When it launched a few years ago, The Conduit was a flawed but ultimately fun and important game for the Nintendo Wii. At the time, it was one of the few Wii-exclusive first-person shooters, since a majority of the entrants in the genre were either ports of older games or scaled-down versions of current releases. The story wasn't exactly the greatest part of the game, and it wasn't very memorable, either. However, the controls were highly customizable to give players a great gateway into the handling of Nunchuk/Wii Remote FPS games, the shootouts were exciting, and the online play was as robust as offerings on the higher-end consoles. Because of the system's stigma at the time, though, the game didn't sell as well as the company had expected. It sold well enough to warrant a sequel that just happened to be released at a time when new significant releases on the Wii seem to be slowing down. For that reason alone, gamers who only own Wii consoles will probably have a good enough reason to pick up Conduit 2. The real question is whether the game is good enough to pick up on its own.
The plot for Conduit 2 picks up almost exactly where the first one left off. Once again, you play the role of Michael Ford, a secret agent who became part of an organization named The Trust headed up by one John Adams. Thought to be someone who was just looking out for the general interests of the nation, it was soon discovered that Adams was an alien that had not only planned world domination but would do so with his specialized army of alien-human hybrids. At the conclusion of The Conduit, Ford had set off a war in Washington, D.C., and escaped through a portal known as a conduit. Knowing he had been duped and that his family and friends were in trouble or already dead, Ford went through the portal hell-bent on one thing: revenge.
The plot is pretty straightforward, and so is the gameplay. Ford is your typical soldier who can only hold two weapons at a time and has two different grenade types. You can sprint and jump, but you can't run very quickly or jump very high. You can solve a few puzzles with your All-Seeing Eye (ASE) device, but for the most part, it's you against everyone else as you blast them with various weapons. Though most of your combat occurs on foot, you have a few sequences where you use turrets to bring down bosses and take care of enemy hordes.
The game no longer takes place in Washington, D.C., and that opens up the game to new environments. You'll still visit the ruins of Washington, D.C., but you can use the conduits to go to an abandoned oil rig, Atlantis, South America, China, Russia and other exotic places. The change in scenery also comes with a change in enemy appearances, which the original game lacked a bit. The order of the day still involves mowing down enemies and getting from one designated spot to another to progress through the story. With a campaign clocking in at around eight hours, it proves to be sizable by modern standards.
The plot and gameplay may be simple, but Conduit 2 has a few things to keep the experience fresh. Your new suit, which you acquire toward the beginning of the game, allows you to place new upgrades on yourself whether it's larger ammo capacity, faster running or faster reloading. New guns also come into play, along with some of the other favorites, like a portable turret and a black hole gun, which can suck enemies into one spot and into the ether. The ASE still has the same powers and abilities, but each level sports an array of secrets to uncover because of it. Hidden messages on the wall are par for the course, but conspiracy items flesh out the game's backstory and lore. There's even the ability to access special hidden levels to extend the experience before you reach the conclusion. There's more to the game than just standard running and gunning, but you'll have to put in some work to find these enhancements.
There are many pluses, but the game also has a few negatives. The human enemies have fairly decent AI, but the aliens are a different story. While you'll find some of the humans trying to take cover in a fight, you'll see the aliens either try to rush toward you or run into walls as they get shot. They'll also try to move less during grenade throws whereas humans will try to run before they're blown apart. There's a strange loading issue with guns in the single-player game where picking up a new one presents a delay of a few seconds before the selected gun comes into view. Considering that your default weaponry will almost always be good enough to take care of the situation at hand and that ammo is rather plentiful, you may not need to pick up new weapons often. However, it is annoying if you want to try out something new in a firefight and get pummeled for a few seconds because you have nothing with which to fight back. Finally, there were a few cases where the game abruptly loaded boss fights instead of providing a smooth transition for them. This abruptness leads one to think that the game has crashed, and that detracts from the overall polish.
The controls for the original game became a template for how to correctly implement motion controls in first-person shooters, and Conduit 2 continues that tradition. The game supports both the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination and the Classic Controller, so fans of either will feel right at home. Every button and action is customizable, and sensitivity for camera movement and cursor dead zone can be manipulated to any setting. This lets gamers create a perfect custom experience as long as they're willing to put in the effort to find their preferred settings. Support for the Wii Motion Plus add-on is also here and adds more sensitivity and accuracy to the controls, but due to the customizations, the gameplay is still fine if you don't have the accessory.
