Review / The Conduit (Wii)

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but over the past few years we’ve been kind of obsessed with a little game called The Conduit. Why? Well the thing held a lot of promise for the Wii and the developers behind it, High Voltage, were just as excited about actually making a great adult game for the Wii as we were of actually getting a great adult game for the Wii. FPS action with smooth Wii controls and the promise of a comprehensive multiplayer using Wii Speak! What wasn’t to get excited about?

However, one can get as excited as possible over a game, but that won’t make the final product good unless it is actually good. So where does The Conduit stand on the list of great games out there and does it really prove that the Wii can handle great graphics, adult games and online multiplayer, or does it fall short of its lofty goals of being the best looking and playing thing on the Wii? I’ve torn through the game twice now and have come to a conclusion that you will have to hit the jump to discover.

The Conduit is not original, and I say that in the most loving way possible. It is an amalgamation of big budget, Hollywood science-fiction action movies and has clear and heavy influences from games such as GoldenEye and Halo, not just in the fact that it is an FPS, but in level design and performance too. Now those are some big shoes to fill, especially since the two names that I dropped were revolutions in their time. Is The Conduit a revolution like these? Not really, but in some very serious ways it does change the game as we know it on the Wii.

First off are the controls, which are spot on. This is mostly because you make them spot on, down to minute difference that you can’t even feel. You can change every last aspect of the controller, from traditional changes like which buttons do what through to expanding the bounding box by tiny little bits both horizontally and vertically. If you don’t want to move the screen up or down without being at the edge of the screen with your cursor, but want to turn left and right at the drop of a hat then you can do that. I’m not sure how many people will actually dive into fully customizing their controls, but I found a solid place for my gameplay (not the presets) after about ten minutes or so of experimenting.

Once you do this you’re off an an exciting adventure of aliens destroying DC. Well it would be exciting if the entire story wasn’t told through audio and text. You only hear about the destruction of DC through word of mouth and the only character you ever see for any real amount of time is your hand and the gun you’re holding. It’s odd because it seems like there is a really interesting story buried in there (or at least one that involves the destruction of the capitol) but it is hidden away from you by the tunnels and buildings the game takes place in. It feels like the game lacks scope, even when you are outside the world is very enclosed. Just a few cutscenes or even dramatic shots of things occurring elsewhere would have really helped this out. You can pick up hints at a bit more plot here and there through hidden writing on walls and radios broadcast the world’s news, but you have to be willing to stand around and listen to it.

However, this enclosed story gives the game a very retro vibe, hearkening back to games like Doom or Wolfenstein where really all you were doing was completing the mission laid out before you. Those games worked so it’s not the end of the world here, especially since most of The Conduit’s gameplay is fun and challenging and never gets old in that simple way that makes a game fun. It also helps that the AI is very solid and the enemy variation keeps attacks coming from almost every angle. There are smaller enemies who run up and attack you, larger aliens who take cover or charge, humans who play like you would and a variety of other enemies that keep the game interesting and eventually very challenging.

It also helps that High Voltage has delivered in the gun department. I’m often stuck wondering where the next advancement in FPS guns is going to come from and the signs in The Conduit point to the Wii. Obviously aiming is handled very well, but it’s the variety of guns that makes the game a blast to play and none of them (except for the rocket launcher) ever seem useless. I never found a gun that became the gun, which seems to happen in a whole ton of FPSs. Furthermore a few key guns could only be done on the Wii, and these guns, like The Shrieker, which allows you to lock on to a target as long as you keep your pointer on them, give me great hope that even more developers can come up with really interesting ways to effectively use the Wii Remote in traditional style games. Wii games are most enjoyable when they actually use the Wii Remote in a way that makes it different from standard controllers and The Conduit does that.

It does that while looking good about 75 percent of the time too, and, though I hate to qualify it like this, 75 percent is far more than most Wii games do. There are aspects of this game that look like they are from the 360 or PS3. High Voltage’s engine can handle some very impressive stuff. Agent Ford’s (that is who you’re playing) hand and weapons look amazing along with every enemy who attacks you, especially the alien creatures. However, it appears the devotion to making the moving characters look good meant that power was not too reserved for the levels themselves. While some of the areas are actually quite impressive, like the streets of DC with burning embers falling from the sky, others are just bland and ugly. The White House and Pentagon are particularly flat in design and graphics. I do have to give immense props to High Voltage for nailing the DC metro though. As a DC native I can attest to its striking resemblance.

The one thing that was supposed to really separate the game from other FPS is a little toy called the All Seeing Eye, which I am forced to describe as, for lack of anything better, a fancy flashlight. Sadly, it never really achieves a much greater status than this during the game either despite having great potential. The ASE can see hidden things and also hack into computers, but aside from a few enemies it is basically reserved for finding hidden things and unlocking doors. When you do have to fight enemies and uncover landmines with it, it works wonders as a device to force the gamer to choose between shooting and a bit more safety, but it is never used to its full potential in any way. It’s one of those things that begs for a sequel so the devs can use it in a much better way.

As I said before, the game is a blast to play. It truly feels like a shooter of old, which in my opinion is not a bad thing. The enclosed spaces, differing enemy AI and classic duck-and-shoot style of shooting is actually something I didn’t realize I missed until I got my hands on the game. It helps immensely that the enemies are never too stupid and never too aggravating too. There’s a very solid balance of attack and defend with them, and this, along with the easy to pick up and adjust controls, should make it one of the easier hardcore games for novices to get into.

Now for the online. It, like the single-player mode, is not revolutionary. In fact, like the single-player mode, it feels decidedly retro except for the fact that it is online. You’ve got smaller enclosed levels, a few selections here and there, a variety of cool options (like character color, weapon sets, etc.) and you’re good to go. It hearkens back to a time when you plopped down on your couch to play with some friends instead of trying to dominate some Achievement or spend your life trying to become the best at some game. For me it’s a blessing as I’m always the guy in a modern FPS who spawns and dies instantly — I like having a feeling that people are playing more for fun than anything else. Maybe that will change as time progresses, but I hope not. I also picked up Wii Speak to use with this and have found the tech very cool and useful, though I wish more people had it.

In the grand scheme of things, The Conduit is no doubt a slightly above par shooter. It isn’t going to blow you away with much new and it isn’t going to revolutionize the FPS genre in one fell swoop. What it does have a chance of doing is proving that solid gameplay, good graphics and intelligent design have a place on the Wii and that if you give it a try you’re going to have fun. There are flaws here for sure, but The Conduit is simply a good game on the Wii, so I suggest getting it and having fun.

+ Looks darn good
+ Old school shooter charm with new school AI and weapons
+ Control options out the ass

–¬†ASE isn’t fully utilized
– Story lacks any real meat
– Some levels look dull and plain