SWAPTX - EVOLVER - Full - Thorough Review - From a Laser Tag Fanatic
In September 2021 I provided a full review/breakdown of the SWAPTX laser tag system and tested it out to the fullest possible for all things performance wise. Below is that review. I have since then been using the system periodically and continuing to tinker and mess around with it. In doing so I have some updated notes throughout the review below. I also have received a new batch of the new and improved weapon skins for the system, and I am much more pleased with the rigidity and strength of the new skins. I have a lot more info on the skins below in the section on the skins. I know this is a very long breakdown, but it is broken up in sections on different topics that are pertinent and important to those who want to get the most out of a laser tag system. I promised a handful of people I would tear into it and so I did and yes, I am overly detailed so I moved the summary to the top, just after this paragraph, though, you may need to dive deeper to fully understand what I’m talking about.
The hosting of games is ridiculously simple and easy and very effective from the eleven taggers that had the latest firmware. (One had old firmware but has since been updated and should be good to go). I would say that this is the most simplest-to-get-started system I’ve played. It has the same easy start, basic settings that I love about nerf, and it just works. Then the hosting feature is really easy and probably the best/fastest hosting system of seen. Granted the game play options are very basic but that is honestly what most games really just need and you can add rules and variety as you see fit. The taggers have a fantastic feel to them, they are accurate, light enough and easy enough to handle and aim for the youngest of players. The weapon upgrade variety adds a very unique and fun game play aspect that anyone will enjoy. The lock in mechanism and plastic slide for the weapon upgrades works very well. The internal components for the taggers are great. Their choose in long lasting springs for the levers and trigger are excellent choices and the dual core processor is fast enough to handle most everything being thrown at it and more as it handles not only Bluetooth communication between the tagger and headset but also WiFi ESPNOW broadcast communication for scoring and hosting simultaneously and does so without any noticeable crashes that I could take note of watching the players play. Range for scoring confirmations was extremely Ling and even longer than the IR range is in full sunlight, this is great and ideal!
– Update: I failed to place the skins also here as a pro, yes its below as well but the versatility and game play you have is like nothing else out there in terms of play variety in game. Its actually a lot of fun and exciting. It shouldn’t be downplayed when considering other systems like nerf that do already have accessories that can be added to the nerf laser tag LTX guns, because it is a lot more versatile than the nerf play options. You can have a lot of fun with the skin game play by swapping out your weapons in the game. It does offer a real nice battle royale play style. Each of the skins does in fact change up how you use your weapon – shotgun blasts versus the sniper rifle. From what I understand, each skin launch/set that are released will have a power weapon or two, in this case the sniper and the Scar are the poer weapons and the coveted weapons that players essentially fight to get their hands on. This also adds some uniqueness to the game play.
Battery compartment is awkward and a bit rough for the younger age players to successfully swap out batteries on their own without parental help or older sibling etc. sometimes the batters burst out of the grip when removing them with the spring loaded compartment. The skins are not durable (initial skins shipped pre December 2021, December 2021 and on are different with a double side wall). They first ones cannot take normal wear and tear during play without potentially failing. I’d give them 1-3 uses and it’s time for another skin, on most of them. The skin upgrades use a physical contact, while effective, it can get damaged or dirty and possible need to be cleaned or repaired depending on what happens to it. A contactless option maybe, RFID, or magnetic contact could have been options but I really don’t know size and cost of those options to back up the suggestions I’m making but we did experience minor and really negligible issues with it. I did get a couple taggers with old firmware and a friend from Facebook in La got a few of them as well. They needed to be updated and the update process is not ready for consumers but more for the in the know customers that are computer/network savvy. They have updates though and improved processes for firmware updates on that taggers.
– Update: Skin durability is much better for the skins now shipping (December 21’ and on). Yes, still kind of a con because you will have wear and tear still (cardboard versus plastic) but its just more the edges and ends and the newly shipping skins are pretty good. I personally would have preferred a plastic skin set that would only get scratches, but the cardboard skins do keep costs down for consumers. I do not anticipate breaks with the new skins versus with the initial skins shipped. If ok with a few bent edges/corners I may not need to replace them at all, which that would be fantastic and those funds can go towards the next series of skins released. 🙂
And now, on to the full breakdown:
- Order process/experience:
I initially ordered six taggers an two of each skin that were available. The order was cancelled when battle company decided that they were not going to push for a Christmas delivery after all and they weren’t fulfilled in time. I spoke with battle company representatives and confirmed that that was the reason for refunding my purchase of the taggers. I said, that’s fine and they anticipated a February launch instead. I placed the order with the understanding that it would be fulfilled in February or March. As February passed the date pushed to April, then it pushed to July, then august and finally shipment happened mid September. When it finally arrived I unboxed them. Unfortunately the initial assurance was that the pistol skins were coming with the taggers but somewhere along the lines that changed so my lack of ordering revolver skins resulted in me not getting any under the assumption that they were included. Battle company agreed to ship me out two of them though and they should be here on the 22nd of September.
