By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Ingress is a game that can best be described as a Massive Multiplayer Online Mobile Alternate-and-Augmented Reality Game. It’s developed by Niantic Labs, a start-up from within Google, which also plays a large part in the games fictional back-story. The game spans the globe – from the USA to Africa, to China… everywhere – and requires you to travel to real-world locations within your neighborhood, town, city, state, country, etc… to participate in an on-going war hidden to the naked eye. The war is being fought by two factions, both with their own differing ideals, and ultimately for the fate of mankind. The Ingress Scanner app is simply the tool with which you can participate in this hidden war.
Ingress doesn’t offer much in the way of customization, as ‘you’ are the character. You step into the role of yourself participating in this virtual war that is happening all around you. You do get to customize your avatar within the game, using various presets. You’re also able to customize your portals to a degree – such as choosing which mods (which I will get into later) you want to attach to it. As this isn’t really a part of the game, even though this area will get a low score, it won’t affect the over-all score.
The graphics are alright for a mobile game. The scanner graphics are of a digital nature – they kind of remind me of Tron in a way, actually. The colors are simple – I can probably count on my hands the number of colors you will find within the scanner. The game relies heavily on movement and particle effects, such as the glow of portals or the “stream” like nature of the links. Overall, the graphics are perfect for what the game is trying to be, so not a complaint to be had here.
It is worth mentioning this is where the games semi-annoying phone requirements come into play. Basically any device that has been made in the past three years will be strong enough to play the game. There may be a bit of lag here and there, but Ingress isn’t really a game where a bit of lag will make much of a difference in the actual gameplay. The problem appears with phone resolution – Niantic Labs has chosen very little interest in catering to lower resolution phones (anything less than their recommended 400×800 resolution can play the game, but with some very annoying UI issues). Whether this is because they simple have no interest in putting in the work to make it happen – and we know it can happen, various modded APKs of the Ingress scanner have been made that make the game work perfectly for lower resolution or spec phones – or if they plan to release an official API later on that will allow for smaller resolution clients to be made by player, or any other reason is unknown. Perhaps it’s because Android phones with lower resolutions are rapidly becoming the minority.
You can get an idea of how squished things are here. It’s still playable, though.
Like I said, modded clients that let lower-resolution phones play the game without an issue are out there. The problem is Niantic has been known to perma-ban people using modded clients, even if said modded clients do not give any advantage over people using the official client. It’s kind of frustrating for a lot of current and potential players. And it’s just one of the number of issues players have with Niantic Labs. But I will get further into that later on.
The controls within Ingress are easy to understand. It’s basically a lot of one-finger tapping on your screen, with some other gestures thrown in for things like zooming in or out. If you’ve played any other mobile game – or even just own a smartphone – you’ll immediately be familiar with the controls in Ingress. That being said, the actual responsiveness and ease-of-use of the controls relies heavily on your on phone. For example, if you have a small screen and your touch-screen isn’t very sensitive, you may have some difficulties. Personally, I originally started playing the game on a fairly small screen that was less than the recommended size/resolution for Ingress and, while the game was playable, it was difficult at times.
Community is probably the most important feature of Ingress. It’s what makes (and sometimes breaks) the game for a majority of players. From small groups of friends playing together, to hundreds of players getting together to participate in a large Operation (commonly called “Ops”), community plays a part in all parts of Ingress. It’s one of the biggest attractors the game has – who doesn’t want to play a game with thousands of other people also playing? And Ingress has one of the most interactive communities out there. This is in part due to the close interaction the game encourages with other Google services, such as Google Plus groups or Hangouts used by a number of local “Chapters” of the Resistance or Enlightened. Chances are, if you get into Ingress you’ll find a local group of players using Google Plus and/or a Google Hangout to communicate with each other.
One story included mention of a database of personal information such as work place, home, and car license plate.
As I said, the Ingress community can also “break” the game for some people. A game that relies heavily on GPS, supports an “us-versus-them” mentality, and attracts tech-savvy players, is prone to having issues with people that may take things too far. I recently started an “Ingress Horror Stories” thread on the Ingress Sub-Reddit and was astonished by the number of responses containing tales of stalking (both in real-life and cyber), threats, or other horrid behavior. The down-side is that Niantic seems to be over their heads, as even if these incidents are reported, it can often take quite some time for them to punish offending players. For that reason, it is commonly suggested that you contact your local police if you feel threatened rather than waiting for Niantic to take care of the mess (which, in my opinion, is the obvious and smartest course of action to take – in anything, not just Ingress).
So far we’ve established that Ingress takes a minimalistic approach to both customization and graphics and has an amazing (but sometimes scary) community experience. But let’s get into the actual gameplay. It may not immediately seem like it, but no matter what other descriptors that are attached to it, Ingress is a strategy game at its core. From the micro to the macro levels, strategy plays a part in everything you do in Ingress. What you say in the comm channels, how you place your resonators, how you build your links and fields – everything.
Portals are the central part of Ingress. They are placed, or can be made, in any location that is important to a community – such as Churches, parks, statues or other works of art, unique or interesting businesses, gathering places, etc… The basic concept of Ingress is to control portals or, if you don’t control them, to attack them and then take them over. Portals are “powered” by resonators, so to take over a portal you will need to destroy all enemy resonators attached to it and then install your own. That’s the basics of Ingress ‘combat’ as well – attacking enemy resonators.
