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Happy 2nd Year Anniversary iCOMBAT Chicago!

Happy 2nd year anniversary iCOMBAT Chicago! It was coincidental that they were running anniversary specials on the same weekend I was already planning to be in Illinois, but once I realized this I knew I would definitely make a point to stop in and play some tactical laser tag at this location in Schiller Park, IL. I had a great time playing with this awesome group of guys who came out to enjoy some laser tag as well.

When I arrived at the site I was greeted by the manager, Mike, who was kind enough to give me a tour of this impressive facility that houses two double level arenas themed to really immerse you in an atmosphere while the game is going on. Our first stop was to the briefing room to check out the gear.

There were two rows of lockers storing and displaying the equipment. Mike told me they have 70 sets of gear and are one of the largest indoor laser tag facilities in this state. That’s impressive in and of itself. However, seeing what was new since the last time I played was even more interesting to me as he showed me the features of the new GEN 3 iSMG equipment.

iCOMBAT’s tactical line is all about realism and this unit is modeled after a sub machine gun aesthetic and feels very solid with some weight to it. In comparison to the irMR models I have played with in the past this felt much larger and it took a little time for me to acclimate to different feel of this gear considering I typically play more traditional tag. One thing that really sets this unit apart from the previous generations is that these use a battery charge instead of the CO2 mags that I had played with the last time. When you run out of shots you still release the mag and push it back into place to reload, but you don’t have to replace it the same way and I immediately preferred this new method.

Each of the iCOMBAT corporate locations has a different and very distinctive theme. I played “Battlefield Baghdad” when I visited Waukesha, WI, but in Chicago the arenas are themed as “Alcatraz” and “Shanty Town”. I arrived while a session was in progress in Shanty Town, so I took a tour of the rest of the facility first starting with the command center that they call “Isis”. This is where I watched as Josh was busy behind the computed console running games, playing the music and announcing updates throughout the game.

Then Mike showed me around the Alcatraz arena. This space is designed to make you feel like you are targeting an enemy inside an actual jail. There are lots of well-considered design elements throughout the floorplan.

The jail cells are the most distinctive aesthetic feature of this arena.

However, there is also a prison shower…

…and even an intimidating chair to add to the atmosphere.

I noticed that stairs were the means of getting to the upper level and, while I’ve gone on record that I’m not a big fan of stairs in arenas, Mike gave a very reasonable explanation that more than anything they serve as a strategy point for the game.

I could certainly appreciate that more once the game was in progress. Then he showed me a few of the features on the upper level of this arena.

This flashing bell is used in certain games like “Hells Bells” and essentially acts as a base in those games. An interesting thing to note from a player’s strategy is that it can be shot from either the upper level or from the lower level by aiming through these floor grates.

I learned quite a bit about the system from Mike as he told me about the way they approach cadet sessions for younger players and how iCOMBAT has patented live score tracking that can break down almost every in-depth tracking criteria you could want from the games. It takes more of a video game approach to player stats which was very interesting to hear about.

I also enjoyed hearing that Norwegian Cruise Lines now has the iCOMBAT Invictus (which I’m dying to try in an arena!) installed on their two biggest ships, Joy and Bliss.

Before too long it was time for me to suit up in the gear and enter a game in Shanty Town.

This arena was less about realism and more a tribute to the colorful graffiti art design you might find as part of the culture of Brazil.

The structures inside this arena were more paneled rooms and allowed for artists to add their personal mark…

This space was bright and functional. Our team leader, Tom, led us to the spawn point where we would begin the round and return to when we need to respawn by pushing the button on top of one of the tubes.

We played about eight games over the course of a solid hour in the arena. The session began and ended with rounds of Deathmatch (essentially just go out there and target as many opponents as possible) and also included Juggernaut which I have played before, but my favorite games included two that I had not previously played. I really enjoyed Whack-A-Mole, which is a little like Domination in that there are three tubes placed throughout the arena, but rather than trying to dominate them all simultaneously the announcer would randomly announce which tube was active (and it would only stay active for a short time) and that was the one you had to shoot into to turn it your team’s color before a few seconds later a new active tube would be announced. My team played this with more of a zone strategy. Props to JaceMace who held things down at tube one while I spent more time in the center of the arena trying to defend and activate tube two. There was a rhythm to the flow of this game that I liked and understood.

The other game I really liked was called SWAT. One team would go out into the arena and each player would pick a room. Once inside that room they were not permitted to leave and had to defend from there. One team would be the SWAT team and the other would be the Thugs. I found that I did better at defense than offense in this format, but enjoyed playing both positions. It’s nice that when you play a session here you get to experience a wide variety of game formats.

And, of course you know my very favorite part is always shopping for tag swag!

I had a wonderful time playing tactical laser tag at iCOMBAT Chicago. Big thanks to Mike and the staff who showed me around and helped us to have a really fun experience. I don’t get to play tactical very often, but I would definitely like to return and play here again!

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