Review: The Conduit

TheConduit.jpg On any other platform, The Conduit would be considered “just another first-person shooter,” but on the Wii it’s a rare commodity: a fully specced FPS, minus tacky motion-control gimmicks and dumbed-down game mechanics, aimed squarely at the core gamer. And because of that it has built up lofty expectations among the Wii’s core gaming community, myself included.

For the most part, The Conduit lives up to expectations. But similarly to Sega’s other notable “hardcore” Wii game MadWorld, it’s also hurt by some questionable design choices that drop the game out of the running for the “best Wii shooting game” crown it seems many folks awarded it prematurely.

Let there be no doubt, The Conduit is a rock-solid FPS that actually reminds me a whole heck of a lot of Halo. The up-tempo pacing and smooth gameplay feel, the colorful sci-fi art direction, the cute little aliens that chirp and squeal as you shoot them up, the fun mix of man-made firepower and wacky alien technology…it’s all so very similar to Bungie’s revered FPS franchise. And that’s a good thing. I know I rag on Halo a lot, but it’s a good series that I’ve had a lot of fun with (it just isn’t the be all and end all of console FPSs it’s often made out to be).

But anyway, back to The Conduit… the crew at High Voltage Software has done a bang-up job pulling modern FPS mechanics and graphical flourishes from the more advanced titles found in the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 libraries and making them sing on the inferior Wii hardware like no other game before it.

One thing is for sure: The Conduit plays extremely well. The controls are so fluid and precise – not even Metroid Prime 3 can match this game’s natural point-and-shoot mechanics — and High Voltage deserves a ton of praise for providing such a robust, customizable control scheme. You can remap the control layout however you like, all of the HUD elements can be shifted around to wherever you want them on the screen, and there are more remote aiming and turning sensitivity sliders than you’ll know what to do with at first glance.

I did miss not having sprint and peek-and-lean mechanics, but you can do everything else expected of a modern FPS – you point, you shoot, you zoom in, you crouch, you jump, you flick the nunchuk to toss grenades, you stab the Wii Remote to melee, et cetera, et cetera. Also cool is the quick-turn ability. Simply hit Up on the D-pad (by default) and your character does a 180-degree spin, saving you from having to aim the remote left or right to (slowly) turn around manually. This has become a common feature in third-person shooters, but I can’t think of another FPS that uses it.

Controls aside, The Conduit’s gunplay is excellent. Weapons feel and sound powerful, are impressively detailed, and are complimented by slick reload animations (with background blur) to complete the effect. Enemies also put up a tough challenge. The AI isn’t the most advanced you’ll ever match wits with, but the game smartly masks its AI limitations by overwhelming you with enemy volume and misdirection.

The Conduit is a bit too “generic sci-fi” in terms of art direction, but the sheer technical fidelity of High Voltage’s proprietary Quantum3 engine more than makes up for the lacking artistic creativity. Visual effects thought to be beyond the Wii’s hardware capabilities – stuff like bump-mapping, motion blur, and complex lighting and water effects — have all been realized in this one game, and the result is a rich graphical experience that, while certainly not on par with cutting-edge FPSs on the other platforms, can at least compare favorably. That’s an impressive accomplishment.

Somewhere along the way, though, it seems High Voltage Software may have become a little too fascinated with making all these graphical bells and whistles a reality that quality in other areas of the game was compromised. The storyline, for starters, is remarkably unremarkable. Alien invasions, government conspiracies, shadowy organizations…it’s all so cliché, and unfortunately the ho-hum voice acting and uninteresting hero (Secret Service agent Michael Ford) do nothing to counteract the unoriginality. Making matters worse, the solo campaign only lasts around five hours and lacks any sort of closure, which is ironic considering the final mission is called “Closure.” [Spoiler Alert!!!] You work your ass off saving Washington, D.C. from alien intruders and right as you’re about to confront the game’s main antagonist the game abruptly ends and teases an inevitable sequel. It’s terribly anti-climactic.

Another problem area is level design. Running and gunning through the mean streets of D.C. and prominent government buildings like the Pentagon is a refreshing change from the FPS norm, but the level designs built around these settings are somewhat uninspired. Many of the levels are nothing more than series of look-alike rooms and hallways connected together in the most linear ways possible. The puzzles do little to spice up the linearity either. One of the game’s big selling points is the ASE, a powerful device called the All Seeing Eye that works sorta like a space-age flashlight that can detect and reveal hidden objects. But unfortunately it’s rarely used as anything more than a means to hack computer terminals and find hidden messages, data disks and special weapon bunkers.

The story mode isn’t all that replayable, but the game does offer an impressive suite of online multiplayer modes (there is no support for local multiplayer, in case you were wondering). Up to 12 players can hook up for heated online matches on seven maps in a total of 13 variants of deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag mode types. Thankfully, finding matches has been pretty painless in the early goings – you can create games with friends or have the game auto-match you with other players either by Region or Worldwide searches – and overall the online experience is stable (I’ve had one lock-up, but otherwise the performance has been great). A basic ranking system is in place as well for those who like some incentive with their multiplayer, and the game also has a built-in achievement system.

As a single-player game, The Conduit is great fun but too short and too light on replay value to justify the full investment. However, multiplayer is the real deal breaker here. If you’ve been hankering for a full-featured online FPS to play on your Wii, The Conduit will surely satisfy you with hours of competitive action. But if you consider multiplayer more of a side attraction, a rental will do you just fine with this one.

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Pros:
+ Highly impressive graphics
+ Smooth, natural controls with tons of customization options
+ Intense, challenging gunplay
+ Rich online multiplayer mode

Cons:
– Short solo campaign with limited replay value
– Disappointing level designs and ASE puzzles
– Weak story with a lame ending

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Sega
Developer: High Voltage Software
Release Date: 6/23/09
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-12
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!