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Pokémon Go’s enhanced AR mode is equal parts cool and embarrassing

Hunting Pokémon just got a little more active

pokemon go ar photo Niantic/The Pokémon Company

Pokémon Go’s AR+ mode, available exclusively for iOS 11-compatible devices, is a feature that sounds a lot more minimal than it is. But in practice, Pokémon Go’s enhanced augmented reality capabilities are a fun addition to catching Pokémon — as long as you don’t mind looking more than a little weird when using them in public.

AR+ mode makes use of Apple’s ARKit, which allows for more authentic, dynamic applications of the technology. After updating to the latest version of the game, a pop-up appears to alert players on iOS to the feature; it’s checked off by default if they don’t choose otherwise on the pop-up.

With help from iPhone owner and Polygon Comics Editor Susana Polo, I enabled AR+ and went monster hunting. There’s another step to the process once you’re actually facing down a Pokémon, which is switching the augmented reality on. That’s only necessary if you normally have it off, which I tend to do, since that makes catching Pokémon easier.

The buffed-up features are immediately obvious in a Pokémon battle. First off, the game asks you to look down at a flat surface to actually look for the wild Pokémon in a rustling bush. But he main attraction of AR+ is that you can then actually approach or step back from a Pokémon, and the game will reflect your position accordingly. I closed in on a tiny Sentret and watched it get bigger and bigger on the screen, to occasionally hilarious effect. Certain Pokémon just don’t look all that great up close — no offense to Sentret.

sentret in ar+ mode
If you get close enough to catch it without scaring the Pokémon off, you get the Expert Handler bonus.
Niantic via Polygon

The Pokémon also responds to where you are in relation to them. A bubble appears above their head as a gauge of their awareness and fear. If the bubble fills to the top with red, that means the Pokémon’s about to run away from you. Sentret was especially anxious, with its gauge filling up quickly. What that meant for me was that I had to slowly stalk around my office like a fool, trying not to move too fast and send the Pokémon running.

That’s the double-edged sword of Pokémon Go’s brand of AR: I became so enthralled by the spatial awareness and so beholden to that gauge that I forgot where I was or how I looked to anyone who didn’t know that I was playing. When the new feature is activated, Pokémon Go doesn’t follow its usual walk-and-stop cadence; it becomes a lot more active.

I felt more like an actual Pokémon trainer than ever before as a result. But as soon as I realized that, uh, everyone who sits near me was staring in incredulity, I realized that the world may not quite be ready for actual Pokémon hunting. AR+ seems suited to one of two things: empty areas or places where there’s no reason to feel any shame.

And if you’re not as self-conscious in any circumstance, then the mode’s biggest problem may not impact you whatsoever. If anything, AR+ has taught me that maybe I should stop caring so much about what people think of me. Maybe.

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