The multiplayer portion of the original title is so good that people still play it today. Based on the way that multiplayer is handled in Conduit 2, it'll probably have long legs as well. Offline, the game supports up to four players in just about every online mode. The only mode unique to offline multiplayer gameplay is Invasion, where every player tries to fend off wave after wave of enemy until everyone is gone. Each player only has one life, but one can be revived by any living player at any time.
The game features the same robust selection of online modes as before, and it allows for online play with and without the use of Friend Codes. The standard assortment of Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and territory-style modes are all present, but they're accompanied by a few more inventive modes. ASE Ball, where you have to hold on to the ASE for as long as possible to reach a target time, makes a return along with ASE Basketball, which gives you points for taking the ASE into a goal until you reach the target point total. Bounty Hunter tasks you with going for your target opponent while penalizing you if you kill anyone else; VIP is the team variant of this mode. Balloon Battle plays like the similar mode found in Mario Kart, where the winner is the last one who still has a balloon attached. Those who lose all of their balloons, though, come back as living bombs instead of being kicked out of the game, so things become more frantic as you try to survive.
From a technical standpoint, Conduit 2 works flawlessly online. With a maximum of 12 players online, there was no sign of lag or any hint that the network experienced hiccups. Voice chat is still supported, but the developers opted to go with PDP's Headbanger headset instead of the WiiSpeak accessory. Those who have played Call of Duty: Black Ops on the Wii already know how good the Headbanger is, and it is invaluable in providing some clear voice chat in-game.
There are a few interesting things players will discover online, though. It seems like the developers at High Voltage Software have solved a general problem with Wii games, and that's the issue of patching, as one was delivered online during the review period. It only affects online play, but it's important to be able to add some balance or fixes to a game post-release. It's promising that it can be done on a system that's not traditionally known for it; other developers should also adopt this practice for the few online titles on the Wii. Additionally, although the game features a leveling system similar to just about every online shooter on the market today, it blankets all game modes. Tasks performed in the single-player game, for example, help you earn cash that you can spend to power up your online persona. You can't exactly make it to level 60 rank by only playing the game offline, but it gives offline players a fighting chance should they venture out for some multiplayer action. Finally, while the list of multiplayer modes is extensive, you only get to choose from a few general game descriptors when online, and you're given a chance to choose between two randomly selected maps and modes between each match. It's good for those who appreciate spontaneity but disappointing for those who only want to play a specific game mode online.
The graphics have also received an upgrade, though it won't be noticeable at first. A quick look at the game still shows the same flaws and surprises as the first game. The lack of anti-aliasing is present all throughout the game, and the color scheme feels muted most of the time. The visual blur is still present during the reloading motion, and the lighting in the game still impresses when you consider the power of the system. The frame rate is smooth most of the time and only slows down when plenty of effects happen on-screen. The character designs and animations are good from start to finish, especially those for the large bosses.
Upon closer inspection, you'll see that the upgrades are all minor but no less impressive. Bump mapping has increased on a few things, like the guns, making them look more realistic or, in the case of the living alien weapons, more grotesque. The lighting effects have increased in presence, and the texture work has gotten cleaner as well. The shine from the previous game has been toned down a bit more, so things look more realistic instead of appearing to have just come out of a rainstorm. An interesting graphical change has been the use of flashing when encountering enemies. Everyone who dies elicits a red flash once his life has drained away, and while it initially looks weird, you begin to appreciate the visual indicator as you fight off gangs of enemies in a confined space.
The sound is just as good as before. The music carries the same serious and somewhat epic vibe, which is starting to become commonplace with most modern shooters. The effects are good, and their use in a surround sound environment is well done. One thing people will notice is that the team has scaled back on the use of the Wii Remote for sound, so you'll only use it for ammo refills at stations and not for each gun reload. The voices, however, have changed greatly from the first title, with new actors reprising just about every role. The lines and voice acting make the story feel less serious and not as heavy-handed as the original game. About half of the lines are amusing enough in this sequel, while the other half either elicits no reaction or a slight cringe from the player. When you consider the delivery of some of the lines in the first game, though, this is an overall improvement.
Conduit 2 isn't a revolutionary shooter by any means. The plot is cookie-cutter, the graphics and sound design are good but not exactly eye- or ear-popping, and the campaign doesn't present a plethora of new features. The experience is still enjoyable, especially the multiplayer portion and its robust gameplay options. The game still shows a willingness to experiment with a few new guns and modes, and those who love finding bonus material will find a bevy of them here. It's a familiar but solid shooter that Wii owners will appreciate with open arms.
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