– update: they did deliver the two pistols and they are good skins.
Now, on to my review of the Evolver from battle company:
- Over all product unboxing and prepping, batteries, etc.:
my overall opinion on the tagger build is that it’s a similar feel of plastic like recoil and laser ops pro. The grip is comfortable and weight with batteries is easily aimed and handled and I’m sure any age player can handle it well. 6+ age at least. The battery compartment was a disappointment on both the headset and the tagger. It’s extremely tight to get the batteries in the handle and awkward to reinsert the handle onto the tagger. I do not believe that even my thirteen year old would be able to do it but would give up impatiently. Once I show him I’m sure he would do it just fine… but reinserting the grip battery pack into the tagger, I could see him or younger kids breaking the tagger clips for the battery as they impatiently try to jam it in. That’s just my opinion though, I have not yet let any kids use them yet. The power switch does not lock into place well. The three position switch doesn’t really “click” into place and it is easy to slide past the off position to the other on position. Not a huge deal but it is what it is. Over all though I do like the tagger overall. I prefer the look over the nerf taggers for sure. I wouldn’t say that I like it over the recoil pistols in terms of build design, grip feel etc. but I’d take the look and feel over any of the nerf taggers for sure.
-update: Battery compartment does have issue with having a gap between the removeable compartment of the the grip and the tagger grip, when dropped, the compartment bursts off and batteries go everywhere. A solution is to put a piece of electrical tape around the handle, use yellow and it looks like it belongs there as yellow is the accent color of the tagger. In fact, I’ve seen images from the manufacturer with a piece of electrical tap around the bottom of the handle, clearly the manufacturer is aware of this issue. In providing feedback to the manufacturer, they indicated that they are aware of the issue and that hopefully on future shipments this will be corrected. They also may have an upgraded rechargeable handle released eventually, no promises but could be an upgrade as well for those who have the semi-faulty stock battery grip.
- Range of infrared at dawn:
I believe the range meets the expectations set in the advertising of 300 feet. Though it is right about 300’ and I wouldn’t plan on getting anymore out of it. At night/indoors you can crank it up to outdoor lighting setting and get crazy good range but I’m sure you will also have a massive sized beam spreading beam bouncing indoors.
- More buttons, switches, settings etc.:
- Hosting functions basics:
I find the hosting functionality extremely simple and effective. It’s actually quite a relief on how simple and easy it is to host a game and get other taggers to join. I have to tip my hat to Zachary Dickerson on this one. Very very well done! This is more than a breath of fresh air for a hosting method for playing a group game and controlling and scoring the game. There are some inconsistencies at times with the scoring for sure, but when players gain another tag it refreshes the scores correctly if there was a missed or bad reporting the last time… this helps in overall accuracy of the scoring. If anyone is familiar with the complexities of this type of wireless communication, it is darn near impossible to guarantee arrival of the kill confirmations and scoring accuracies but he has somehow pulled it together in a near flawless manner. Kudos to battle company on this extremely simple and darn near flawless game hosting method. Limits for players to score is 16. So keep that in mind. Some other systems with hosting are higher (24) for a similar product but I would take this tagger to an event (for all ages) over any other system any day since it is functional out of the box and I need not do anything except follow the SIMPLE instructions from the box.
-Update: Hosting is probably the most impressive feature on the system for sure. I’m one of those that use laser tag guns to the extent farther than most consumers will, but this feature has been really really great. A couple of learned benefits of the hosting feature is that when a tagger is hosting a game, any gun/headset that start will automatically join the game and load the settings of the game upon boot. it takes a couple of seconds but it is flawless. This is really great for play styles where you want to have players take turns, you can have a continuous running game where players are out and then go back to line. Then reset the gun power switch and headset and voila, tagger is ready for the next player. Also, there are future releases planned for the system, assuming the product line does well enough. One of the releases is a game box for respawns. If the host tagger is in respawn mode (enabled by the game box) it forces all players to also be in respawn mode where they need to respawn off of a respawn station box. This is currently not available but will be a huge game play enhancement. I have tested it out and it plays extremely well. Only down side for the hosting is related to the power down of the device, it does reset the tagger so players that like to cheat… and there are always some… when they die they can simply reset their gun in the play area (unknown by anyone else) and keep playing… so if they run out of lives they can cheat by just resetting their taggers. Cheaters will always find a way to cheat and I wouldn’t recommend any changes to fix the issue, because of that. A solution would be to have memory built into the tagger to restart back into the game in the previous settings, however that introduces a lot more issues and problems as well when thought through so it is fine as is and people should not be cheaters… period.
