Ingress adds a traditional twist to its augmented-reality MMO

Players of the augmented-reality title have long had the pleasure of experiencing its unique take on smartphone gaming. Now, Ingress is bringing some more traditional elements into the mix.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
2 min read
Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

Ingress, the massively multiplayer augmented-reality game, is unique in its own right, utilizing real-world locations and a surprisingly deep science fiction back story to keep its players active. But a recent update to the Android title, pushed out to the Google Play store Thursday, is bringing more common multiplayer features to the game in an effort to keep its players interested through some healthy competition.

The update introduces a new achievement system for players, called "agents" within the in-game lingo, that lets you track your own and fellow players' progress in various skill areas like portal capturing and linking, as well as in-game wins. The attempt to further gamify its experience shows that Ingress, while a fantastic idea and a pioneer in augmented-reality gaming, still sees value in more traditional ways of keeping gamers hooked.

The basics of Ingress involve buying into its alternative reality story line, an Assassin's Creed-esque faction conflict between the Enlightened and the Resistance that divides along one's belief in the intentions of a secret alien race called the Shapers.

So while the story line is a bit out there, it does have the benefit of getting its players moving about in the physical world. The game lets members meet up and collaborate around landmarks like historic art pieces or public transit hubs through the ever-present goal of establishing portals. Portals are triangular fields set up through the game's geolocating mobile app that players must maintain in their respective cities using in-game tools that strengthen with one's experience and time spent playing.

Thanks to its quirky factional back story and physical location-based mechanics, Ingress has gained a following all over the world, including far-flung locales like Romania and Cyprus. The game, developed by Google-owned Niantic Labs, is still in closed beta, though anyone can request an invite to join on the company's Web site.

The app is steadily gaining in popularity, resulting in a slew of arrests due to suspicious behavior as players linger around undesirable locations like police stations or empty parking lots in the dead of night in search of in-game points of interest. On a more promising note, players have gone so far as to broker momentary truces in the name of memorials, like in April when players established portals next to each other to commemorate MIT police office Sean Collier following his death in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.