The Conduit may be the most significant title to date for the Wii, without being particularly novel or innovative in its genre. The other, recent important Wii game was almost surely Mad World, which on several levels was indeed novel, but it lacked accessibility not only for the bulk of Wii owners, but even for some core gamers who found neither the graphical style nor the content suitable to their taste.
The Conduit has been the darling of the specialty games press for some many months — so much so that it's almost not fair, as the prettiest belle at the ball has rapidly aged and almost become a wallflower before she's even made her debut. The Conduit is, after all, just a shooter. Put aside the Wii controls, and what we have is something that I call, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Resistance Lite. Thematically, the games are similar enough: alien invasion must be put down by intrepid special-services soldier. Frankly, that's a common enough theme that even Resistance is derivative of many other titles that have come before it. One can't justly accuse The Conduit of copycat behavior unless we include half of the contemporary AAA science fiction shooters in that indictment. Beyond basic theme, where The Conduit and the original Resistance title are most similar is in the presentation of the narrative. A documentarian's voice-over, delivered with solemnity worthy of an NPR broadcast, covers a collage of images, old newspaper clips and copies of classified dossier pages detailing the current sorry state of affairs for the future of human autonomy. It explains to you, Wii shooter fan, exactly why your success is so critical for us all.
To be blunt, there's little here that you can't find prettier and with greater depth, or at least length, on a modern PC or one of the competing HD consoles. What makes The Conduit remarkable is that it's a superior Wii-exclusive FPS effort, a fact that should not necessarily lend the game de facto credibility. In this case, developer High Voltage deserves every bit of credit for doing something important with what perhaps has become best known as a party-game system. High Voltage has developed and implemented its own graphics engine designed to exploit everything possible out of Wii's architecture; in that regard, the developer has most decisively ... well, I'm tempted to say, "raised the bar," but that's much too equivocal. High Voltage has delivered a stinging slap to the faces of any developers who'd have you believe their wan excuses that graphics aren't what Wii is about, and that visuals on the console should take the far backseat to novelty of control and gameplay mechanics. Not a word of it, anymore, folks. High Voltage proves that not just first-party Nintendo titles and games heavy on the cutesy art direction belong in the pantheon of graphically beautiful Wii projects. Seriously, devs, crank out whatever slop you will, but your old fallback position for miserable, glazed-looking Wii games is all gone now. If only for that single accomplishment, Wii gamers of all stripes owe High Voltage and Sega a debt of gratitude.
At times, though, this focus on outstanding production values makes The Conduit play a bit more like a Wii technology demo than a contemporary rival to FPS offerings on other platforms. I realize one can only do so much from the ground up during a reasonable period of development, but I generally prefer more campaign game in my campaign game. It's a beautiful experience, and the whole endeavor just reeks of AAA quality, but beneath what is truly a watershed moment in Wii presentation, there's not nearly so much meat on these lovely bones as I'd hoped.
I'm sure legions of console shooter fans will argue me this, but what is supposed to be a highlight of the game's technical prowess, the FPS control mechanic integrating Wiimote and Nunchuk, I found one of the weakest points of the game. It's not unplayable, and it's not for a lack of effort on the part of High Voltage, but translating FPS control to Wii is a messier affair than everyone wants to believe. Many of us started our shooter lives on PCs. There was no less likely candidate for a smooth action gaming interface than a PC keyboard and mouse, but it worked wonderfully, all the way back, at least, to DOOM. Then along game PlayStation 2 and its competitors, capable of providing at minimum an acceptable facsimile of the 3-D graphics to which PC gamers were by then accustomed. It was then only a matter of time until the hotly anticipated titles for consoles shifted from the likes of Rayman to the hard world of Red Faction. Still, it took me forever to make that initial transition. The first console FPS I played more than a couple of hours was Halo on the original Xbox, a system I deferred owning until rather late in the console's life. When I finished Halo, I thought two things: That's one of the best FPS experiences, period, and Where's the sequel? Of course I'd been flirting early on with the likes of Red Faction, but the console version of Halo just got it right. I immediately stopped chuckling at what I thought had been the ultimate oxymoron, "console FPS."
