You wouldnít believe how hard this intro was to write, thanks to the many possible avenues for it. Do I once again beg our readers to support a quality third party Wii game? Do I berate lazy Nintendo gamers who constantly whine about a lack of AAA hardcore titles, only to pretend they donít exist when a developer steps up? I could also ream Call of Duty, Halo and Killzone 2 fanatics for not giving a Wii game a chance. After plenty of careful thought about those options, this author came to the conclusion, ďWhatís the freaking point?...Ē I feel like Iím talking to a brick wall in telling you that this High Voltage Software product is the real deal in all sense of the phrase. I'm well-aware that a shooter like those just mentioned will never grace WiiÖbut I also donít care anymore. HVS, their Quantum3 engine, and The Conduit deserve attention from every gamer out there. Any Wii owner with half a brain should own the game, and all other shooter developers should copy and paste the effort.
Before Conduit, Metroid Prime 3 and Medal of Honor Heroes 2 were Wii's best-controlled shooters. Retro Studios nailed pre-built configurations with the former, and EA brought great customization into the latter. That's why manipulating Michael Ford, our latest FPS protagonist, is so special. High Voltage trumped all of that by literally exposing their controls engine to us. From a selection of camera styles that tighten or loosen your turning and determine how much you actually see, the dead zone that calculates how quickly your perspective begins to shift...to the very turning and look sensitivity [that are critical to shooters] -- it can all be tweaked to the T. You can even toggle whether pointing off-screen still drags along the view. Yet the real beauty is that itís all done in real-time. Excessive pausing is a thing of the past. While you play around with the custom sliders, Ford is still active in-game, so any changes you make are felt immediately. Console FPS control really doesn't fare much better than The Conduit. There's always room for improvement, but High Voltage has established a new standard here. The keyboard and mouse may still reign supreme, but Conduit has no equal when you consider precision and overall smoothness.
Joining the incredible engine are very comfortable melee and grenade gesturing. By quickly jutting the pointer forward, you crack your equipped weapon or hand into whatever foe is giving you grief. Tossing a grenade requires the painless positioning of the on-screen reticule to where you wish the explosive to land, and motioning the nunchuk. The Conduit doesn't rely on the attachment's accelerometer, a decision I'm glad was made. The motion isn't forced either; you can choose to gesture or switch the function to a button press. Everything else requires button input. This formula has slowly become the standard for present and future Wii software development: add motion where it's logical and feels appropriate, and leave the rest to classic control. In this case, we have the best of both worlds.
As far as the campaign goes, if youíve enjoyed older sci-fi shooters like Perfect Dark, Prey, or Half-Life, thereís entertainment to be had here too. The core setup and progression isn't new, but the presentation is generally well-done. An organization known only as "The Trust" has hired former government agent Michael Ford to track down someone called Prometheus. The group claims him as responsible for Earth being invaded by the Drudge, an alien race, in addition to the theft of a relic coined the All-Seeing Eye (ASE). You donít know what that device does at first, but once you start finding hidden messages, unlocking barred doors and uncloaking the tougher enemies in the game, you grow to appreciate its used pretty quickly. After the first mission, Ford is introduced to Mr. Adams, his Trust contact. This concept isn't extraordinary, but an interesting, slow-developing conspiracy, subtle connections to America and Earth's history/supposedly pending demise in 2012, make the experience worthwhile. I would've appreciated some FMV support for the plot, but it's nothing to feel angst about.
The voice recording is especially commendable, despite my not recognizing anyone's delivery. After some brief research however, I discovered that Michael Ford is played by well-known British actor Mark A. Sheppard , known for Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Medium, and all sorts of other TV shows and films.. The material doesn't always sound natural, but the cast helps convey The Conduit as a sort of film-type game. Plus, it felt like a boot to the head upon discovering Prometheusís true identify, especially after all his interactions with Ford. The video codec conversations are acceptably cheesy and serious, and the game as a whole is backed by impressive tech.
The Conduit ranks right up there with Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, Wario Land: Shake It! and other Wii titles in the visuals department. It's understood that 480p and 16:9 widescreen support is all we can expect on the console, and Conduit doesn't slack on either. The performance isn't wholly consistent, with significant frame rate dips here and there and strange gameplay glitches, but HVS has [in fairness] made a fine product. It was no joke when the team boasted that it was pushing the hardware. Bloom lighting that decorated Metroid Prime 3 so well is back in full force, HDR lighting that makes a Wii game's water the liveliest yet is present, and Drudge headshots, de-atomizing electricity and radiation grenades scream wonderful particle effects. Thereís so much more as well. While I agree with critics who say that the general technology and special effects overshadowed the game's art asserts and style, it's nothing overtly disappointing. The environments are bland from time to time, but HVS did a great job to inject appropriate destruction and hopelessness into the campaign. There's rubble, decommissioned cars and all sorts of other debris strewn about, which not only makes for great cover, but keeps this corridor-to-corridor shooter more interesting as you progress. I didn't even mind the enemy design repetition. There're more than ten distinct types that engage Michael in varying fashion. Plus it's not like most other sci-fi shooters are innocent of this; they simply have more identifiable characters. That's why series like Halo/ The Arbiter and Perfect Dark/Elvis are so popular. The Drudge forces, conversely, are nothing more than your bullet fodder, but that didn't bother me. There is one type, the Med-Mite I believe, thatís especially comical though. Think Halo's grunts, and you basically understand what I just referred to from The Conduit. They look funny, utter hilariously bizarre language, and run around like morons when you fight them.
