US: 23 Jun 2009
The Conduit is a First Person Shooter made exclusively for the Wii by High Voltage Software. Although it contains familiar tropes like aliens, corridors, B-movie plotting, and multiplayer are familiar territory for the owners of a PS3 or Xbox 360, this is a unique phenomenon for the Wii. The game features a decent single-player campaign and solid multiplayer. Is the console’s lack of such a game enough to warrant purchasing it?
It’s an interesting question because it boils down to a basic misunderstanding between the Wii’s audience and the rest of the gaming population. Even a passing comparison of The Conduit to an FPS on the more proficient hardware of the other consoles shows its shortcomings. It can’t process as many enemies on the screen at one time. It can’t put the player in large, open spaces. The rendering is not as sharp and if you’ve played a Wii game on a high-def TV then you’re already aware of the jagged look produced by games for the console. The question that playing an FPS on the Wii raises is: what’s the point? The Wii’s success lies in its innovative controls and peripherals that expand play beyond male empowerment games and competitive matches. If a person is more interested in playing the more violent brawlers and shooters in this medium, the other consoles have the larger library and more sophisticated design. Any Wii game that tries to compete head to head with the other consoles instead of targeting the new demographic has its work cut out for it.
As an FPS The Conduit plays like a very clever late 1990s or early 2000s shooter. Players familiar with the genre will immediately recognize the twisting hallways and layered arenas that are the hallmarks of video games from this era. The modern FPS has abandoned these conventions as technology and design enabled larger battlegrounds and players demanded more variety. The never ending office complex, factory, and sewer levels all make their return despite the fact that they are now generally frowned upon. The designers of The Conduit are aware of these conventions and actually work around it fairly well. After the first level, most of levels are designed around infinite spawn points. A grenade or handful of shots will take down these portals but getting close enough to do so can be a challenge. Regeneration nodes are also scattered around levels that enemies cluster around. The result is a game that if you try to just barge in and shoot everything, like one normally does in this style of FPS, you won’t get far. Figuring out where the conduit portals are and how the enemies are defending them is the key to success. Larger battles in arena-like areas break these combat puzzles up as they force you to keep moving around, taking down spawn points while under heavy fire.
The controls for the game are solid. An invisible box surrounds your cursor, which you can adjust, and when that hits the edge of the screen, you turn while the nunchuck joystick controls your movement. All buttons are customizable, which is a feature that is surprisingly absent from other console shooters. There’s a question of whether dual-analog is superior to the Wiimote setup in all of this as well. It’s easy to have your Wiimote go into dead space, the point when you’re aiming away from the screen, and you can get in trouble while reorienting yourself. Some kind of indication that I’m aiming off-screen would help with this. There’s also a tendency, at least for me, to play The Conduit like a mobile light gun game. I often found myself walking into a room and then shooting at everything without moving, which was a quick way to see the “Try Again” screen. I got the hang of it towards the end of the game but any arguments about the Wii control scheme being superior or easier to use seem misguided. Much like dual-analog, playing an FPS with the Wiimote takes getting used to.
The plot is actually kind of funny in a B-movie sort of way. The hero and narrator get into an argument about whether the aliens are using plasma or bio-mass guns. The villain suffers from a serious case of bi-polar dysfunction, attempting to kill you in one level then asking you to join him then he goes back to attempting to kill you again. You character, Mr.Ford, is both generic yet hilarious in the way that he awkwardly attempts to justify his psychotic alien killing spree. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but I thought the whole game was so ridiculous that it was funny. The art style comes across as what would happen if H.R. Giger became obsessed with neon signs, which keeps things exotic but still stuck in the familiar for most games.
As far as multiplayer goes, this is where the game actually ends up being held back. Comparisons to Goldeneye and other shooters fall short because the game fails to capitalize on what makes the Wii such a great console: you can play it with your friends in the same room. The Conduit does not feature split-screen. I don’t know whether or not the control scheme for split screen could even work for this game, but the functionality of this problem still remains. If you want a shooter to have the appeal of Goldeneye or Perfect Dark, you have to accept that the ability to have four people playing at once was the bulk of their appeal. The multiplayer options are good and the levels feature a variety of arenas and tunnels, but you will come back to the question posed the beginning of the review: other consoles already do this and most of them do it better, so what is the point? Like the single-player campaign, this design echoes late 1990s shooters.
The strength of the Wii as a console is that it can play games that no other console can play. Its unique control scheme makes it so that a new audience of players have taken an interest in video games. It won the console war because it didn’t focus on making the same games that companies had been making for years with incremental adjustments. The Conduit, like SEGA’s Madworld, is an assertion that the Wii can still support the more traditional style of games. It succeeds at this. Given the technical limitations of the Wii, if this game had been published during the Gamecube era it would have been hailed for its clever design and complex use of minimal hardware. Contemporarily, it is still overall a fairly good game. I’m just not sure who it’s for.