The 6 Best Laser Tag Sets
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Tag, You're It!
For anyone averse to the skin-splitting misery that is paintball or the traumatizing experience that is actual warfare, laser tag scratches your itch for combat without digging its claws in too deeply.
In a professional laser tag arena, you have to wear a miserably large, heavy plastic vest with sensors and a battery pack on it. Your gun is attached to your vest and your mobility is severely inhibited. The vest itself has its little sensors on the chest, back, and shoulders, and for some reason hits to all four spots count the same. I'm sorry, but it's much easier to survive a gunshot to the top of your shoulder than it is to your heart or your spine. That's just unrealistic.
The units we've evaluated here, by comparison, work on the same principals, but utilize much lighter and more effective technology, allowing you greater mobility and a more realistic game.
The biggest difference between the big laser tag operations and the games you get at home is that the home systems don't use the kind of lasers the pro systems do. Professional laser tag vests use a laser similar to what you get when you buy a laser pointer. Home systems, however, operate on the same infrared technology that you use in your television remote control, which is a little more forgiving of your shot accuracy, but also a lot weaker in its signal.
While some systems still use vests (which are much smaller and lighter than the vests of yore), the majority of laser tag systems on our list uses a small sensor built onto the gun itself. The advantage of this little sensor living on your weapon is that it requires you to purchase, organize, and power fewer pieces of hardware. The disadvantage is that it's a little easier to block incoming shots with your hands if you've got a cheater for a friend.
For The Love Of The Game
Laser tag has always been about the purity and simplicity of the game, and that game is a combination of interpersonal warfare and capture (or destroy) the flag, with two to four groups at odds against one another, each group responsible for protecting one or more large sensors situated at strategic points around the arena.
You have to form actual tactics with your team if you want to win, and that includes drawing the defenders of a given target away from their positions so you can hit it with as many shots as possible. The more shots you levvy against the target, the more points for your team.
If you like that target system, and you want to recreate it at home, that significantly narrows down the sets on our list that would be perfect for you, as only a couple of them have available target points for their games. That said, all you really have to do to create a similar experience is buy an extra gun for each side and set it up as an immobile target that each team must protect.
Some of these sets come to you in all their splendor right out of the box, but take a close look at each with specific regards to what you're going to get. As amazingly cool and as the Wowwee Assault Striker is with its many options for customization, it doesn't have a sensor of its own. The Wowwee system is a pretty complicated one, and the price tag keeps climbing if you want to have even a basic experience with it.
The only other thing to consider, and this has more to do with your intended spaces that anything else, is infrared range. A few of these guns very honestly advertise a usable range of up to 30 or 40 feet, while others claim effectiveness and accuracy at distances of over 200 feet. Those latter claims seem inflated, and in our testing, greater distances and more numerous obstacles (like trees, for example) exponentially decrease performance.
War Games Brought To Market
In case you ever find yourself on the verge of looking up the birth of a given technology, there's a pretty high chance that you could save yourself some time by just assuming it was made by the military. From the internet to LSD, the military has brought us some astounding technologies over the years, and laser tag is another on that long list.
In the late 1970s, the US military developed a system of infrared laser combat devices for training purposes. The disadvantage of these, of course, was the limitation of target realism. Since the soldiers in training couldn't feasibly cover themselves head to toe in infrared sensors, the system failed to accurately recreate a battlefield scenario.
The first toy company to make use of the technology didn't have laser tag in mind, however. Milton Bradley produced a phaser toy modeled after the weapons on Star Trek, which hit the market in 1979 and utilized the tech that would become laser tag. Within about a year, two other companies jumped on the design, creating the team-based sport of it.
Laser tag arenas cropped up in arcades at a steady clip throughout the 80s and 90s, with popularity waning some as that generation moved on to other pursuits. As those early players have had children of their own and sought out a little bump of nostalgia, arenas have begun to reopen around the country.