The Conduit Wii
The Wii is increasingly becoming something of a wasteland for gaming enthusiasts looking for their next hardcore fix. Sega are actually one of the few publishers trying to remedy this, with titles like MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill being the only things preventing Nintendo’s console from being completely written off by players who like their gaming recipe with an extra dash of mature and easy on the partying.
One of the most popular genres on the HD consoles, and one that is massively underrepresented on the Wii, is First-Person Shooting. When I spoke to High Voltage Software two months prior to the release of The Conduit, I was told that this game would raise the bar for controls, graphics, customisation and online play on the Wii. The finished product is actually successful on all of those counts, but is that really enough to make a great game?
With the Wii’s one defining feature being its control mechanism, any exclusive title should ensure that player input is integrated well; otherwise you may be left with a feeling that everything would have worked better on another console. Here, The Conduit performs masterfully, giving gamers complete control (no pun intended) over the sensitivity, turning rate and button allocations, allowing them to craft their perfect personal control scheme quickly and easily.
In fact, the customisation is so good, that any exceptions to the rule are even more annoying, and the lack of an option to change crouch from hold to toggle was a constant source of irritation for me. Despite this, the pointer controls are a welcome change from dual analogue shooting. Being able to pull off headshots and aim and various targets with such speed and precision is satisfying, but I would hesitate to say it’s the preferable method of control for all FPS games as it requires a steady hand and thus more concentration than normal dual sticks.
Of course, it’s not just about how you’re shooting. What you’re shooting with and what you’re shooting at can be even more important. The Conduit’s ‘campaign’ mode sees you step into the conveniently personality-free body of Agent Michael Ford, who predictably enough is the only man who can save the American capital from an alien invasion. Cue the presence of a shadowy organization that is the Illuminati in all but name, a suitably obvious plot twist, some nonsensical story progression and an ending which resolves nothing but sets up a sequel perfectly, and it’s clear that High Voltage weren’t lying when they said the plot would be like a “Hollywood, popcorn blockbuster”.
It’s a shame really that the primary narrative is so throwaway, because there are a couple of incidental details that actually threaten to intrigue the player. In early levels, interactable radios are scattered about, providing glimpses of various military and public broadcasts that really flesh out the proceedings. There are also many secret messages hidden in each level that entwine the story with real-world ufology, prompting some fascinating online reading that hints at what the story could have been.
Alongside the workable-but-boring staple Human arsenal of shotgun, sub-machine gun, assault rifle, rocket launcher, and pistol there are more original Drudge alien firearms and futuristic Trust weaponry. Personal favourites include the Carbonizer Mk16- which fires a constant beam of plasma energy that disintegrates whatever fleshy object it touches, the Strike Rifle – which acts as both a semi-automatic weapon or a sniper rifle when a shot is charged, the Radiation Grenade – that sticks to anything (or anyone) it touches and drains the health of anything in the vicinity, and the Shrieker – which fires a screaming projectile of explosive bio material that can be controlled after launch as it tracks the Wiimote pointer.
All of those lovely death-dealing bullets will mostly be hitting generic human enemies and alien Drones. Although the art design leaves much to be desired, these baddies are fairly enjoyable to kill. They don’t really react much to being shot at, but at least the death animations are nice. They’ll also occasionally exhibit some artificial intelligence, and rush you or retreat to cover. The smaller alien Mites seem to have been heavily inspired by the Wretches from Gears of War, and also come in an explosive variety too.
It’s a shame that there are no real boss battles in The Conduit, and even the much larger enemies (that appear to have been nicked from Starship Troopers) never attack you in any interesting ways. At least the inclusion of some flying and invisible creatures adds some challenge and variety. The titular conduits do force you to push forward to destroy these spawn points, which increases the pacing of the game positively.
Despite looking unoriginal, the enemies are at least graphically impressive for the Wii, featuring texture and particle effects that haven’t been witnessed on the console before. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for the environments, which are drab in comparison. Although the various locales do include many more incidental details than we’re used to on the Wii, the layouts can give you a feeling of déjà vu as level geometry is often repeated several times in a row.
The game only has nine levels, the first being a flash-forward that you must play through twice (albeit with different enemies), and the last consisting of just two rooms. On the normal difficulty level, you’ll be lucky to get eight hours out of it, and the unlockable cheats and concept art don’t add much replay value to this.
Luckily, The Conduit also features online multiplayer for up to 12 players, with free-for-all, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes. Many of the maps are reminiscent of the corridor-filled bunker and facility designs from classics like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. Before each match, players can vote on a choice of seven maps and eight weapon sets, unlike in games such as Gears 2 or Halo 3 where players are only given two choices. The problem is the same few favourites get chosen every time, so you’ll be seeing more than your fair share of rocket launcher matches.
Despite the matchmaking system only working on ‘hours played’ rather than actual skill level, many matches will end up being quite close. Unfortunately, The Conduit often suffers from lag, not to an unplayable extent but people will sometimes die several seconds after they’ve been shot, or players may appear to kill each other at the exact same time. The usually smooth framerate also dips online, and the movements of other players will seem jerky and unpredictable.
Spawning also isn’t dealt with very well, as your opponents will often appear right next to you, or even inside you if you’re as unlucky as me. There is also a fairly frequent glitch that sees you spawn inside a wall, forcing you to reset the console. Of course, Wii games can’t be patched, so this is unlikely to be resolved.
However, if you do manage to join a game without these issues, it can actually be pretty fun. As with all online games, getting kill streaks and capturing ‘flags’ is satisfying, but just don’t expect any teamwork from your fellow players. Close combat and circle-strafing do highlight the limitations of the control scheme however, and because of this, the camera lock-on becomes invaluable.
At the end of the day, despite its flaws, The Conduit is undoubtedly the best Wii-exclusive First-Person Shooter, it’s just a shame that particular accolade doesn’t mean much. Graphical prowess is no substitute for great art design, great controls are no substitute for fantastic gameplay, and when it comes to First-Person Shooters, the Wii is just no match for other consoles.