The Niantic Lab group at Google are certainly a creative bunch. After launching Field Trip for Android, they just recently revealed a new application, and one that I don’t think many people expected. The application is called Ingress, and while it shares some location based ideas with Field Trip, that is where the similarities end. Ingress is what could be considered a real-life massively multiplayer online game that anyone can join. By using your smartphone, Ingress turns the entire world into a playing field, and you become one of the players.

The Niantic Project posted a teaser video for the app that, while very entertaining, doesn’t really explain exactly what Ingress is about. As such, when I got my invite to try Ingress a couple of days ago, I was quite excited. I first fired up the Ingress app at about 6:00 in the morning, just after I woke up. After signing in, I was greeted with what was presented as a real life transmission that told me that the game I had downloaded was more than that. While obviously untrue, the presentation was so good that the effect was actually quite chilling.

The interface of the game was quite simple, and made it clear what buttons needed to be pressed, so much so that I really didn’t give the interface a second thought while progressing through the tutorials. After the welcome message, I was forced to choose my side. I was given a simple choice between the Resistance, who resist the coming change, and the Enlightened, who embrace the new ideas. Being somewhat of a rebel, I decided to go with the Resistance.

That important decision made, I began the prescribed training mission.Using my phone, I walked around my neighborhood collecting “Exotic Matter,” or “XM,” which shows up as tiny glowing dots on the map. Once I had collected enough, the tutorial moved on to something bigger: A portal.

Portal “hacking” can be done when you are in physical range of a portal, and you have enough power to perform the hack. As far as I can tell, portals can be leveled up by multiple friendly  or enemy visits, in which case they may  require an XMP blast to take down. Once a portal has been blasted, it is then free for hacking once again. The power unit in the game is the XM, so if you don’t have enough strength to take down an enemy portal, then you have to walk around until you gather enough of the scattered XM to fire the XMP canon or hack the portal once again..

Once you have captured a portal, you can also use XM to deploy resonators, which can link different portals into a sort of web. Around the Georgia Tech campus, for example, there is a high concentration of Resistance units, so the entire area is a web of connected Resistance portals. In other areas, there are huge webs of Enlightenment portals, which it is my task as a Resistance player to take down.

While there’s no clear victory or loss in the game, there are missions that can be found in the “OPS” menu, which may be interesting to complete. Personally, I haven’t gone through very many yet, as I’ve been content simply to walk around collecting XM, and hacking the occasional portal.

From this description, it may not seem like there is really much point to the game, but I can assure you that it is quite addicting. The feeling of actually fighting a hidden force in the real world had me running around my town for a couple of hours this weekend, excitedly trying to find new and existing portals. Even with no clear victory, each claimed portal feels like a win, and when the opposing team shows up my turf, I am immediately motivated to retaliate.

As far as design goes, it is clear that the game is meant to look quite futuristic and dare I say a bit like Star Trek computers. However, once past the seemingly angular surface, the interface is fairly easy to navigate. The middle screenshot above is the main display, which includes a universal “Comm” chat window at the bottom, current location map in the middle, a mission status bar, and a shortcut to the “OPS” menu. In the OPS menu are the various missions,  device settings, worldwide control map, and items list. After going through the tutorial, the function of each of these options is clear.

I’m already having quite a bit of fun with Ingress, and I haven’t even started into deploying resonators, linking major portals, and the like. Still, the idea of an online game that is played in the real world with real people is quite interesting, and so far the execution of the game has bee quite good. It is a bit difficult to explain exactly how the game works, but I can say that more than likely once you play the idea will click, and you will be hooked. I can’t wait to see how this massive gaming experience grows once more people join the game, and I’m sure I’ll be playing even more when that time comes.

Currently, the game is in an invite only stage, but you can sign up for an invite at the official Ingress website. Once you get in, there is a short tutorial and then you must choose your side. Currently, the resistance is the strongest faction, but that could soon change, as when I signed up the Enlightened were in the lead. I would recommend picking the faction that is weakest in your locale for the most fun and challenging experience, but be warned: If you do join the Enlightenment, I’ll be working against you.

Download: Google Play