When the Wii was first announced, a lot of games sprung to people's minds. Most people, myself included, thought first of a lightsaber-based Star Wars title, but after a bit of thought, what I most was excited about was a first-person shooter. The Wii's great Wiimote and Nunchuk design seemed custom-made for an FPS, but the initial batch was disappointing. Red Steel, which seemed to offer both FPS and sword-fighting action was just sad, and the Wii lacked a real honest-to-goodness FPS until Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. After that, the drought remained, despite games like Prime and Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Wii-based FPSes can control like a dream. Thankfully, High Voltage software is out to fix this inexplicable absence with The Conduit.
The Conduit is set in the near future in Washington D.C. The city has come under attack by a race of aliens known as the Drudge, who have launched an assault on humanity for unknown reasons. The Drudge's powerful biological weaponry has given them a huge advantage over humanity, and all hope seemed lost until the appearance of TRUST. TRUST is a Men-In-Black like organization created a long time ago in preparation for the inevitable alien invasion, and they have technology and training far above and beyond those of even the army's most elite soldiers. Players take control of Mr. Ford, one of the agents of TRUST, who is assigned experimental new power armor and assigned to help fend off the Drudge. It isn't the most innovative story, but High Voltage promises a few twists and turns along the way to keep gamers interested in the story.
There really isn't enough good that can be said about The Conduit's controls, even in this early build. The Wii controller makes for some fantastic shooting experiences, even with ports like Resident Evil 4, but it has had only a bare handful of exclusively-built FPS, and of those only Metroid Prime 3 didn't feel like shovelware. This can't really be said about The Conduit, which allows for quick precise movement and aiming with the Wiimote and Nunchuck. Even better, the controls are fully customizable. You can not only adjust the button configuration and the sensitivity of the Wiimote, but even the “dead zone” which separates aiming from turning. The result is an experience that makes it possible for almost anyone to configure the experience precisely for them. For those who are not great at FPS, or just those who have trouble adjusting to the Wiimote control scheme, it also includes a lock-on, which is less versatile then free aiming, but keeps the target in your focus.
The Conduit's weapons are divided into three types: Human, Alien and TRUST weapons. These weapons each use their own unique kind of ammunition, and the ammunition types are not interchangeable between different faction's weapons. Human weapons are basically what you'd expect to find in any first person shooter. The one in the demo was called the SLAY, and was your average sort of machine gun, equipped with a rapid-fire capability and a scope. Alien weapons are biological armaments used by the Drudge, and run off plasma ammunition. The two Alien weapons we saw were the Bio-Mass Gun and the Shreker. The Bio-Mass Gun was basically a Drudge rifle. It fired slow powerful blasts and could zoom in on enemies for long-distance sniping. The Shreak however, was my favorite weapon in the demo and easily one of the coolest weapons in the game so far. The Shreaker is a guided missile launcher that fires powerful explosive blasts. The cool part about The Shreaker is that after you fire, the missile follows your Wiimote's pointer, allowing you to guide it around obstacles and even make it turn corners to smash into unlucky enemies in hiding. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it proves to be an invaluable ally. Finally, the TRUST weapons are melding of alien plasma technology and human ingenuity. The TRUST weapon in the E3 demo was the Mark 4 Atomizer, a high powered laser cannon. By charging the Atomizer, you actually split the crosshair into two distinct crosshairs. Targeting an enemy with one crosshair and firing will cause two shots to fly from the Atomizer. One flies right towards the enemy, while the second shot will lock in on the enemy. You can even twist the Wii remote to change the firing angle, allowing you to do things like target an enemy hiding behind a car and then sending one shot flying over the top of the car and onto the Drudge's unsuspecting head. It's the sort of weapon that couldn't be done on another system, and really shows off High Voltage's grasp of what makes the Wii unique.
It's a good thing that a wide variety of weapons are available since the Drudge are a fairly tenacious race of buggers. The demo showed off a few distinct types of enemies. There were quick and weak Drudge which rushed at you and tried to claw your face off, the average grunt Drudge who were armed with Bio-Mass Guns, and the flying Drudge who were quick and required you to either lock-on or be a quick shot to keep up with them. While each individual Drudge fell without too much effort, they came in massive swarms and even more troublesome, they were effectively capable of sending in infinite troopers. You see, the Drudge don't just spawn from thing air, but instead attack Washington D.C. through the titular conduits, giant glowing portals which serve as Drudge generators. In order to actually stop the flow of enemies, you'll need to take out these conduits with a barrage of weapon fire. Of course, you have to balance out your ammo consumption, the enemies themselves and defeating the conduits in quick order, or else you'll meet a quick end. In addition to the grunt Drudge, I also encountered a giant insectoid miniboss monster which launched swarms of exploding insects at me. It wasn't too rough to take down, but the developers have promised that later levels will include fights against three or more of these guys at once!
However, not everything that TRUST has equipped you with is a weapon. They have actually given Mr. Ford two very important pieces of advanced technology. The first of these is the power suit that he is wearing. The power suit allows him to jump higher, hit harder, and absorb more damage then most humans. Furthermore, it comes equipped with a personal shield system that further augments his defense. The shield is represented as a bar on the upper left of your screen. Every time you take damage, the bar lowers, and if you avoid damage for a while, it recharges. However, if your shield bar lowers beyond a certain point, you'll be unable to recharge it to full, and may be left with 2/3rds or even 1/3rd of a complete shield bar until you find a TRUST recovery pack. Beyond his suit, Ford is also equipped with an A.S.E device. The A.S.E is an orb like device which emits a powerful beam of light. It seems almost useless at first, until you realize that both TRUST and The Drudge have the ability to cloak themselves from sight. The A.S.E uncovers those cloaks. For example, the Drudge may cloak a group of mines, and the A.S.E device will beep to warn you of nearby mines, which you can then disarm by shooting them. Alternately, you can use the A.S.E to locate hidden TRUST weapons caches to resupply in the field. The developers have promised that there will be many more uses for the A.S.E in the main game however, so don't think it is only a glorified flashlight.
A bit of extra good news is that High Voltage is planning on including multiplayer. However, from what they say, it isn't the crappy multiplayer that is so commonly found on non-party Wii games, but a full fledged mode that actually includes features that most of the things non-Wii gamers come to expect from their FPS. For one, yes, it will be online, and while they have yet to confirm the maximum number of players, they promise it won't be small. Furthermore, they're confirmed that they'll be supporting voice chat through Nintendo's Wiitalk feature, which makes them the first FPS to include this rather important feature. Barring anything else, at very least gamers can expect to have a heck of a lot of fun blowing the crap out of each other online.
The Conduit's most notable feature, beyond the awesome Wiimote implementation, is that it is arguably one of the better looking games on the Wii. A lot of work was clearly placed into the graphics, and it shows, with character models, level designs and explosion effects that look quite a bit better then most things third party developers put out for the Wii. While it's obviously not going to compare to some of the offerings on the PS3 or X-Box 360, High Voltage has proved that, at very least, it's quite possible to wring some very nice visuals out of the Wii.
The Conduit may seem a bit cliché in places, and indeed it is, but it balances that out with extremely solid gameplay and smart use of the Wii's features. High Voltage has proven that they really have a solid understanding of what makes the Wii tick. This comes from a smart and solid use of the Wii controller, both for aiming and for unique weapon attributes, and also by being one of the few developers to actually try to use the Wii's graphical power. The fact that they're putting online multiplayer in with voice chat basically shows High Voltage knows how to work the Wii. Assuming they pull through, and based on this demo they will, FPS fans can expect a great time with The Conduit when it hits in Q1 of 2009.
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