Serious games are hard to come by on â€˜The Little Engine That Couldâ€™, otherwise known as the Nintendo Wii. The gaming market is saturated with cutesy, family-oriented titles revolving around Mii avatars and waving your arms around like a raving loon. So when a gritty first person shooter like The Conduit floats along, there is a positive glimmer of hope in the eyes of some Wii owners.
Released by SEGA and developed by High Voltage â€“ both of whom arenâ€™t renowned for their first-person shooter experience - early reviews for The Conduit have been widely mixed, ranging from average to glowing. Considering that even the console has failed to produce little more than a handful of half-decent games in this genre, it looked as if the odds were against the game from the beginning. But despite their relative newbie status, High Voltage has done a very worthy job on this sci-fi shooter.
The Conduit takes place in the not-so-distant future in Washington, D.C â€“ a city thrown into chaos after several mysterious and devastating incidents have unfolded. A flu-like disease known as "the Bug" has infected locals, plunging hospitals and medical resources into critical status with the side-effect of leaving Government agencies and high-security outfits woefully understaffed. Months after the initial outbreak, an attack (initially presumed to be the work of terrorists taking advantage of a city in disarray) demolishes part of a beloved Washington Monument. Shortly after this a prestigious senator is killed and an assassination attempt on the President of the United States occurs only weeks later. To really cause nation-wide panic, it turns out that these attacks seem to have come from the inside, with Secret Service agents pinned as prime suspects. However, it turns out that something far more sinister is at play when Agent Michael Ford uncovers a plot that links an alien lifeform known as the Drudge to the recent attacks. Agent Ford must then discover how they are controlling human minds, turning them into killers and eventually defeat the evil race behind the invasion. If he fails, the entire world will be in danger of being completely under their relentless control.
Itâ€™s always good to have an international angle thrown in there. Truthfully, itâ€™s a fairly convoluted and overly ambitious plot. But it does give way to some impressive shooting action and spectacular visuals of futuristic weapons, alien creatures and an iconic city under siege. The graphics in The Conduit are probably some of the best weâ€™ve seen on the Wii to date. Lighting and particle effects are brilliant, with lasers and firey explosions littering the screen. Itâ€™s true that High Voltage have taken some short-cuts to get the most out of the limited console with some textures that can appear plain and boring, but to their credit the frame-rate never drops even in some of the more intense fire-fights in the game. The only noticeable draw-back to the hardware limitation appears in some of the level design. Some of the earlier maps take place through repetitive corridors and small rooms to keep the model count down â€“ but it does make the later levels (when it seems that you are out in city streets) that much more impressive as well.
Graphics always take a backseat when compared to the controls on a Wii game however. And thankfully, in this department the developers have definitely exceeded themselves. The default controls should be familiar to most, with the nunchuck being used for movement and the Wii-mote used for point + shoot-like targeting. Players can crouch, jump, reload and switch weapons using the usual selection of buttons and triggers. But the brilliant thing is, The Conduit allows the player to completely customise almost every aspect of their control setup to suit your preference. You can tweak the cursor sensitivity, button configurations, running speed and even some of the camera settings. The only area where the controls do seem to suffer (and weâ€™ve seen this before) is with regards to the grenade lobbing and melee attacks. Both these movements with the nunchuck are frustratingly similar.
Even once you do have that perfect control setup, The Conduit was surprisingly (and pleasantly) difficult. Newcomers to a first person shooter on the Wii will definitely have a hard time completing the first stages due to the sharp learning curve required. But with practice, players should find themselves improving their reflexes and mastering the controls. The demanding learning curve isnâ€™t made any easier thanks to the intuitive AI of your enemies as well. The days of finding some cover, waiting, reloading and taking sneaky pot-shots until the pathway is cleared are over here. Enemies will flush you out with grenades, attempt to flank you or simply just charge at you and melee you to death if youâ€™re proactive. It was pleasant to be challenged on the Wii console â€“ which up until recently has suffered from some intelligent programming with regards to AI. Normally the main challenge on the Wii is yourself.
The campaign mode is rewarding, but not incredibly well put together. As mentioned, the storyline falls pretty flat and the insane mix of conspiracy theories, terrorism attacks, biological weapons and alien invasions comes across as plain ludicrous. Luckily though, The Conduit comes with an even more rewarding multiplayer ingredient that allows up to 12 players to mash it up online. There are eight fairly different maps to try out and a variety of modes including your standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and then one that gives each team different objectives to carry out. In the lobby you can select to partake with either regional (those living near you) or against international players to try to counter any potential lag. Unfortunately finding a dozen local New Zealand players did prove to be a bit of a challenge, but this should hopefully improve over time. Online players also get to vote on maps, game-type modes and weapons before each round as well.
Again, The Conduit has definitely been received with mixed reviews. Personally I believe this is because the game is being compared to other first-person shooters across all consoles. As far as the Nintendo Wii goes, this game does a very admirable job. It possibly doesnâ€™t beat the likes of Metroid Prime â€“ but it does set itself up for a sequel that could potentially push the bars a lot higher.