‘The Conduit’: A Gateway Game

The Conduit is a flawed game, but all of its flaws only highlight its successes. It's this accidental limited focus makes it a great “first Wii shooter”.

The Conduit feels like an old game. Its simplistic, linear levels are a throwback to early shooters, and the awkward button placement on the controller ensures that you’ll rarely do more than just point and shoot. Ironically, these shortcomings actually help make it fun. It’s a flawed game, but it gets the most important things right -- the shooting and the guns -- and all of its flaws serve to highlight these successes. This accidental limited focus is what makes it a great “first Wii shooter”.

Of course, this (probably) wasn’t actually the intention of developer High Voltage. The Conduit wants to be a complicated modern day shooter, as demonstrated by the fact that it uses every button on the Wiimote, but the Nintendo controller wasn’t made for that kind of game.

When holding the Wiimote like a remote, the A button is perfectly positioned under your thumb and the B button under your index finger, but the – and + buttons are just low enough to be awkward to reach. You have to curve your thumb at a sharp angle that can be painful if repeated over and over again. The D-pad is so high and small that you have to shift the weight of the controller around in order to press any buttons. The 1 and 2 buttons are practically useless since they’re so far down, but the C and Z buttons on the nunchuck are comfortably placed. The Wiimote was clearly made for minimalist games, games that would only require four buttons at most and possibly a few gestural controls.

The Conduit uses every button on the Wiimote, but because you can remap every button, you can set your four most important actions to the four most comfortable buttons. Personally, I used A to reload, B to shoot, C to crouch, and Z to lock on to targets. I could also throw grenades and melee with gestures, but those were used only in special cases. Other typical FPS actions like looking down a scope, changing grenade types, switching guns, jumping, or crouching, I rarely used and rarely missed. These are all optional actions for my FPS playstyle, completely extraneous to the act of shooting.

By giving you this level of customization with a controller not made for this kind of game, High Voltage is inadvertently encouraging you to min/max the controls, mapping actions you deem less important to less important buttons, which only further discourages you from ever using those actions throughout the game. In remapping the controls like this, the player creates a customized minimalist shooter built around only what he/she deems important to shooters.

The simplistic level design also strengthens this customized experience by allowing you to focus on just the shooting -- and not the environment. The challenge in The Conduit stems from learning how to best use the awkward Wii controls. To facilitate this learning, the linear levels act like shooting galleries, presenting you with a series of simple targets that die easily and rarely move. The environment is rarely a tactical factor in any combat scenario (though it is good to duck behind cover to recharge health). So, it’s just you and your guns.

All the weapons feel distinct: Human guns are loud, Drudge guns sound appropriately squishy given their organic look, and the Trust guns are very quiet, befitting their futuristic styling. But more important than the guns is the act of shooting itself.

The Wiimote and nunchuck are foreign to me, but there’s a joy in learning a new control scheme, just as there’s a joy in learning the systems that govern a new game. The more I use these foreign objects the more comfortable they become, and because the controls are so unusual, they force me to approach the game differently than I would other shooters. For example, I found myself preferring pistols to machine guns because it felt more natural to be shooting a pistol as I pointed at the screen with an outstretched arm. I find this exciting: my physical interaction with the game actually changes my playstyle.

It’s hard to play a game that uses a control input so unique that it forces you to relearn actions that are second nature, but it’s also rewarding. The Conduit works as a great gateway game, helping you make the transition from 360/PS3/PC shooters to Wii shooters. Its flaws only bolster this effect. The limited buttons make you focus only on important actions, and the linear levels give you plenty of time and opportunity to get accustomed to this new input device. The Wii shooter, and specifically The Conduit, is a wonderful shot in the arm for a genre that can quickly grow repetitive. Shooting in games is fun, but learning a new way to shoot is even better.

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