So okay, it's really perplexing to see the crazy polarizing effect this game has had in the last few months with the major gaming media outlets and gamers as a whole. At this point, most Wii games are glossed over--if they're even mentioned at all--and all of a sudden this one FPS being made by a small developer is now being scrutinized harder than the semen stains on Monica Lewinsky's dress.
So I guess this begs the question: Does The Conduit break new ground for First Person Shooters? Well, let's see:
Are there aliens?
Are there vast government conspiracies and shadow agencies?
Are there guns?
Is there only one man who can take down the alien threat and expose the conspiracy?
Surviving a car explosion and ripping off your own arm before pulling a rocket launcher out of your ass sums up the FPS genre pretty succinctly.
But who gives a shit? I've just summed up every fucking FPS in the last decade. The only question that really matters here is:
Is this game fun?
OH FUCK YES!
The number one problem with a lot of games on the Wii is that nobody puts in any real effort in making them. When EA announced a Dead Space game for the Wii, everyone was expecting a game that played similar to Dead Space. Instead we got a lightgun railshooter. Is it any wonder it tanked? Nobody wanted Dead Space: We Phoned This Shit In
, we wanted Dead Space: WE PUT SOME GOD DAMN EFFORT INTO THIS GAME!
And don't feed me that "Oh but the Wii's hardware can't handle those kind of graphics." nonsense because I think we've all just found out that line of reasoning is utter bullshit.
The fact of the matter is that we've seen more effort spent on DS and PSP games in the last year than we've seen spent on games for the Wii in its entire lifespan thus far. Major third parties either give us half-assed ports (Call of Duty 3, Far Cry Vengeance, etc.) or shitty spin-offs to popular IPs that allow them to get away with half-assing it (Dead Space Extraction) and not having to put in any effort.
And so that brings us back to The Conduit. This game is by a small developer, without a lot of heavy resources or money. What struck me was that the developers weren't bitching about the Wii's lack of graphical horsepower during development. They saw it as an opportunity to make a console FPS with better controls using the Wiimote, and by god they achieved that goal.
High-Voltage Games has succeeded where most of the major third parties have failed with the Wii: Make a brand new game that is not a port or a sequel, made with actual genuine effort, takes advantage of the Wii controls without being annoying, and manages to be entertaining.
And it's not a god damn lightgun railshooter.
You play as Michael Ford, and when the game begins, you are briefed by one Mr. Adams, head of a super-secret government agency called The Trust, who needs your help in retrieving a stolen prototype device from a terrorist. This sends you to an airport where, if everything goes right, you won't need to do anything. Of course, nothing goes right, and you find yourself being shot at by your own fellow agents. From there things get worse and Mr. Ford finds himself envoloped in a vast conspiracy to wrest control of the government into the hands of Mr. Adams and his agency. And of course, you're the only one who can stop it. Well, you and the mysterious Prometheus who talks to you via radio and tells you what your mission objectives are for each level (voiced by Kevin Sorbo of all people).
Story aside, this game is more action-packed than a fucking Bruce Willis-Jackie Chan-Chow Yun Fat triple feature directed by John Woo set on an exploding battleship sailing through space. This game starts you out with a .45 handgun and an MP5, puts you on one end of the level, and a whole fucking shitload of enemies in your path to the exit, and just lets you go from there.
At first you are fighting other humans, but then you start fighting aliens that come out of the game's namesake: Glowing portals of energy from which they emerge endlessly until you destroy them. Yep, so instead of having enemies just randomly spawn from nowhere to blindside you, enemies will spawn continuously from conduits until they are destroyed. Smaller aliens reproduce themselves from egg sacs hanging on walls and ceilings, which spices things up and keeps ya on your toes.
The aliens themselves are very articulate and have personality. There's little annoying alien fuckers that trying to chomp on your legs, and then little alien fuckers that run up to you and explode, making them less annoying and more panic-inducing when you see one rolling your way. There's stormtrooper aliens that try to overwhelm you with numbers and firepower. Then they just get bigger and more badass from there.
Other annoying little alien fuckers.