Now I must unfortunately elaborate on those performance pitfalls. With the frame rate, I noticed that tossing a full stock of frag grenades at a sizeable squad of Drudge caused hefty slowdown. The same occurred anytime I encountered the bane of my existence in the game, a Scarab and I happened to have the upgraded De-atomizer on-hand. Firing four or more consecutive rounds of that puppy into those punks turns The Conduit into a nice two or three second slideshow. These optimization issues didn't hurt my enjoyment of the game at all, but they're there and likely to happen for you too. However, the glitch I discovered during the second mission, while humorous, isn't something I'd be proud of allowing slip by QA. I don't know what ultimately triggered it, but something I did while tweaking the control settings caused a strange merge of the customization engine and the goings-on. I completely lost the HUD, couldn't pause anymore, and yet was still capable of moving about freely and killing enemies. The Home button wouldn't do anything either. I somehow broke the engine, but not the entire application. Thankfully that was the only instance, but it's easily the strangest bug I've ever encountered in a shooter. It tops the HoTD: Overkill zombies that disappeared during the Bayou mission until I reset the console.
Those problems shouldn't discourage you from playing though. Moving about each mission and popping Drudge aliens, unlocking achievements and eventually turning on cheats really make The Conduit a romp of fun. It feels like the good ol' days with GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, just with obviously superior tech and enemy AI. The guns include a standard shiny pistol, a three-round burst Scar, the submachine MP5KA4, all the expectedly powerful Drudge weapons, and of course, the explosives. The only one I donít care for is the Scar because of its limited three-round burst nature. I always feel cheated by that for some reason, but at least this one has a nice scope to assist with necessary sniping. The Drudge weapons are strange in that they donít look like actual guns. They appear to be living creatures frankly, but that doesn't change how fun they are. The achievements are tied to straightforward tasks during the campaign, such as accumulating 250 kills with a specific weapon, or killing a number of a certain enemy. Satisfying the various requirements eventually gains you access to concept art galleries and in-game cheats like one-shot kills and unlimited ammo. My one wish of the weapons would be that they sounded more powerful. Given how those in games like Call of Duty, Halo, Killzone 2 and Resistance pack a very nice punch, it comes off as cheap when I think I'm shooting pop guns in Conduit.
My most significant gripe though, is how High Voltage designed a few of the large-scale mob encounters in the game. I felt highly frustrated with the segments in which you face off with 15 or more Drudge hostiles. For whatever reason during these skirmishes, your weapons feel less effective, while the pain you feel from the enemy's end is far more excruciating. The second to last mission especially has a mass battle that I died a ridiculous 20 times over. I believe these scenarios cost me about 50 of the 70 or so deaths that I accrued over the course of the campaign. The first 20 were mainly because I was still learning to control the game and tweak it to my comfort level, not to mention behaving pretty stupidly.
The single player lasts between four and eight hours depending on your patience level and skill. I clocked in right in between for my first playthrough, but could easily blow through it in the future. Thus while going solo has some legs, it's the online multiplayer that will keep Wii owners [hopefully] coming back. But let's establish from the get-go that The Conduit wonít replace the online experiences of the shooters I mentioned way back, yet it holds strong. You gain experience with the kills you generate and the victories you obtain. The more you gather, the higher your rank rises. The maps are based on environments from the campaign, and theyíre put together pretty well. There are a few unfortunate quirks however. First off, you canít exit a lobby that has begun gathering players, unless you donít mind completely rebooting the game. Thatís dumb. It also takes way too long to start a match that hosts more than six participants. I waited five minutes just to enter my second, which is not very good. Finally, in my first free-for-all, the system rendered me unable to play. Upon spawning, I couldnít move, pause the gameÖor do anything other than stare into the sky for about thirty seconds, in which I promptly reset.
Where the offering shines is with its matchmaking and your playing amongst familiar peers, because then WiiSpeak enters the equation. The Conduit features a few interesting countdowns that try to pit you against ideal opponents first, followed by close, and finally resorting to any. It can suck if youíre new and no other noobs are online, forcing you to go toe-to-toe with more experienced players, but the function at least works when there are other people to grab. You also can't use the conversation peripheral with strangers, but if even just one of your friends can play along on their machine, talk the night away as you brag about how pwnsome you are or how much the other participants cheat. That happens too, as Iíve seen people glitch walls and whatnot, which is obviously bogus. In terms of server performance, I happy to say itís impressive. While thereís anywhere between 5 and 10% frame rate pops/lag during a match, itís most often very smooth. Go aheadÖlaugh, but remember at the same time that Xbox Live and PlayStation Network don't fare much differently. If I took into account the disconnections and uneven ping when playing games like Gears of War, Call of Duty 4/WaW or Halo, I deem it unfair to scoff at The Conduit. To Nintendo's credit, while the policies and user-friendliness of Wi-Fi Connection suck, the company knows how to offer a stable infrastructure despite it being free-of-charge. EA doesn't even use it, instead using their own Nation service, but HVS doesn't have access to such resources, so they worked with what they had and did quite in the end. If this game sells well enough, I wouldn't be surprised to see people playing for at least the next six months. It may also depend on whether the company can and is willing to distribute more content.
Readers, you can't go wrong with The Conduit. Lovers of Metroid Prime 3, MoHH2 and perhaps even World at War should most definitely check this out. Screw that renting bullcrap if you enjoy shooters. High Voltage put serious effort in this project. Donít be a pansy; drop the $49.99 if nothing else but for on that alone. By now it's pointless rhetoric to beg you to buy The Conduit or tell you how desperate the hardcore market is for this kind of title to fly off shelves. Just pick this up because it's fun, looks great and treads online waters that often aren't touched on the system. HVS, I salute you...wish you the best of luck in the future, and look forward to giving The Grinder a go at E3 2010!