by the name Ingress.

When I describe this game to my friends, an explanation which usually precedes the sentence where they ask why I’m not paying attention to them when we’re out, I say it’s like a huge, social game of capture-the-flag mixed with geocaching.

One of Google’s brainchildren, Ingress is an augmented reality game playable on iOS and Android platforms. With a fairly minimal storyline, the gameplay really propels the action to keep players motivated.

Ingress relies entirely on your device’s GPS, so to enable my new addiction, I also have to start carrying around a charging cable because it sucks away my battery life super-quick.

The story starts you off by telling you the reality that you know isn’t as it seems. The robotic narrator continues, telling you that an alien species has visited earth, and now we find Exotic Matter (XM) leaking through to our world. The Enlightened (green team) wants to harness the power of XM and usher in a new age of human evolution, while The Resistance (blue team) wants to combat the matter, believing that it will enslave humanity.

With the stakes set, you get to choose where your alliances lie – either with the Frogs or the Smurfs (yeah, the players have their own slang.)*

*Full Disclosure: I’m a member of The Enlightened (the less popular team.)

Here’s where the gameplay kicks in.

Your mission is to prevent the other team’s Ingression by capturing XM portals. You’re given an onscreen map, and you use your GPS to physically navigate to the sites (within about a 40 foot radius) with portals (either grey [unclaimed], blue [Resistance claimed], or green [Enlightened claimed]).

[nextmedia.com]

The game interface. [nextmedia.com]

You can hack any portal you come upon for weapons, energy (XM), and Action Points (AP) which you use to level up. Enemy portals may attack you while you hack them. Then, you can also attack enemy portals with those weapons. You can also deploy resonators to claim portals or strengthen your team’s portals.

The overall goal of the game is to create links between the portals you own to create forcefields to capture mind units (MU’s), essentially measured by the enclosure of the maximum amount of humans in a geographical space in game lore.

Each portal has 8 slots for resonators and 4 additional slots for upgrades. The game also has a few mini-games if you hold ‘HACK’ on a portal where you have to play a quick memory drawing pattern game to get better items from the portal if you are successful.

As you progress throughout the game and level up, you can get various accomplishment badges ranging from ‘Guardian’ (for holding ownership of a portal for multiple successive days) to ‘Explorer’ (unique portal hacks) to ‘Purifier’ (destroying enemy resonators) and more.

There are also in-game coms for team chatter – the game is incredibly social. You can hook up with your local Ingress community and take down a few portals or complete some of the in-game missions.

I also say the game is like geocaching, but it’s kind of ironic. The game brings you to portals which are at major landmarks, buildings, pieces of art, or other local curiosities – it’s great for going for a walk, but you tend to spend more time focused on your phone screen than you do looking at the world around you. But hey, at least it gets you out in the fresh air before our inevitable destruction from enemy Ingression, right?

[ggpht.com]

The future never looked this good. [ggpht.com]

Since I’ve only been playing for the past two weeks or so, I asked fellow blogger Ashley to give me her top 5 Ingress tips below:

Ashley:  Go in packs (especially if they’re higher level) – if you’re just starting out, having higher level friends is key to your success. Otherwise, you’re going to be wasting level three bursters on a level seven portal and it’s all sorts of sad.

Ashley:  Link ALL the things! Yes, really. Unless you’re looking to be an inconspicuous guardian portal, links and fields are the fastest way to gain a lot of AP in a short amount of time.

Elise: Check the chatter on your coms sometimes – you won’t make friends if you take away someone else’s prime setup. Also, on-com flirting happened on my feed once and it was beautiful.

Ashley: Guardian in a big city? Good luck – if you’re Ingressing in a large city, it’ll be harder to hold down a Guardian portal if you’re aiming for the big medals. The best I’ve managed to get is 7 days. If you’re looking to Guardian, hold out your hopes for a less densely populated area.

Elise: I second this one – I have a single portal near my apartment complex’s pool on lockdown. So far it’s been my only hope of unlocking the higher Guardian achievements.

Ashley: Make a day of it! Ingress involves getting outside and seeing the world around you to play. If you have friends who play the game, schedule a cross faction meet up to go play a game of Flip the Portals.

Elise: This happens a lot at ASU – every portal on campus has about a 24 hour turnover from green to blue and vice versa.

Ashley: Power Cubes are your friends – I’m not going to admit to how long it took me to figure out what they were for, but now I can’t play without them.

Elise: It’s horrible, but I had the exact same problem. It’s not intuitive to go into your inventory and use your items when they’re not accessible directly from the main screen. Power Cubes give you more XM to keep you hacking and attacking after your reserves have been depleted.

[centric.org]

[centric.org]

Final Thoughts: Ingress is a lot of fun, extremely addictive, and surprisingly social for such a plot-light, simple gameplay app. It’s free, it gets you outside, and it connects you with other players in your area. Secretly, I think Ingress is just a recruiting tool for Google Plus because I can tell you that my friends who play the game would not be using that social media service if it wasn’t. Either way, I’ve never been happier to have Google track my every movement.