Déjà vu and Men in Black: Global Invasion

I’ve been playing the augmented reality-tinged location-based game, Men in Black: Global Invasion and can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of déjà vu. I feel like I’ve played this game before.

Men in Black: Global Invasion

It’s been ages since I’ve actually watched a Men in Black movie. As kids, my siblings and I practically wore out our VHS copy of the first one (we didn’t have cable), but my interest in the series quickly faded after watching the lackluster second movie. This game was released in conjunction with the latest iteration, which I admit to being interested in despite the movie’s poor reception— the combined charm of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth surely cure all ills, right?

I feel like I need to establish some boiler-plate copy for reviewing these kinds of location-based games from here on out:

  1. It’s trying to ride Pokémon Go’s popularity.
  2. You walk around the real world collecting digital monsters/aliens/ghosts/dinosaurs.
  3. You walk around the real world collecting digital resources in order to better accomplish #2.
  4. The digital monsters/aliens/ghosts/dinosaurs you collect are never good enough so you need to upgrade the ones you have or collect new ones.
  5. You get upsell ads from the game so frequently that you wonder if you’re not getting the best experience because they reserve that for players who spend money. Then you wonder at your wonder, if that’s exactly what the developers want you to think, so you feel tempted to go spend money, feeling bad about yourself.
Men in Black: Global Invasion
Men in Black: Global Invasion doesn’t wait.

When I began Men in Black: Global Invasion I honestly thought this was another release from 4:33 Creative Labs and NextAge, makers of Ghostbusters World. The two games are so similar that I thought in the moment, “good for them, they’ve found an app template they can churn out and sell to big brands.” It’s not, however, as this game was made by Ludare, a company otherwise unfamiliar to me.

I feel like I can be forgiven for that case of mistaken identity for the two games are indeed remarkably similar. That’s just how it is in this sub-genre of location-based gaming these days, it’s all small iteration, no one is making dramatic leaps in game design. I get it though. In the case of Men in Black: Global Invasion, you’re not going to pitch something different to Columbia Pictures; they want that Pokémon Go slot machine game to promote their movie and no other funny business.

Men in Black: Global Invasion

I spend a lot of time poking at these kind of games and recently wondered if I’m missing the big picture. There have been so many small iterations that maybe I’m not seeing big change over time. The old and horrifying “frog in boiling water” idiom. 

The thing is, these games have gotten better. I mean, my gibe about them being fancy slot machines is still quite true for that is central to their design, but at least they now come with a host of other slick features. Every time I take a long break and come back to one, I’m surprised by what’s in there. Slowly there are some story bits being injected into gameplay, opportunities to interact with the game when you can’t walk around the real world, better player insight into in-game statistics, and more. Their design is meant to encourage daily interaction, but taking breaks from them has helped me better see the gaming landscape. 

Men in Black: Global Invasion

In what was supposed to be a review of Men in Black: Global Invasion, I haven’t really said much of anything about it. So, here: it has some rough edges but otherwise it’s a totally fine game. As I said at the top, I’ve seen this game before and while some games like Pokémon Go and Jurassic World are slightly better experiences, it’s really dependent on what flavor of intellectual property you prefer most.

(The alien flavors are limited but at least they have a full range of space dogs.)

Men in Black: Global Invasion has some quirky humor in it and tutors incoming players well, meting out explanations of different game systems at appropriate times. The game’s user-interface can be clunky, particularly when you’re trying to assemble a team for their non-location-based combat mini game. You can take your team of captured aliens and have them fight other aliens in a turn-based, rock-paper-scissors styled arena. Putting that team together each time is tedious for me, even with a few presets available, as the enemy team’s composition is on a whole other screen. I haven’t memorized what each alien color is strong against or weak to.

Men in Black: Global Invasion

I just have to remember, from time to time, to step back and take a look at what new systems and game mechanics are being quietly introduced in these games. Men in Black: Global Invasion is exactly like all the others and should it survive (i.e. trick enough players into paying money so the game’s funders don’t pull the plug), it’ll benefit from the slow design iteration that this genre of location-based gaming seems to be sharing among themselves. [Insert “rising tides and boats” idiom, in an already idiom-heavy post]. I’m curious to see what floats to the top next.