Exclusive first look: Nerf’s AR-Powered Laser Ops Pro blasters
Pew pew pew, the home game.
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Nerf darts have a short lifespan in my house. They fly under the couch and soar over the back fence. The guinea pig chewed one halfway apart before we could wrestle it away from him. Predictably, this makes the prospect of replacing physical projectiles with lasers (or in this case, beams of infrared light) appealing. Nerf’s new Laser Ops Pro blasters are its first laser tag offerings since 2012, though these new versions offer a much more satisfying blasting experience than their predecessors.
What is it?
Laser Ops Pro is a laser tag system that doesn’t require players to wear a vest. The hit detectors live under a translucent, plastic dome near the end of the blaster. Nerf says this arrangement makes it tougher for cheaters to cover up the sensors. If you want to blast, then everyone else can blast you, too.
It’s fun. In fact, it’s fun almost right away. The most enjoyment my kids and I got out of the game was simply putting in the batteries, selecting the free-for-all mode, and running around like maniacs. There is, however, a lot more to do if you sync it up with the app.
The blasters connect to a Nerf app on a smartphone via Bluetooth, which allows players to form teams, keep score, and even participate in local and worldwide leaderboards. The app, however, isn’t a necessary part of the game. Unlike the 2012 blasters, which had a built-in housing to hold a phone, the new Laser Ops Pro models come with a wrist mount to hold a smartphone during regular play.
You can link multiple blasters to a single device—which is what we did the majority of the time—or each player can have their own device synced up. The options are surprisingly deep, allowing players to pick ridiculous names—mine was Thunder Rhino—coordinate a variety of matches, and set up custom games with specific time limits and other parameters.
Nerf Laser Ops Pro scoreboard
At the end of the game, the players would run over to see the stats on the screen. It often ended in arguing, but there was always a few minutes of genuine fun before that, which is often as much as a parent can ask for.
In addition to the scorekeeping functionality, the app also contains a single-player mode that happens entirely in augmented reality. You strap the phone to the end of the blaster and aim at digital objects that appear around your real-world surroundings with some help from your smartphone’s cameras.
While the single-player mode was fun, it still feels a little clunky in its implementation. I was playing a pre-release version of the app, and it was a good time, but compared to the fun of running around with other humans, the single-player AR mode feels a lot like messing around in a smartphone game with a much bigger controller.
The first thing you notice when you turn on the Laser Ops Pro devices are just how much haptic feedback they offer. Pieces move, the blasters vibrate, and the sound effects are surprisingly loud. When you’re hit, the game places you on time out for 15 seconds during which your blaster can’t fire and you can run and find another spot to hide.
The dome on the front of the blasters registers hits and, while it’s not perfect, it does have a surprising range. There’s a switch on the blaster to indicate whether you’re playing in daylight or darkened conditions. The daylight mode uses stronger signals to help it overcome any infrared interference that may come from the sun.
We played in the middle of the day and in the evening while running around the yard and a football field and didn’t really notice much of a change in performance, regardless of the circumstances.
There were times when it felt like hits should have landed, but they didn’t. Still, the real-time feedback is very useful for knowing when you are hit or when you land a shot on one of your opponents.
Each blaster has a tactile reload button that you can smash when you run out, which is, frankly, really fun and makes the whole thing feel more immersive.
Is it fun?
Nerf’s pitch to me when introducing the product was that it plays like a video game. Frankly, anything that can pull young people away from screens and into a scenario in which they have to run around is appealing to me—and many other parents. I was surprised to find out how true that statement was. We played several games, and the kids wanted to build their own obstacles and places to take cover to continue the contest.
Should you buy it?
The Laser Ops Pro series will have two different types of blasters to start. The Alphapoint, which uses a familiar pistol form factor, and the Deltaburst, which uses a longer body and fires in three-shot bursts from a virtual “clip” of 18 shots.
After a few afternoons of play, I was surprised by how evenly-matched the blasters really are. The Alphapoint is easier to move around, which helps make up for some its lack of rapid-fire like you’ll find in the Deltaburst.
The best value in the line is the Alphapoint two-pack, which comes with two blasters for $45. A single Alphapoint costs $30, while the Deltaburst costs $50 on its own.