I would say that the human enemies you fight are just fodder, but the AI in this game is pretty damn good. I remember Germans running by me like blithering morons in Call of Duty 3 and the non-existent AI in Far Cry Vegeance, but in The Conduit, the enemies are actually pretty challenging, and not just because they like to overwhelm you with numbers. They'll actually use cover, and try to flank you. They'll lob grenades at you, and they'll try to pin you down with concentrated firepower. And in all fairness, this game can be pretty fucking hard, even on easy, because you'll sometimes find yourself being swarmed by enemies and desperate to get a handle on things, and trying to find where the conduits they're coming from are located so you can destroy them. It really forces you to not just sit in one spot and camp enemies, but to actually move forward, blasting some enemies, then move up to some more cover to blast more enemies, until you can locate the conduits and destroy them. It really drives the action and challenge level of the game up, and makes you appreciate the few moments of brief respite this game gives you.
Fortunately Mr. Ford has some tricks of his own up his sleeve. After the first few levels, he gets to don a Trust battlesuit that helps protect him from enemy attacks and also allows him to (very) gradually recover from his injuries during battle. The next is the All Seeing Eye (ASE), a device that allows Ford to detect traps, and find hidden Trust ammo caches with very powerful weapons that have been created or modified using alien technology.
And this is where I get to talk about all the wonderful guns in this game. Oh my god. In the very few FPS games I've played, there are usually plenty of crap weapons that I'll never use if I can avoid it. But not in this game. All the human weapons kick ass, conventional or altered, and even the bizarre organic weapons the aliens employ are pretty kickass as well. But back to the whole hidden Trust munitions cache bit. In some of the levels your ASE will clue you in to a simple combination puzzle that opens up a hidden room that contains weapons, ammo, and usually a very powerful experimental weapon.
Like the high-powered .45 handgun with a laser scope that will pretty much kill anything in one shot. Or the TPI Kriss that has been modified to fire lasers that disintegrate anything they hit. The Drudge Striker can be charged up to loose a very powerful streak of energy. There's rocket launchers, assault rifles, a warp pistol that fires ricocheting bullets, a SPAS-12 Shotgun, and a lot of these weapons have an experimental, turbo-charged version kept in Trust munitions caches. As if these guns weren't already pretty fucking powerful, you can get a Striker that doesn't charge but instead functions like a portable minigun fed a constant ammunition supply of Powerthirst. And grenades are actually useful in this game.
I wouldn't say they're on the same level as they were in Black, but they sure are a hell of a lot better than most of the crap grenades in other shooters. There's also alien radiation grenades, which stick to a target and do damage over time in the immediate area of its location, which makes it useful for fighting clusters of enemies.
Oh yeah, and this game is fucking beautiful. Screenshots don't do it justice. And save the "Oh but the Wii's graphics can't present things in HD--" shit. An effort was made to make this game look good. That's more than can be said for most of the other third parties' major offerings on the Wii. How sad that a small developer put more effort into a game than most of the major third parties. And it shows. The Quantum 3 engine that High-Voltage made specifically for the Wii does a damn good job of stuffing eye candy through your retinas. You'll be running around levels while glowing particles of energy float along in the air, and then when you get into heated exchanges with enemies using energy weapons it looks like something out of Star Wars. Dead enemies will self-destruct in a vibrant array of sparks and energy. Ghost mines materialize right before your eyes before exploding in your face. Huge Druge aliens will turn themselves invisible and begin hunting you down.
The real devil is in the details. When energy bullets hit a target, the enemy will disintegrate ala Star Trek. If they hit a wall, a dazzling array of sparks, heat, and smoke results along with a smoldering scorch mark wherever the blast landed home. Textures are smooth and glossy (especially what little of Mr. Ford's suit you see). There's reflections, lighting effects, and every other little kind of nuance you would expect from a science fiction videogame. It's also refreshing to see the use of vibrant colorization throughout the game. The aliens and their weapons glow orange, which contrasts nicely with the more gritty areas of the game. Fortunately, Mr. Adams' suit also defies the recent trend in dirt 'n' grit videogame protagonists by being black and glossy with lots of glowing doodads and a numerical keypad. It looks very sleek and futuristic, more like Tron than Gears of War. So yes, graphically, this game is quite excellent for a First Person Shooter of any kind.