- Internal components review:
I don’t have much to add to the video on this except that the wireless headset has an external antenna for the esp32. That is great! The Molex antenna increases range significantly as you’ll see later in the hosting and kill confirmations range tests. Great springs selected for the tagger, long lasting parts
The video captures the internals of the tagger, here is a couple pictures of the inside of the headset:
- Dual pistol wielding capability:
Not in the basic instructions but a really cool additional feature that was added late in production – the ability to pair two taggers together with one headset. I believe the headset is required for this, if not mistaken. But the secondary tagger does not receive hits but does deactivate when the headset or main tagger take damage enough to die. It was a bit difficult the first attempt to pair them correctly but the second attempt seemed to work exactly as intended. Is it necessary? No, but I swear I feel bad ass wielding dual pistols and have the dream of actually playing this way in the near future.
- Send/receive tag simultaneously concern:
Similar to laser ops pro from nerf. The evolver faces the same struggle taking a tag from other players while it is firing. I believe that the laser ops pro tagger had a bigger window of time when it can’t receive a tag than the evolver, but nonetheless it can’t take a tag while firing. At least pistol to pistol. Later below, you will see there is a saving grace that if you shoot the players headset, the tag does register.
– Update: In discussion with the manufacturer on the concern, they have done some modifications to the code to improve the tag recognition while shooting a weapon. It is improved now. Around 30% of the tags are landed when discharging a rapid fire weapon, it is not perfect but it is much better at least. This is a problem among several laser tag systems, not all of them, but several of them have this issue.
- Taking two tags simultaneously test, using duel wielded taggers:
I wanted to see if wielding dual pistols would allow me to shoot a player with two pistols at the same time for double damage. I knew it wouldn’t work on the tagger alone but was hoping that by shooting the tagger and the headset simultaneously I might register two hits. It didn’t though. Not a big deal to not get two tags… but I would hope that at least one tag would have registered…. But it didn’t… taking two shots even from different inputs did not allow the player to take a tag… so I just picture two players shooting at the same player… some shots will not land if they arrive at the same time because the tagger/headset cannot distinguish the tags separately.
- Taking hit from headset while firing the tagger simultaneously:
As mentioned above, success in landing tags while firing but on the headset only.
- Building my first skin, let’s see how easy/hard it is:
While no instructions were provided, I was able to figure it out. It’s not that hard. Looks like a fun thing to do with kids, or cool add in gifts for your kids to buy them new skins and let them assemble them. I like the idea a lot to have some fun creative add ins to the system like this. We will check durability later but it is cute/cool/fun and I really do like the idea. If skins are inexpensive to replace even better. Maybe Battle Company will run specials for holidays like Christmas, Fourth of July etc. in the future to to promote sales of new releases for skins. I know that there is a lot of bashing on the skins because they are cardboard and not long term durable, getting past that though it is pretty cool. Negatives: if you don’t get some of the tabs on exact you might get a crooked skin, the front sensor is completely blocked when it is on unless you fire dead on to the front of the tagger…. If you play with skins…. It’s almost a must to use headsets. Personally I don’t know why anyone would not buy the headsets though, you want to be able to play laser tag with the ability to hit from all angles.
– Update: after having build over 30+ skins now, id just add that it is a good idea to pre crease the bends on an edge of a table or something. This will help to have a solid bend on each surface and no curving which kind of ends up causing strain on the skins. There have been some improvements to the skin builds since the first shipment of skins, they are a bit easier to put together now. Another tip for skins is to make sure that you line the tabs up really well so that you do not cause the longer weapons (assault rifles, snipers, scar, shotguns) to drift and become crooked from one end to the other.
