If you happen to be a Wii owner who has a separate shelf for your Wii-exclusive first-person shooters then I would imagine it’s been looking pretty bare in the last couple of years.
Well, it might just be time to dust off that shelf, vacuum the dead moths from the corners and place High Voltage Software’s The Conduit in pride of place.
The Conduit has attracted a lot of attention due to its marketing drive and due to the fact that many gamers are heralding it as the game that proved the FPS genre isn’t a lost cause on the Wii. Well this may be true, the game is a success from a technical perspective and will hopefully encourage other developers to take a serious look at what the Wii can achieve with its 1600cc motor in comparison to the grunty V8 powerhouses of its current generation counterparts. So yes, the genre isn’t a lost cause, but as a game, The Conduit is a missed opportunity.
At face value, The Conduit’s storyline is shallow and generic. If it were a recipe then it would be an Edmonds Cookbook staple;
1. Take one alien invasion
2. Add one Secret Service agent
3. Season with assorted weapons
4. Simmer for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.
Sure, there are twists and conspiracies thrown in and your role changes in conjunction to these twists as you work out who you can and can’t trust. But due to the cast of characters who have absolutely no character and the vanilla plot and setting, you just don’t get drawn in or emotionally attached to the game whatsoever. Halfway through the game I find myself thinking: “Yeah, I’m enjoying the innovative controls, and it’s nice to see my Wii tested graphically – but I’m not sure I can be bothered playing any further”. There’s just nothing compelling enough to make you want to finish the game when you know it’s going to be a case of wash, rinse and repeat.
The plot is stitched together by dialogue boxes between levels which doesn’t help bring any sense of atmosphere to the game. There are radios scattered throughout which supply much needed backstory which gives some kind of context to your cause.
Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the controls. It is after all, what will shift units off the shelves – and so it should as the remote and nunchuk work very well indeed. Not mouse and keyboard well, but once you have them fine-tuned and are used to them, you’ll wonder if you could ever go back to double thumbsticks. Everything about the controls can be calibrated and tweaked, and it’s well worth taking the time to get things just the way you want them. As a default, the Wii remote is used to aim up, down, left and right along with firing, weapon changes and melee. The nunchuk thumbstick moves forward and back plus strafes and you use it to throw grenades by mimicking a throwing action.
The melee, using the remote, is achieved by a short stabbing/prodding motion and feels a little silly to begin with. Many times I found myself moving both controllers which initiated both a melee and a grenade throw until I coordinated myself to move one without the other. But as mentioned, everything can be customized – so if the melee action doesn’t agree with your playing style then you can easily map it to the D-Pad for example. There are about ten separate actions to perform in the game, so taking some time to set up the controls to your liking is imperative, especially with movement and aiming sensitivity. The default was a bit twitchy for my preference, so with a little tweaking the accuracy I obtained was spectacular.
I must admit to being a tad cynical about how well the control method was going to work, but walked away with a feeling that I’d actually physically contributed to the fight and a warm glow that the future bodes well for the genre on the Wii. Roll on the next Metroid release!
Sadly, the game itself doesn’t live up to the lofty heights of the excellent controls. Poorly designed levels present a mixture of sewers, streets and government bases, yet all play identically with narrow corridors funnelling you from one alien-filled area to the next. Your mecha-insect-like enemies spawn from egg-sacs which must be found and destroyed if you want the steady flow of attackers to stop. Locations range from obvious to devilishly hard to find and you’ll die many, many times from enemies sneaking up from behind and above as you search every nook and cranny. There are several frustrations like this, another being forced to find and disarm virtually invisible bombs while snipers are taking pot-shots at you and on-foot enemies are swarming around.
Usually the controls are quick and accurate enough to deal with any situation thrown at you, but then there are isolated instances when myriads of enemies (they’re called The Drudge by the way) are already alerted to your presence and are waiting behind a door for you to enter. You’ll be killed several times over until you can memorise their scripted locations by trial and error. It just illustrates the thoughtless design on display throughout the game.
Up to twelve players can compete on seven multiplayer maps based on the single player levels. But because these are centred around corridors and rooms, most deathmatch battles come down to who can aim and shotgun the fastest or throw lucky grenades. Capture the Flag matches also prove lacklustre as the levels don’t really allow for any creative team tactics. You can rank up, which is great, but unfortunately the multiplayer leaves you with the same hollow feeling that the single player campaign does.
Graphically, The Conduit is one of the better looking games on the Wii – but don’t go comparing it to FPS graphics on other consoles – the Wii will never, ever compete. But there are impressive textures and lighting plus great detail on the enemies and explosion effects. There was literally no drop in framerate, even with a screen full of enemies, but I did experience some sporadic lag playing online. The art direction is generic, with unimaginative enemy and environment design that goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned generic storyline.
At the end of the day, The Conduit is a triumph in technical achievement in terms of nailing down a brilliant interactive FPS control system – and is well worth playing to experience that alone – but without any substance to back it up, the whole experience is a bit, for want of a better term…”meh”. However, mark this game down as the title that proved FPS games on the Wii are no longer something to be sneered at.