The first person shooter situation on the Wii is frustrating to say at the least. Nearly everybody who's spent an adequate amount of time with the controller will testify how well the pointer works for shooters. Sitting somewhere between an analogue stick and a mouse, once mastered it offers an impressive degree of precision and control, and a great sense of immersion. But here's the problem; developers don't want to make shooters for the Wii. It's hard to blame them, with the system arguably lacking the market to really attract the top-tier shooter developers, but it's still disappointing, especially for the Wii only owners out there eager to get their running and gunning on.
A couple of years ago, relatively unknown developer High Voltage Software attempted to remedy this issue with their original IP The Conduit. Developed and funded in-house, and running on the studio's very own Quantum3 engine, The Conduit promised to deliver the definitive multiplayer and single player shooter experience, as well as push the Wii into graphical territory mostly unseen on the platform. As per our review, The Conduit received mixed feedback from critics and fans alike.
Now, two years later, High Voltage Software is back with a sequel, sans the 'the'. Conduit 2 promises to patch up many of the complaints found in the original, while improving the overall execution and design. However, two years is a long time, and since then the Wii has been graced with some fantastic shooters like GoldenEye 007 and Red Steel 2. Going in, we were curious as to how well Conduit 2 would hold up against the modern market and library, and we can sadly report 'not very well'. Read on to find out why.
Picking off right where The Conduit left off, Conduit 2 thrusts protagonist Michael Ford and his alien-in-a-sphere companion Prometheus through a portal and onto an off-shore oil rig, in pursuit of the first game's villain and leader of the Trust syndicate John Adams, which quickly leads to the derelict alien craft we know as Atlantas. What ensures is a forgettable generic adventure of epically cheesy proportions. Unlike the previous game, Conduit 2 abandons any sense of seriousness in favour of deliberately cheesy B-movie themes. The change in tone might seem like the perfect fit for tin-foil-hatted conspiracy theory motifs, but it is let down by a disappointingly phoned in performance by Duke Nukem voice actor Jon St John, though hardly out of place with the equally unconvincing work by the rest of the cast, and poorly produced bug riddled cut-scenes. On more than one occasion we experienced the player HUD overlaying a scripted cut-scene, jerky animations and voice audio failing to play.
This might be forgivable if the adventure itself was rich in substance, but it's not. The plot is centered around a basic "gotta catch 'em all" hook, as the player travels through Atlantis portals across the world collecting the power they'll need to defeat Adams. Outside of the game's opening and hilariously bizarre ending, there are practically zero plot developments for the entire journey, with Ford repeating the same main objective in each level. On the plus side, the story's themes allowed for unrestricted level setting, so unlike The Conduit which took place predominantly in Washington D.C, Conduit 2 features a wider variety in location aesthetics. Don't expect the variety to last long though, as Conduit 2's single player can be easily wrapped up in about four hours.
Though what matters considerably more than the story and themes is the gameplay, and in many ways High Voltage Software has taken the formula of The Conduit to a more modern level. The already mentioned diversity in stages makes way for a larger cast of enemy types and weapons. Additionally, an 'upgrade' feature similar to the load-outs players would find in a shooter like Call of Duty allows players to upgrade Ford with various enhancements and specific weapon load-outs for each level. However, the most impressive new feature is the Atlantis hub, a place visited between most missions as well as post-end game, that allows Ford to continue back through any previous missions, or optional secondary levels, to find and collect hidden power-ups and secrets.
Unfortunately Conduit 2 fails to truly integrate many of these mechanics into the single player in any meaningful way, largely due to the basic level design. Practically every stage falls back on text-book first person shooter tropes; defend this position against waves, use this mounted weapon, hack this object, enemies standing next to exploding barrels, attack that weak point for massive damage, etc. There's rarely any unique objective hook or set piece to really separate it from the slew of other titles on the market that do exactly what Conduit 2 does, only better.
Moreover, the fundamentals of level progression and combat are also about as bland as it gets. Sloppy enemy positioning makes for weak enemy encounters, worsened by questionable and buggy AI that will get caught on scenery, initiate shooting animations without actually firing, or not even respond to the player's presence until you're right in their face.
The arsenal available to the player is composed mostly of weapons from the original game, with a few unique extras to spice up the mix. Again, these are poorly integrated into the overall experience, notably in where the weapons will be found throughout stages. In one stage we found a weapon that can be placed as a remote control turret, but its usefulness is severely limited due to the way the rest of the stage progresses. In the same level we discovered a rocket launcher, only to find it again of no real use. At times the combat attempts to come across as action packed and exciting, but is always hurt by an unstable framerate that frequently dips to very low levels.
That's not to say the game is entirely without its more impressive moments. Occasionally quality design rears its head, such as sniping distant enemies with an x-ray laser rifle, cloaking past automated turrets, or engaging in one of the many varied boss fights. But all of these positives are countered by the wealth of negatives, and in the end the campaign amounts to little more than a forgettable, basic run-and-gun experience.
The Conduit was somewhat praised for being the first truly competent multiplayer shooter on the Wii market, offering plenty of online options and modes for fans to dig their teeth into. For most part, Conduit 2 is simply an evolved version of that, with most of the same gameplay modes and tweaking features found in the original, with the added bonus of a more robust levelling and loud out system that takes cues from games like Call of Duty, giving players the ability to select powers (aka: 'perks') and load-outs that best suit their style of play.
While we would have liked to give the game a truly thorough online workout, we unfortunately found it very difficult to find and join matches. At most we were only ever able to secure a three player rounds (ourselves included), and all were plagued by poor network performance from the opposition. This calls into question the longevity of the online, especially when many other competent multiplayer shooters, like the Call of Duty series, have already found a sizable Wii audience that may be hesitant to shift to a new title.
Hearing the fan's pleas for local mutliplayer, High Voltage Software has added in split-screen multiplayer into Conduit 2. It works exactly as you would expect it; four players can pick up the Wii remotes and blast at one another, either in 'competitive' gameplay modes or an invasion mode. The former is as you'd expect, with players battling it out in various arenas with an assortment of weapons, while the latter is a Gears of War-esque horde mode which tasks players with defending against waves of increasingly powerful enemies. Both perform well enough with plenty of fun on offer, and will be a welcome addition for Wii only gamers desperate for more enjoyable competitive and co-operative split-screen games.
At the start of this review we implied that Conduit 2 would struggle to hold up quality in a modern market, and that is the best summary that can be given to a title of this quality. It's not like High Voltage Software didn't try. They've taken the complaints thrown at The Conduit and improved on most of them, offering a richer and more diverse single player experience, as a multiplayer component that is at its very worst just as good as the original game, while catering to new audiences with local split-screen options.
But it's simply not enough. As we have mentioned, the Wii has been graced with some fantastic single player shooter experiences like Red Steel 2 and GoldenEye 007 since the original The Conduit, and Conduit 2 never manages to reach the level of polish, originality and quality game design that these titles offer. On the other end of the spectrum, as good as the multiplayer might be, its not the only game fighting in that area, as the aforementioned Call of Duty titles offer almost just as many modes with a higher level of polish, as well as a larger community, and the only real hook Conduit 2 has is if the game's style of gameplay appeals to your personal taste.
As it stands, we can only recommend Conduit 2 to Wii only gamers desperate for another first person shooter, particularly those looking for an enjoyable split-screen experience, and those who were, for whatever reason, truly big fans of The Conduit. Otherwise, far better single player and mutliplayer experiences can be found not only throughout this generation across multiple platforms, but also exclusively on the Wii.