I couldn’t finish it within the ten minutes so here is part two:
If using a skin didn’t already block the front sensor… using an automatic rifle without a headset is just cheating… there is practically no way for someone to land a tag on a player without a headset who is actively firing an automatic. Your darn near invincible. Unless you are extremely lucky to land a shot between rounds fired, you have to wait for the player to reload to hit them. This makes skin based game play a requirement to use a headset. The option for headsets is not an option when using skins with automatics and would strongly be recommended with any skins since the front sensor is almost completely blocked.
– Update: again, as mentioned above, the issue of not landing tags while firing is improved, not eliminated but improved. Still, use a headset when using automatics… I strongly recommend that if you are not using headsets, don’t use skins
Notice the issue with shooting a tagger without a headset when the player is firing an automatic!!! Yikes!! Headsets required, not optional! Watch at about 6:00!
I’m all for headsets 100% but there are some ages that I would say nah, no headsets. For younger kids, I actually don’t like to have them use headsets that much. I’m ok with them also just using the evolver alone with no headsets and no skins.
– Update: i have ran several games with lots of kids with just the tagger and it played just fine without headsets, but tagger only.
- Outdoor full sunlight range testing for both Infrared, kill confirmations and game hosting:
Tagger range honestly just barely made it for the full sunlight day time testing. In the outdoor setting about 300’ was all I could get. I actually got a little bit more range on the headset wireless communication (didn’t catch on video) so the network communication is better than the IR range. In daylight. That is really nice!!! Gives me confidence in the scoring and game control reliability!!
- Multiple tagger hosting trials and errors:
Comments and notes: I’ve let battle company know that I have one tagger that is not responsive for hosting either hosting or being hosted. I’ll be trying a different unique player if to see if that changes anything but based upon it not being able to host either, I doubt that will be a fix, this was requested by battle company.
– Update: there were actually two tagger/headset sets that i received that needed to be updated. Battle company did not have a consumer friendly method for updating the guns on your own, however, the feed back provided encouraged them to release some updates to enable automatic updating over your WiFi. There are a few things you must do to set it up, hopefully no one needs to update taggers though. The early shipments to customers are likely the only customers that will need some support if they have any taggers that need to update firmware. For early customers (like myself) once you do the update you can automatically update the taggers from your own WiFi network though by just starting the gun/headset in a specific way. Contact battle company if you need any help with it, but again, likely its going to just be the early customers that would even potentially need to do an update.
I believe I blew it on the first attempt by not having unique IDs set. Afterwards it appeared to be flawless other than the one that had issues.
I’m actually very impressed with the hosting capability overall. The range, the simplicity, the speed, the reliability is really great, other than the one tagger exception.
- Skins durability:
We are playing for two hours with adults and outdoors and will see how the skins hold up with a group of twelve 18-21 year olds. I’m taking pictures of the before and after on the skins to document survivability of the card board skins. I have done overall footage of before and after on the skins to see if/how much damage they take from play/use. I am not saying anything to the players about playing rough with them or a concern about them in any way. I’m just going to tell them how to use the skins and let them go at it so that I can get a non biased evaluation on the durability. The players have never used any of my gear before and this will be a first time for all of them playing with me.
- How battle royal storm works:
Ok so o tried out I hosted battle royal and to confirm a friend’s comments. Yes, the storm does not do any damage to unhosted players, you need to be hosted by a player in order to have the storm timer and functions active on each player. While hosting it does work… honestly, it is hard to say what refreshes the timer for 30 seconds for you. It seems like damage is applied no matter what. But picking up a weapon does give you some health in an upgrade roll, so just swap a weapon at least. While played it did seem that if you make a kill, the time was extended a bit though. – Update: this was communicated to Battle Company and new versions shipped have this corrected and there is an updated firmware available for early customers.
- How does it play?
I was able to capture a lot of feedback from the group. My camera ran out of space at the end. A couple of other points to bring up was that I inquired the group who would be willing to spend $130 dollars on a tagger of their own with friends/family to get together and play games whether at college home etc. five of the thirteen players all said they would be down without a doubt. One said he’d be willing to pay $30 per hour to play for this kind of entertainment but doesn’t think he would put up the cash, realistically to purchase enough to make it fun. Someone, like myself, would need to have them and charge to pay because he doesn’t think realistically others would really be interested in purchasing them for themselves but would totally be down to get a group together to pay to play. The rest of them would not be interested in spending the money in the gear but if it were less expensive would consider it. Several found the value in the laser tag system at the manufacturers price.
