Nintendo isn't very popular in New Zealand. Wii sales are slow; people just don't seem to relate to the console. However, here in the USA, the Wii is huge, and it's everywhere at E3. And we're not talking cutsie shovelware, either - some of the most exciting titles are premiering this year on Nintendo's console, including the excellent sci-fi FPS 'The Conduit'. I had some hands on time with the conduit today, and it was one of the most immersive experiences I've had at E3 so far.
You play as Michael Ford (voiced by Mark Sheppard of Battlestar Galactica fame), an ex-secret service agent assigned by the government to investigate an alien invasion of Washington DC. The alien's seem to be spawning from portals known as 'conduits', and Ford's task is to destroy them. Conspiracies abound, a virus is spreading through the city, but who's to blame? The paranoid are well catered to, for The Conduit references every conspiracy stereotype in popular culture, from the freemasons to the illuminati to Roswell. In the level I played through (one of the later ones, there are nine in all) I discovered a ton of hidden clues: scribbled signs on walls, puzzles and secret underground passages. The overall feeling that you're being watched is palpable, and adds fantastic personality to the game.
Visually, The Conduit is unsurpassed by any other Wii title out there. The graphics engine has been stretched to it's absolute limit - as Tristan and I walked past the screens, we initially thought we were looking at a 360 or PS3 title. Upon closer inspection, you can see the limitations, much of the area around you lacks detail or is blacked out by deep shadow, and exploration is restricted. Nonetheless, what you can see has an extraordinary depth, and will hopefully draw in more gamers who scoff at the Wii's lack of graphical power.
However, what defines the Conduit is not it's visuals but the depth it introduces to FPS gameplay. On the surface, it's extremely accessible, pick-up-and-play stuff: aim the Wiimote at the screen to shoot, throw a grenade by swinging the nunchuck over your shoulder. Once I got into the customization screens I realized just how revolutionary these controls are, as you can essentially play The Conduit any way you want, catering to your own personal tastes and skill level, or catering to particular scenarios in the game. You can adjust cursor sensitivity, how fast the camera moves with your character, and the size of your bounding box. You can adjust this all in real-time too, so you never have to go back and start the level over again because you decide you want to invert the camera. Nobody will play The Conduit the same way.
None of this would matter if you didn't have a good arsenal at your disposal, and the guns in The Conduit are a lot of fun. There are 18 in all, and 3 different classes: Human, Trust, and Alien. Human weapons cover the basics: shotguns, handguns, machine guns etc. 'Trust' weapons are weapons assigned to you by the shadowy government agency, and are more advanced and high-tech. Alien weapons are organic and slimy, and typically rapid-firing. They feel a hell of a lot of fun to fire, too, and terrifically precise. The AI is responsive, and for the first time in a Wii title I saw an alien actually REMEMBER the vulnerable areas around him, and hide from my shots.
I know that I'm really just scratching the surface here. The mechanics in this game will blow people away, and with an additional multi-player mode this is a gift to the Wii's online community. More than anything, I hope this game encourages more 'hardcore' gamers (and New Zealanders) to put their faith in Nintendo's console.