The Conduit (Wii) review
"The Conduit most often feels like a light gun shooter thatís been ripped off of its tracks, which is due as much to the arcade-like nature of the level design as it is to the control scheme itself. Thereís a light, frenetic nature in the way The Conduit unravels, and High Voltage seems okay with that. The gameís pace is fierce and the action is constant."
The most common criticism Iíve seen of The Conduit is that it fails to move the genre forward in any significant way, that itís essentially doing what all first-person shooters have been doing for the last decade. From a design standpoint, I canít argue with that. Yet it still seems strange to say such a thing about the game that might just represent one of the most crucial steps the FPS has ever taken.
Aiming is IR-based, as youíd expect, and High Voltage is certainly not the first development team to attempt this on the Wii. What makes The Conduit unique is that it offers the flexibility to cater to all gamers, which is important when youíre utilizing a control scheme thatís still relatively new and unfamiliar. Customization is the gameís secret weapon, as nearly every aspect of your characterís movement can be tweaked and adjusted to your liking, often in real-time while playing the game. Turning speed, both vertical and horizontal, can be customized. Running speed can be customized. The sensitivity of motion-based functions can be tweaked, and button mapping even includes the ability to assign said motions to non-default actions. Players can adjust the exact size and shape of the ďdead zoneĒ that dictates where the cursor must be for the player to turn, and can even calibrate the Wii remote to the exact size and resolution of the TV theyíre playing on. Every Wii game should do this; hell, it should be an option in the systemís main menu.
Strangely, the idea that all Wii games should offer this level of customization, coupled with the glaring reality that they donít, really spells out what exactly makes The Conduit so special. From a design standpoint, the game is serviceable but unexceptional. The plot involves an alien invasion in Washington, D.C. and a man named Michael who gets caught up in a government-related conspiracy, and High Voltage doesnít even try to sell this as anything more than sufficient. Level design is just as formulaic, essentially a set of firefights strung together by linear paths through your basic sewers, office buildings, and war-torn city streets. On any other console, it would be a generic and forgettable experience. That The Conduit was tailor-made for Wii, and that High Voltage put forth so much effort into making the most of the consoleís unique controller, turns out to be the titleís saving grace. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the game plays better than any other FPS ever created.
The result is a game thatís raw and visceral in ways other FPSs are not. High Voltage scored a Teen rating despite more than a few gooey headshot kills, but The Conduitís death animations arenít what get your blood pumping. What pulls you in is the illusion that youíre aiming and firing a real gun, a sensation that shooters on other consoles just canít provide. Even the subtle elements that would feel out of place anywhere else, like the way the camera swings about violently when you run at a high speed or make a sudden turn, only add to the all-important immersion factor. High Voltage even went so far as to make certain actions motion-sensitive. A quick flick of the nunchuk and Michael will toss a grenade; a jab of the remote and Michael will thrust his weapon forward in a surprisingly useful melee attack.
The Conduit most often feels like a light gun shooter thatís been ripped off of its tracks, which is due as much to the arcade-like nature of the level design as it is to the control scheme itself. Thereís a light, frenetic nature in the way The Conduit unravels, and High Voltage seems okay with that. The gameís pace is fierce and the action is constant. Enemy spawners are a nonstop occurrence; wherever the Drudge appear, thereís bound to be a nearby portal steadily shipping in Drone soldiers, or a mounted egg sac hatching the miniature (but nevertheless deadly) Mites. Iím sure plenty of gamers will find the concept of indefinitely respawning enemies tedious and overwhelming, and I donít blame them, but I had the opposite reaction. The constant threat of incoming aliens, coupled with the immersive nature of the controls, kept me on edge throughout.
Frankly, the gameís much-hyped ďAll-Seeing EyeĒ is underutilized, but with good reason. Itís a device that allows Michael to detect and scan for objects not visible to the naked eye, such as switches and landmines. It inspires puzzle-solving elements, which The Conduit frequently teases the player with before tossing the idea aside and jumping right back into the action. (You can practically hear the lead designer saying, ďNo time for this! Weíve got to keep moving!Ē) I should mention that the game's rather robust multi-player options do a terrific job of bringing the frenetic gameplay to a stable online environment, one that is populated by players who are likely to be just as drawn into the experience as you are. If you enjoy the game enough to take it online in the first place, youíre bound to run into a fanbase thatís just as dedicated as you are.
Would The Conduit be a worthwhile purchase had it been released for other consoles with standard dual analog controls? Thatís a difficult question to answer. It seems shallow to recommend a game purely on the basis that it plays well, yet The Conduitís unique control setup plays such a valuable role in the gameís entertainment value that it shouldnít be overlooked. There may come a time when the genre is popularized on Wii, more fulfilling games are made, and The Conduit winds up looking like a practice run in comparison. For now, though, just enjoy discovering that a first-person shooter can feel this right.
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