Two years ago, Midwestern developers High Voltage Software surprised us by proving the Wii could support a grown-up (or at least adolescent) shooter. With fast-paced action, surprisingly well-done graphics, and unusually customizable controls, The Conduit gave us hope that the Wii might one day become a more comprehensive console. This month High Voltage attempts to expand on the first title’s accomplishments with a sequel called Conduit 2, with measured success.
Conduit 2 starts where The Conduit left off, with former Trust agent Michael Ford still in pursuit of slippery politician, John Adams. Ford gets sucked through a conduit to an oil rig in the middle of the ocean where early on he’s faced with a truly unexpected kind of boss battle. The game’s high energy start on this man-made island proves that the team at High Voltage made a genuine effort in Conduit 2, to listen to and address the many critiques players had of the first game. This increase in environmental breadth is felt throughout the game as Ford and his progenitor side-kick Prometheus travel back to Washington D.C. and subsequently to China, Siberia, and Central America. All of these new settings offer much needed variety and are amazingly well done.
Aside from some beautiful new locations, the first thing you’ll notice about Conduit 2 is that it’s still as awkward as ever to play using the Wii remote/nunchuck combination. Thankfully, Conduit 2 offers the same control customization as its predecessor; that said, with the Wii remote’s inherent ungainliness, it may take considerable futzing to find a setting that feels comfortable to you. The easy solution is to toss the nunchuck and go with the Wii Classic Controller. Plug that baby in and suddenly aiming, firing, and everything else becomes easy so you can stop tinkering and start playing.
In addition to acting on good advice regarding the monotony of the first game’s setting, it’s obvious High Voltage also made an attempt to increase the interactivity of the environments and to humanize the main character. That’s not to say that everything is now 100% destructible or that Michael Ford will win any congeniality contests. Now, however, if you shoot a fish tank it explodes and if someone talks to Ford he’s a bit more expressive (although most of what he says consists of lame, sarcastic jokes). Other pluses include a more useful All-Seeing-Eye (which lets you scan not only for weapon blueprints but for conspiracy-related objects and hidden messages), the ability to change mission difficulty on the fly, and a couple of self-deprecating video game references.
What hasn’t changed, regrettably, is the lack of feedback to clue you in when things happen in the environment, the unoriginal plot, the stiff, hackneyed dialogue, the strangely abrupt level transitions, and the overall awkwardness of the storytelling. Not that Conduit 2 is unique in failing at these things: it’s all too common in the shooter genre for action to supplant narrative. The thing is, in the broadest conceptual sense, Conduit 2 feels lazy. From the boilerplate wise-cracking hero with the game show host voice to the nefarious villain with the evil world-destroying scheme, it all feels pulled directly from a hundred other video games, TV shows, and action movies. Not even the addition of a hot armored babe midway through works to make things feel any fresher. The result is that you don’t much care about the characters or the overall story and instead find yourself waiting impatiently through cutscenes so you can start shooting again. Most awkward of the storytelling issues by far is the ending, which surely was meant to be a shock in a clever “Usual Suspects” kind of way, but instead leaves you shaking your head thinking, “Did they really just do that?”
Aside from some poorly handled narrative, the Conduit 2 also falls short is terms of audio. Not only is the voice acting universally more wooden than a two-by-four, the sound effects are sometimes just plain odd. For instance, who would expect when whacking a metal ‘bot, to hear a meaty punching sound? The music doesn’t do the game any favors either, ranging from some fairly decent plinky asian themes to some truly ridiculous techno/electric guitar pieces that make what should be hardcore unintentionally humorous.
Conduit 2’s single player campaign clocks in at a short 5-6 hours, but gameplay can be extended by playing the various multiplayer modes. Upgrades and custom armor can be bought in the multiplayer store with points earned during matches or in the single-player game and players can enjoy either four-player local splitscreen or up to twelve player online play. Splitscreen offers either competitive or survival mode while online multiplayer offers standard capture the flag and deathmatch (with a host of customizable settings) as well as some amusingly goofy games like Balloon Battle, where each player has three balloons hovering over their heads or ASE Basketball, where players compete for possession of a single All-Seeing-Eye and try to throw it through a vertical goal. None of these modes break any real ground, but the matchmaking system seems to work fairly well and the maps are, in general, fairly entertaining.
At this year’s Game Developers Conference, it was obvious High Voltage was stoked about the improvements they’d made to their modest shooter, and in many ways, they deserve to be. On the other hand, there’s not enough difference between the first and second Conduits to say they’ve made a true evolutionary breakthrough. Although Conduit 2 has more to offer in terms of environmental variety, it retains much of the original game’s narrative unoriginality and awkwardness of presentation. Still, the Wii can’t boast much in the way of shooters and so Conduit 2 fills a critical void. Gamers who care about cohesive plotlines may pull an ocular muscle rolling their eyes, but action lovers are sure to enjoy it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
New international locations feature a beautiful range of colorful, diverse environment art. 3.0 Control
The Wii remote/nunchuck setup is as flaky as ever in spite of a range of customization options; thankfully, controls are easy by default with the Wii Classic Controller. 1.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects range from so-so to downright odd, the music is often laughable, and the voice actors sound like they were coached by Schwarzenegger. 3.0 Play Value
Single player campaign is short and story presentation is clumsy, resulting in abrupt transitions and illogical progression. Multiplayer extends gameplay though and in terms of pure shooter action, the game is considerable fun. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best