The Conduit is yet another leap, a transition to an all-new control system, granted with strong similarities to titles like Metroid Prime: Corruption. Maybe I'm getting long in my gaming teeth, but I'm tired of making leaps, unless they are to truly revolutionary control systems. The Conduit's control mechanics aren't revolutionary, but rather a very decent way of managing the game with common Wii implements. High Voltage has likely created the best FPS-style control model on the Wii, but for those of us already accustomed to the vagaries of standard console FPS controls, making yet another jump could be asking too much. Making that jump for a game with an overall rather shallow, derivative gameplay design may not be worth it, if you have other console options. The Conduit's controls are only natural and seamless if Wii shooters are the only modern shooters you've ever played.
If The Conduit's raison d'être is proving once and for all that Wii games don't have to look like cartoons or abstract watercolor paintings of the seashore, its second line of defense, compared with a barely knee-deep and short single-player campaign, is the online multiplayer experience. The Conduit supports 12 players online, and, notably, is the premiere third-party published title to support the oft-overlooked Wii Speak voice chat unit. Somewhat surprisingly, The Conduit's multiplayer modes are heavy on team-based dynamics, so voice chat can make a lot of difference. However, it's my experience that even in most of the well-designed, team-based online shooters for any platform, gameplay quickly devolves into a madman's luncheon. If you have a bunch of close Wii gaming friends, or trash-talking on the Wii's first bona fide multiplayer shooter experience is your idea of a good time, you may well now have your excuse to pick up a Wii Speak. Otherwise, most of you can do without it and not miss it one bit. (The Conduit limits chat audibility to other players in your immediate vicinity, hopefully squelching some of the extraneous crosstalk that guts the voice communication experience in most online console action games.)
Of particular interest, The Conduit partially does away with Nintendo's onerous Friend Code system. Certainly, Nintendo had its reasons for implementing Friend Codes, but for the average late teen or adult gamer, those long strings of digits are purely burdensome. The Conduit instead allows you to match into games with random players, or, alternatively, drop into games populated only with players with whom you've already exchanged Friend Codes. There are few possible knocks on The Conduit's multiplayer modes, save for the fact that I did on a few occasions experience some appreciable lag — which probably puts The Conduit even more in the same league as many top-tier shooters on competing consoles.
I've spent little time discussing The Conduit's single-player campaign, only because there's little there, and frankly it doesn't seem even High Voltage considered solo play the a high point of the game. As mentioned, the plot is familiar and narrow, and the gameplay, for the most part, repetitive, often in excess. Mission after mission, you eliminate various species of Drudge alien threat, destroy conduits (the portals through which our local alien nemesis gets around), flip switch, shoot the thingy on the wall, and carry on, soldier. However, the cut scenes and audio work woven throughout the story are finely produced, on par with any AAA single-player game on the market. Solo Conduit is not a horrible experience, but few of you will be avid to repeat it once, let alone again and again like many of the better single-player shooter campaigns of the last couple of years.
Out of all the games I've played in quite some time, The Conduit is surely the most difficult to score. Often scores are nearly self-evident and float across my field of vision within the first hour or two of gameplay. Usually it's more complicated to make specific, hopefully insightful points in describing the game. In this case, writing at length about The Conduit has been a breeze because of the advances that High Voltage has injected into Wii action games, especially FPS titles, and it's been easy to discuss. When it comes down to it, though, I must assign a score, and I have to decide to compare it with every other contemporary console shooter or judge it only as a Wii game. It's a game only for the Wii, from an independent developer; The Conduit is not a photorealistic HD console offering from a mega-developer supported by 17 subsidiary technical studios. This is a great game for the Wii, and merely for the fact High Voltage has forever nullified any self-serving acquittals developers may concoct for hobbled visuals, sloppy controls and pitiful online multiplayer in their Wii games, The Conduit deserves great recognition. Going out on a limb, but a thick limb, The Conduit is an FPS that will stand well among lots of contemporary shooters, but the game is by far the most fully realized, expertly designed experience of its type available on the Wii.
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