To destroy the resonators, you need to make use of XMP Bursters. These are items that can be gained from hacking that will cause damage to enemy resonators. The damage caused by an XMP Burster is determined by the level of the burster and how far away you are from the Resonator. You can also get up to 20% bonus damage by timing the release of the XMP Burster correctly. To get the most out of them, you’ll need to sit on top of the resonator and time the release correctly. So, it’s a bit more in-depth than originally meets the eye.
With Portals you can accomplish a few things. Linking is the first thing you can do. To link portals, you must have two portals your faction controls, a portal key for at least one of the two portals, and you must have no other links in the way of the link you plan to create. How long of a link you can create is based on the level of the Portal, and the portals resonators, you are trying to link – for example, a non-modded level 1 portal will only have a potential link distance of a few hundred meters. A level 8 portal can stretch across continents and oceans, though.
Creating links are the first step to building a field, which are used to actually score points (called “Mind Units” within the game). It is with Mind Units, which are gathered by creating fields, that the two factions compete against each other. A field is, in the most basic sense, three portals linked together in a triangle shape. Fields can be as small as a city block, or the size of a continent. On the global scale, the larger the better. But when you’re playing on a town or city scale, the planning and strategy going into creating a field of fields can get quite complex. Generally speaking, it’s better (in terms of AP – the experience points of Ingress – to go with many small fields rather than one large field.
Here’s some random fields from London, UK.
For now, everything in Ingress (except agents) work on a level 1-8 scale. Almost everything is given a level between one and eight – from portals, to resonators, to XMP Bursters. Mods have their own level system – based on rarity going from common to very rare. Speaking of mods, there is a decent variety of them. From turrets – which cause initial damage to hostile agents XM (Exotic Matter, the energy source of Ingress and what the game lore centers around), to shields – which reduce the damage to resonators, to multi-hacks – which increases the number of times a portal can be hacked within a certain time-frame.
There are other items within the game as well. XMP Bursters that do damage to resonators, Ultra Strikes that increase the chance of a mod being knocked off a portal, Power Cubes that give you more XM, Portal keys that let you link two portals together or recharge portals resonators from a distance, etc… As I said, all these items have levels attached to them, and that level is determined by a mix of your current agent level and the level of the portal you received them from. You get these items by hacking portals.
You can also play a memory-based mini-game to gain bonus items when hacking, as well. This mini-game will flash a number of glyphs on your screen and then have you re-draw them in the correct order. There are a number of glyphs and they have a number of different meanings, but so far they have no other use within the actual “game” portion of Ingress. They do show up in some of the ARG portions of the game, such as the code-breaking, though. Perhaps later on features will be introduced that make more use of them. They actually remind me of the spell system used in a similar game, Shadow Cities.
As I said in the introduction, Ingress is also an “Alternate Reality Game,” or ARG for short. The basic definition of that is a game that uses the real world along with “transmedia storytelling” to deliver a highly interactive experience that has you actually going out-and-about in the real world to figure out a mystery of some sort. Basically, it’s a larger-scale LARPing that uses the real world as its setting. Because Ingress is an ARG, the game relies heavily on its lore and storytelling. A lot more than you may be used to from other games.
There are regular updates by fictional entities within the Ingress story using Google Plus. These updates often contain codes (which can be used to gain items within the game if you can crack them) and hidden meanings. There is a lot of mystery, leaving large chunks of the lore to be figured out by players. There are also a decent number of large-scale gatherings centering around important key points within the Ingress lore, such as the one that happened in Gettysburg. These events, given names such as INTERITUS or HELIOS, span months and several large cities across the world.
There are currently two factions in the game. There have been some speculation and hints at a third faction possible in the future, but nothing confirmed. These factions are the Resistance and the Enlightened (the faction I chose). The Enlightened believe they can use the Exotic Matter (XM) to uplift humanity and bring about an evolution in humanity. The Resistance, however, believe that they must preserve the freedom of humanity by fighting against the efforts of the Enlightened.
As I mentioned under graphics, people have mixed feelings when it comes to Niantic. On various places on Google Plus and Reddit, I’ve seen lots of comments complaining about certain things when Niantic is involved. The most prominent of these complaints is Niantic’s response time to certain things – such as new portal submissions or reported players who are GPS spoofing, hacking, or being a general nuisance. Personally, I attribute this to Niantic being in over their head with how successful their game has been. While they are a Google start-up and therefore are “backed by Google,” everything is left up to them to resolve, and I’m guessing they just don’t have the number of employees to keep up with everything in a timely manner.
Ingress is a very ambitious game and it’s one of the rare occasions where I can say that ambition has been realized. It’s basically the perfect mobile game, using the capabilities of modern smartphones to their fullest. The use of GPS and Augmented Reality, ARG story-telling, and the large-scale that is made possible thanks in part to Google’s support, has resulted in a massively fun game. I’ve become too enamored by the game that I’ve recently purchased an LG G2 with a new carrier, just to make the game even more enjoyable. Not many games can convince me to take those sorts of steps to play them. The best part is that the game is truly a free-to-play game – no part of the game requires, or even asks, for money. I definitely suggest the game to anyone.
Also, the release of the iOS version of the game should be happening within the next week or so, so even more people will be able to play it. Previously, it was an Android-only game.
Features: 5/5 – A perfect blend of features.
Customization: 2/5 – Basically nothing there.
Graphics: 4/5 – Simplistic but nice.
Controls: 5/5 – It’s dependent on your phone. Personally, I had no issues.
Community: 5/5 – Massive and impressive, yet sometimes scary.
Overall: 5/5 – The mobile game I’ve been dreaming of. I can’t wait to see how it continues to evolve.