Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ingress Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

The last few years have taught us something about mobile gaming: it's really easy to make a terrible mobile game. They either try to be a big-budget third-person action game and absolutely fail, or they are casual freemium games that try to bleed you dry by giving you customization options or making you wait a long time before you can perform the next action unless you pay real money. Ingress is neither of those; its gameplay is based around using the capabilities found only in smartphones, and it is completely free. You couldn't spend money in this game even if you wanted to. In one sentence I would describe it as the perfect mobile game.

Ingress is a strange game to describe, because there aren't any like it out there. It is technically an MMO because there is a persistent world that changes as the players perform actions withing it. But it is also an augmented reality game (though not the kind where you wear glasses that overlay objects onto your surroundings). Ingress is a game that uses your real-world location (based on your phone's GPS of course) to determine where you are in relation to in-game objects. Obviously you must be near these objects to perform most actions with them. It might be easier to describe the backstory of the game before I get deeper into the actions you can perform in the game.

Back in 2011 Google started a viral marketing campaign called "What is Niantic?" where a supposed investigator started leaking information about the "Niantic Project," a mysterious branch of research apparently happening at CERN. Over the course of a month they revealed that they had discovered a substance called Exotic Matter, or XM. This XM has been leaking into our world from another dimension throughout all of human history, and it has the curious effect of encouraging creative thought and intense concentration. Because of that many scientific breakthroughs, great works of art, and religious sites are located near the places where XM leaks through the most. These locations are known as portals.

Soon after this discovery, the technology used to scan for XM was leaked to the public (read: the game was released.) Two factions emerged. The Enlightened want to use XM to continue furthering human knowledge and technology; the Resistance believe that XM is dangerous, and that beings from another dimension called Shapers are using it to influence our thoughts. I of course joined Enlightened, but you should join whichever team you align with.

Now we get to what the players do in the game. The ultimate goal is for your team to control a majority of the world. This is done by creating control fields, which are created by connecting portals that your team controls. Any triangle created is a control field, and no links can cross each other.
For example, the University of Minnesota Morris campus is covered in green because we pretty much only have Enlightened players.
The Twin Cities campus is a slightly different matter.
The green portal I am next to was blue until I attacked it and took it down. The game never shows you other players, so you cannot attack them.
In order to get the items that allow you to claim and attack portals you hack the portals. The higher level the portal is, the higher level the items you will get from it. And of course virtually all of the actions that you perform in the game use up XM, which you collect as you walk around.
Ingress is a game that is best played with friends. I have gotten a few of my classmates to play with me, and we have a good time going out to town to capture and connect portals. It's also a great excuse to get outside and see some interesting buildings and statues, since portals tend to be located at those kinds of places. I find it odd that they decided to bring the game out of beta during a very cold winter, when most of us would rather stay indoors. However, once it warms up again I will be out there on my bike blanketing the neighborhood in green.

If you live in a large urban center, expect there to be a fairly large player base and a high turnover rate of portals. If you are in a rural area you might find yourself the only person in town who plays. However, this allows you to create large fields that last longer because there is nobody around to take them down. My proudest moment so far was when I connected Morris, Glenwood, and Alexandria to make this sucker:
If I have convinced you that Ingress is worth playing (and it totally is), you should watch these two videos that recap the major events of the first year of the game.