Review by SuperPhillip
"The Truth is Out There, But Should You Stop to Look?"
Hardcore. It's such a nonsense term. You can tell it's nonsense because no one can agree on the correct definition. Tired of seeing no one take advantage of the Wii for a "hardcore" type game, a former shovelware studio, High Voltage, has taken it upon itself to try to change the "hardcore doesn't work on Wii" mindset that currently plagues the industry. With a brand-new graphical engine, a commendable goal, and a team of highly enthusiastic developers, is their self-funded Wii effort, The Conduit, worth the hype or should it have been gunned down?
The story of The Conduit puts you in the shoes of Agent Michael Ford. Double-crossed by a man known as John Adams, Ford gains an unlikely ally from Prometheus, the supposed terrorist and leader of the alien race infesting the planet, the Drudge. The tale's somewhat hard to follow, but I think the rest had to do with Prometheus, voiced by Kevin Sorbo, needing to find the alien ship, the Andromeda, in order to use it to fly back to the past so he could return to his role as Hercules, son of Zeus, best friend of Ieolas. In all seriousness, what is there to follow is voiced well by Mark Sheppard of Firefly fame and yes, Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fandom. That said, the story isn't very good and ends on an infuriatingly abrupt cliffhanger saving room for a sequel.
The single-player campaign spans nine levels. While the first few levels are pretty poor in design due to being simplistically straightforward with little to explore, the latter levels are full of interesting rooms, hidden nooks and crannies, and a lot more action and variety. There's a so-so number of baddies to blast and enough guns to fire them to Hell with-- from traditional machine guns and pistols to Drudge weapons that shoot off a fiery beam at opponents.
Agent Ford isn't alone in his journey to uncover the truth. Yes, he has the aforementioned firepower, but he also has something else in his repertoire that's far more important-- the ASE or All-Seeing Eye. The ASE is important to the storyline-- not really to the gameplay. All it's used for is finding organic locks to open, scanning computers to unlock doors, and detonating ghost mines from a safe distance. The majority of these actions do nothing more than slow the action down to a crawl making the pacing rather poor. I constantly groaned when I had to scavenge around for invisible door locks that could only be seen and opened by the ASE, or sauntering through a minefield trying not to get blown up. It would have been cooler had the ASE been made to be as cool as it sounded. Perhaps see who the bad guy is in an army of civilians by scanning through the crowd with the ASE, or using the ASE to find out information about items, enemies, and objects a la Metroid Prime. Hey, High Voltage got enough inspiration from other games, right?
Borrowing some inspiration from the Xbox 360, High Voltage has thrown in a bunch of achievements to accumulate. However, unlike the 360, these achievements give you far more than e-peen points with your fellow message board buddies. In The Conduit, these unlock concept art as well as cheats such as one-hit kills and unlimited ammo. Unfortunately, the achievements are limited to kill X amount of an enemy, kill an enemy with a specific gun X amount of times, or finding hidden messages and secret discs strewn about in the game's levels. The discs themselves are in odd locations. Some are a snap to find while a select few show cleverness where they're hidden such as needing to leap on a box to an awning to a roof to blow up a wall to get the disc. This example is a rare case of HVG being sly in their design making me wonder why they didn't try to incorporate more cool things like this into the single-player. It would have made the whole experience much better.
That said, the single-player campaign is fun to breeze through. There's multiple difficulties to play through, but none of these unlock anything different from just beating the game on the easiest setting. The campaign will take most players five hours or more to complete with plenty of achievements and hidden goodies throughout the levels to snatch up. That said, if this were on any other console, the single-player would be worthless, so what makes the single-player of Conduit worth playing? Why, the controls!
The controls of The Conduit are fully-customizable. Don't like the aiming sensitivity? Hate how big the bounding box is? Well, quit whining and do something about it! You can adjust your turning speed, aiming sensitivity (as stated already), and even customize what button or motion does what. If shifting the Wii remote forward to perform a melee attack ruins your aiming, change the action to a button. The same can be done with the nunchuk motion. There's also a load of preset control options available if you can't come up with anything on your own. You can even move icons around on the HUD or remove them completely. The only negative I would say from the available options is that the maximum running speed is still far too sluggish for my taste. Otherwise, the options for customization are perfect and worthwhile.
As a single-player experience, The Conduit isn't worth full-price. What makes Conduit worth it is the functional online multiplayer mode accompanying it. Nevertheless, there is no offline multiplayer with bots or with a friend which is offputting for sure, so if you wish to play with a local friend, you both better own Wiis that can go online. Speaking of which, the friends list is fairly simple for a Nintendo Wi-Fi game (not to be confused with EA online Wii games which are phenomenal). Yes, you still need friend codes, but you can just add people from your Wii friend roster, send or accept friend requests, and join friends in-game pending there's room in the game for you. The Conduit also marks the second Wii game with Wii Speak functionality. At the time of this review, I was unable to experience this for myself.
For online matches, up to 12 can play in one match, and there's three types: Free-for-all, Team Reaper, and Team Objective. There's a flurry of modes available from Three Strikes and Last Man Standing where every player has three or ten lives to use, Marathon-- a timed match of a prolonged nature where everyone has unlimited lived to see who can score the most before time runs out, Bounty Hunter where you're supposed to kill an assigned target but everyone kills everyone else anyway because they don't understand the rules, and ASE Football where the player who holds the ASE the longest wins.
Online isn't perfect as it depends on a player's connection. If it's laggy, their connection is pretty poor. There's also various glitches such as one where you enter the match unable to move and in a pitch black abyss. Reports of hackers have been brewing, but we'll have to wait and see if Nintendo or High Voltage acts on these rumors before they become a problem. With Mario Kart Wii, hackers are banned, so again, we'll have to wait and see. For now with all the problems currently facing online play, the experience is still a fun one when you get a game that's fully functional. There's a plethora of players online boasting a sizable community already.
High Voltage Software's new graphical engine built for the Wii, PSP, and PS2 makes it debut with The Conduit. Technologically, the engine is rather impressive-- I especially like the lighting effects, but it doesn't really matter as the art design isn't very good. There's a good amount of graphical glitches which a little more time could have fixed such as turning a corner and seeing nothing but black in the distance which eventually loads the area. Damn those deadlines! Overall, the engine is a good start, and I'm interested see how HVS' upcoming projects Gladiator A.D. and The Grinder refine it. I just hope they can get better art directors.
For a game that was self-funded by an independent developer who made licensed games most of its career, it's really pleasing that High Voltage Software got to see the fruits of its labor after all this time. Whether this title will be the core people have been looking for is questionable. Some would argue the core's already here ironically. Regardless, while The Conduit isn't without its flaws, it is worth at least a rental. You've already playing a slew of dual-analog shooters with few improvements other than visual boosts, so why not try one out with a control boost instead?
[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/06/09
Game Release: The Conduit (US, 06/23/09)
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