And then that takes us to the music. It is fucking amazing. Seriously. Whoever did the music in The Conduit managed to make a lot of very kickass tunes throughout the game's entire playthrough. Music is something that usually gets overlooked in a game, and I'm very pleased that this was not the case here. Each level has two or three varients to its unique musical score. Ambient, situational, and frenzied during battles. The aliens mock you with amusing gibberish. There's radio broadcasts from several sources you can listen to during each stage (either from a crazy person, from soldiers, or from the Emergency Broadcast Network). So there's also been actual effort put into the sound design, and it shows. Gunfire from your weapons also sounds very satisfying.
And finally that brings us to the mechanism by which all of this operates: The controls. What hooked my interest in this game from the very beginning was when High-Voltage stated that they wanted to make the controls in the game fully
customizable. And by god they delivered.
Aside from the 1 and 2 buttons (these are used for pausing and multiplayer), every button on the Wiimote and Nunchuck can be customized to your liking. Don't like jumping using the Wiimote gesture? Map it to the A button instead. Don't like crouching with the C button? Map it to the Z Button. You think the aiming is too sensitive or not sensitive enough? Go into the options and adjust it. You can even adjust whether the camera will move if the aiming cursor goes off the screen or not. You can lock-on to targets (ala Metroid Prime), or just blast them without an aid. The aiming in this game is very tight. I didn't even realize I could lock-on to enemies until several hours into the game. You don't even need it. I was having no problems popping caps in the heads of many alien insurgents using just my .45. You got a zoom-in function built into your suit that let's you look ahead, or aid in sniping if your weapon is capable of it. You got a 180-degree quick-turn function. You can very easily remap the controls to your liking on the fly, while in the game.
And then that brings me to one little cool nuance I noticed after playing the game for awhile: The game registers not only where you Wiimote is pointing in the X and Y axis, but also the Z axis. You can twist the Wiimote like you were firing a gun sideways. In fact, there are several weapons in the game that fire in a spread, and twisting the Wiimote around will let you fire at different angles with them. You can fire something that normally shoots in a horizontal spread and fire it vertically, or diagonally, or any angle for that matter, which gives you a greater degree of freedom in blasting enemies from time to time. This is something you can't do on a PC or console shooter.
But you can do it on the Wii.
You can even adjust the HUD and remap it across your screen. Shrink or enlarge it. The level of freedom The Conduit gives you in adjusting the controls and the HUD is something you don't see in a lot of other console (or even PC) videogames. It's just very refreshing to see developers give players a greater degree of control over these little subtle things that normally get glossed over in a lot of videogames.
Oh yeah, multiplayer. I don't give a fuck about multiplayer in FPS games, and I can't even get online with my Wii if I wanted to. To me, a game needs to be able to hold its own with or without multiplayer, and The Conduit pulls that off in spades. Another thing to mention is unlockables. There are hidden data discs in each level that locating all of will unlock artwork, and cheats for the single-player campaign. You also get in-game achievements for getting through all the levels, not getting killed, killing so many enemies, killing so many enemies with each weapon. So that adds a little extra something to the game's replay value.
So, despite this game going over just about every FPS trope and cliche, it makes up for that by being very action-packed, very pretty, with lots of guns, tight and fully customizable controls, a fucking shitload of cool and unique weapons, wave upon wave of alien enemies to fight, some very cool level-design, and very excellent music. And with 9 action-packed levels in the single-player campaign The Conduit manages to get its point across without overstaying its welcome.
Plus, with Kevin Sorbo playing Prometheus, it's like getting a guided tour of Washingon DC by Hercules, which already makes it better than my 8th Grade field trip to DC. The only thing I could have hoped for was access to the tourist section in the Pentagon so I could blast the candy dispenser with a rocket launcher. Fucking chocolate-covered expresso beans, I'll never drink coffee again after eating those.
And with that said, this game kicks fucking ass, and I can't wait to play The Grinder, because it'll probably kick ass, too. Kudos to High-Voltage Software for not being a bunch of whiny pretentious self-aggrandizing gaming industry shits and actually putting an effort into their game no matter what platform it's on.
Five Andrew WKs!