Additionally, I tried to get any negative feedback I could possibly get out of them but they were reluctant to say anything negative about it. They had a blast and loved the games and play. The only negatives they could point out were that a few times there was dust between the contacts from the skin and the tagger so removing the skin and blowing off the contacts was a must. Another negative was obviously the gimpy tagger that could not be hosted… still working with battle company on this, hopefully we have a solution but just need to try to get the tagger updated. Then there were the breaking skins. A player indicated that just from wear on one of them ones handle got bent from play then started tearing. One skin got stepped on but surprisingly later it turned out the one that got stepped on was just bent and still fine. Over all they really would like to see something more durable to play with.
I did not give the group any recommendations for care and playing soft with the skins. I wanted to see what regular play without direct instructions to baby the skins would end up resulting for standard wear. Just my personal opinion, but anytime I buy laser tag gear, even my own kids treat it like crap. I’ve seen my boys, even though they know how much I freak out about improper care, get ticked off and throw a very expensive tagger on the ground out in front of them. These are (to them) toys. I’m sure we all have seen what our kids do to their stuff, let alone the respect and care their friends will show for stuff that isn’t even theirs. Bottom line it will be abused. And lo, it was abused today. More on that next.
Also take into consideration I requested these young folks to come play because they had not ever played with any of my laser tag gear. They had nothing to compare it to except their own walks of life from playing at a laser tag facility or “junky” laser tag toys they were exposed to in he past. NONE OF THEM had ever actually experienced tactical laser tag in its finest. I’m sure they haven’t ever held a decent laser tag system in their hands. With this we had some fresh meat that would be union-influenced in any way. I will be doing games with players bough who do have experience playing with higher end equipment and I’m excited to see their feedback soon. This group is the youth group from my sons church group. All very experienced in all things laser tag. Very well versed in what can and can’t be done. They will be the next group I run games for with this equipment… but looks like I’m going to need a new set of skins. Lol
- Wear and tear:
Yeah, enough said:
– Update: After providing feedback to battle company on the wear and tear they decided to make some improvements. Really the issue is the weaker narrow sections of the longer skins, this is where they break. Since the initial play and videos provided to battle company they went to work on several different ideas to increase durability of the skins. They ultimately decided on adding an additional layer of cardboard on the inside of the sides of the skin. The overall strength of the skin has greatly increased and is much more durable. There are some other improvements as well for the sniper skin. I have not put the new skin to the test but I’m positive it will hold up much better and I do not anticipate any breakage. I have mentioned this in the Summary but I also do not anticipate having to replace the skins now being shipped, which is really great, because i was prepared to do so and now likely will not! Big thank you to battle company to listening to mine and others feedback on improving the builds!
- Mod Capabilities:
I would say that this has several things that will be mod worthy here. Let me hit on them:
Skins: I am not certain that significant improvements will be done for the skins. Discussions with the manufacturer indicate that are comfortable with the disposable skins and do not want to have the evolver compete with their commercial gear. In my opinion only, the disposable and short life skins discourage folks from using the system as a commercial system and aids in the manufacturer’s ability to keep commercial products at higher value. I for one will be looking for anything as an alterative to the short life skins.
Battery compartment: It is not confirmed by the manufacturer that they will release a Lithium/rechargeable battery pack/grip for the tagger. This would significantly improve the product without having to replace batteries constantly as well as simplicity. If they were to release one, i would jump on it right away, however, likely the need will be present much sooner than one is released and as a modder, i will likely just make my own or mod the existing grip.
Future Expansion: The system has capability already built in for additional game play/features for capture the flag, domination, respawn stations etc. This is great and I appreciate that these things are not advertised because they are not available. In the past, coming soon features were advertised for other product launches but not fulfilled and that did not go well with some consumers. The product is not advertised with these advanced/future game play functions. If ever released, great, if not, it is advertised as is for what it can do currently. This does open the door for customizations though for those willing to experiment and play with capabilities.
Infrared Mods: The IR protocol is simple enough with 22 bits. It is unique to all other product launches so far from battle company with a longer syncing bit and three, yes, three validation bits at the end of the protocol. This is to likely ensure accuracy in incoming infrared from other devices. This is great in my opinion to isolate false infrared signals that could be received. There are four unique team identities in the protocol to clearly identify what team or if playing free for all. The player ID count matches the hosting capability of 16 players. For future modifications to the gear though, that would be a total of three potential teams with 1 players each if one would like to go that far with alternate scoring software modifications to get even more out of the gear with your own software/hardware developments, and allowing for up to accurate scoring for up to 48 players in three teams or 32 players with two teams.
Finally, here are some clips of some uses we have had with the new system: