A late review comes with its advantages: we've spent plenty of time with multiplayer to bring you one of the most informed assessments around.
The hardcore-leaning Wii gaming crowd has been gunning for a quality first-person shooter for some time. Sure, we got the certifiably rushed Red Steel back at system launch and a few other offerings here and there since, but nothing has provided the bona fide online FPS experience that so many within the audience have been craving to try in conjunction with the Wii pointer controls. At this point, deprived of the gun-toting action that so heavily saturates the competing consoles’ libraries, many Wii faithful would likely even settle for a merely above-average offering within the established framework of Halo and Half Life.
So when High Voltage software announced the development of The Conduit to help fill that void, those same gamers went ballistic. Not only did the project appear to push the Wii console to new limits, but it promised a robust, fully-fledged online multiplayer mode so that gamers could finally put their pointer-control skills to the test. Top it all off with a delightfully mature sci-fi theme and a single-player campaign featuring the obligatory conspiratorial foundational plot, and you’ve got a pretty promising package in the works.
First things first
One of the hallmarks of The Conduit’s design has long been its penchant for customizability. The control scheme starts off pretty solid from the start (with the default options in place), but if you’re anything like me, right from the beginning, one of the first things you’re likely to do is tweak your settings. You can assign practically any function to any button or even Wii remote gestures if you like, and being able to manually adjust the size of your bounding box means practically anyone will be able to make themselves comfortable with the gameplay. I ended up mapping grenade throwing to the D-pad Down spot and punching to the + button, and that seems to work quite well (normally those functions are mapped to motion controls, which I find to be less convenient and accurate). In contrast, the point-and-shoot control works nearly flawlessly in most situations, and it’s arguably considerably more fun than twiddling an analog stick to meet your targets. You do get the occasional Wii-mote wig-out that is hard to avoid, but for the novelty and authenticity of the experience, it’s well worth it.
In short, you maneuver your character with the nunchuk analog stick while aiming—of course—with the pointer controls. From there, assuming you remain with the default control scheme, everything’s pretty second-nature, with the basic actions all mapped to a specific button or direction on the D-pad. As far as I’m concerned, the pointer control alone is almost reason enough to consider spending some time with The Conduit, even if you’ve experienced plenty of online FPS action on other consoles already.
Most players are likely to start with the single-player mode. There, you play one Michael Ford, a hero whose name is as unoriginal as is his stereotypical gruff/brash/rugged-badass-of-a-male-protagonist nature. He’s a Secret Service agent who finds himself strangely entangled in a conspiratorial struggle after rescuing the president from assassination. This struggle is apparently taking place between an underground organization called “The Trust” and an individual known only as “Prometheus” who identifies himself as a refugee of said organization. Prometheus, as your coordinator, proves to be considerably more interesting of a character than Ford, and he leads you through a number of historical locations which happen to have been overcome by throngs of alien monsters under control of The Trust.
The storyline in general is quite generic (if you can’t tell), and it’s supplemented by equally-generic dialogue (though at least the voice acting is good). What it all boils down to is that Michael stumbles across an alien device known as the “All-Seeing Eye” (“ASE” for short) which can reveal things not normally visible to humans. These things range from strange markings on walls which lead to secret passages to deadly “ghost mines” distributed throughout various parts of the environment. As Prometheus guides you through your missions, you leverage the ASE to make progress in areas where necessary. Unfortunately, this isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds; ASE “puzzles” typically consist of a short scavenger hunt for a few dots on the wall to unlock a door or the hacking of a computer system to shut down part of the Trust’s operations.
That thing's a ghost mine... and finding/destroying them gets to be pretty darn tedious.
So, plot notwithstanding, unfortunately, the other aspects of the single-player campaign still fail to make much of an impression. The environments are thoroughly run-of-the-mill, the enemies are fairly dumb, and the repetitive gameplay often flirts with tedium. Progression frequently hinges upon your ability to push your way through droves of infinite respawns—aliens hatching from eggs hanging on the sides of the wall or spawning via “conduits”, which are basically portals—and that sort of thing rarely classifies as “fun”. Other irksome scenarios include battling artificially (not so) intelligent monsters and disarming the aforementioned ghost mines, which most often enjoy the company of nearly a dozen others nearby. The entire adventure clocks in at fewer than 10 hours total, so unless you’re planning on going for all the unlockable art galleries and cheats (not likely), you won’t be spending much time with it anyway. Do yourself a favor and don’t expect anything remarkably entertaining from the adventure, and you’ll come to appreciate the practice when you eventually arrive at the main attraction…
Twelve’s a crowd
…which, in this case, would be the multiplayer. This is what the game is really all about. While much fuss has been made over The Conduit’s story and theme and all that jazz, the party’s really centered on the twelve-player online multiplayer. The online package is hardly revolutionary by multiplatform standards, but if you’re an avid Wii gamer, you’ll be impressed to discover the level of versatility, ease of use, and number of options provided (welcome to real online gaming, Wii fans). It’s as simple as 1: Connect; 2: Choose options; 3: Play. Friend codes and all that junk? Yeah, if you’re looking to play with specific people or talk to others via WiiSpeak (would Nintendo have it any other way?). But for the most part, the online experience is remarkably functional and comparatively streamlined.
I received my review copy late, so I decided to dispense with the usual reviewers’ philosophy of rushing to complete an article and instead dedicated myself to a solid few weeks with the game. That has led to dozens of hours of online multiplayer and a clear, honest picture of what’s right and what’s wrong with The Conduit.
Look familiar? (Hint: it's your standard online FPS)
Let’s start with what’s right. In short, the twelve-player online multiplayer is a blast. True, as is the case with most FPS games, it’s a struggle starting off and making your way into the realm of relative competence, especially when you consider that a skill-matching system seems to be basically nonexistent (and may well in fact be). So, unless you’re superhuman, your first couple of days of matches are likely to be filled with lots of deaths and very few victories. But if you persevere, you will find that dominating others in The Conduit is a ton of fun.
Getting into a game is simple and generally pretty quick. First, choose if you’d like to play either Teams or Free-for-all with Friends or Anyone (Regional or Worldwide). The next step (actually finding, preparing, and authenticating the other players when you’re first joining) takes the longest—generally around a couple of minutes from start to finish. After this, if you’re joining a game in progress, you’ll be taken directly into the game after a short loading sequence.
Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a lobby, where you can then cast your vote for game type, weapon set, and level. The former consists of a number of popular gameplay styles—including your typical deathmatch, capture the flag, football, domination, etc.—all of which work precisely as you’d expect. There are seven different levels/arenas to choose from in the next dialog, and a number of different weapon sets. Since you’re voting, after all’s said and done, the choices are tallied and the CPU selects popular choices for all three of the above, after which it arranges teams (if any). Friend matches provide additional control over the match options as well as lobby chat via WiiSpeak. After everything’s set up, you’ll be tossed into your match, where everything plays out, again, just like you’d expect.
The gameplay is intuitive, incorporating many of the popular perks of newer console FPS games, such as enemy spectating in-between respawns and context-sensitive radar (you’re only visible when you shoot). As for the maps, they’re generally very good, though as usual, some are clearly more popular than others. While seven maps certainly isn’t a lot, there’s really a healthy assortment of large and small areas to choose from (though at least one “wide open” map might have been nice as well). For the most part, the layouts are highly symmetrical, meaning if you learn one half of the map, you’ll simply have to factor in the discrepancies to truly master the layout (it also makes the maps suitable for team games which benefit from environmental parity). The crowd favorite certainly seems to be the Streets, which consists of two warehouses and two office buildings, mirrored on either side of%MINIFYHTML6bdc626fcc0fce32debce9feb25652a226%a street littered with debris (old cars and construction rubble).
As you play online, you will gain experience points at a rate pegged to your level of performance, and as you amass these points, your rank will improve. The rank is indicated by a variety of ornamental emblems prominently displayed beside your multiplayer handle, so it’s plain to see who’s got the most experience under their belt. Your rank really doesn’t do anything for you apart from issue bragging rights, but it is nice to be able to infer with a glance who’s going to be among the most threatening individuals in a match. On the flip side, the rankings system gives you something tangible to work toward as you play more and improve your game.
All of these items add up to a generally quick and logical multiplayer experience, and when everything works the way it should, The Conduit is certainly among the most addictive multiplayer games on the Wii to date.
Unfortunately, not everything goes so smoothly all of the time. Undoubtedly the biggest problem with the game is the uncomfortably frequent lock-ups and other bugs surfacing throughout multiplayer. The good news is that this primarily happens only at the start of a match, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll experience any sort of game-ending glitch in the midst of your once-in-a-lifetime massacre. Nevertheless, the problems are frustrating and surprisingly common—and there’s little doubt that a few more months of development time could have prevented their occurrence, which is a shame.
The most common glitch is known to Conduit fans as the “spinning gun” syndrome/disease. This usually amounts to the following: you prepare to join a match and get your frag on, but just as all of the loading completes, you find that you are unable to move, left instead to view a slowly-rotating panorama of the area around your spawning point until the completion of the match. Following this, the game often locks up, requiring you to reset your Wii and fire the game back up all over again.
If I had to guess I’d say this probably happens 3-4% of the time… and as any gamer will testify, that’s far too often. It’s a bit of a pain to restart every time this occurs and log back in, wait to join another match, etc… it’s probably a five minute ordeal. And worst of all, for some reason, the problem seems prone to resurfacing multiple times in a row—so that’s even more annoying.
Beyond this, mid-match issues are far less common, and that’s a very good thing. Occasionally you will run into some lag—opponents popping in an out of view and all that, or killing you with a phantom grenade of some sort—but that doesn’t happen very often. Other problems aren’t nearly as impacting, such as the sensation that there’s only one online match happening at any given time, generally prompted by the fact that quitting and rejoining a match lands you right back with the same crowd all over again. Why would you ever want to do that, you ask? Well, apart from the need to get away from the occasional he’s-so-good-he-must-be-cheating competitor, many players seem to be positively obsessed with the Explosives weapon set, sometimes choosing it four or more times in a row and refusing to ever budge to other more typical configurations. You might like it also, and it’s true that it’s fun, but many players find the chaos of explosives matches tiring and yearn for something a bit less arbitrary. I’ve no idea how the Conduit audience got to be so enamored with these shoot-randomly-and-win scenarios, but finding a match without explosives sometimes takes a little longer than it ought to.
What’s it all mean?
Summing up, while The Conduit’s online twelve-player multiplayer definitely has its share of issues (including the aforementioned game-ending bugs and lockups), the fact remains that it’s most often seamless and problem-free, and that’s a triumph. I don’t agree with some of the opinions I have read about the multiplayer lacking depth and the maps being too simplistic. To some degree, I actually feel that this is beneficial to the overall design, as it harkens back to the days of split-screen GoldenEye 007 that we all hold so dear in our hearts—not for reasons of nostalgia so much as for the straightforwardness of the experience.
It would be a stretch to compare The Conduit with one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time, of course, but you have to consider that this quality does count for something in the grand scheme of things. After a couple of dozen hours spent playing the multiplayer, I personally have to admit that the combination of novel (outstanding) controls coupled with the uncommon simplicity of the design makes for an experience worth investigating—even in spite of the irritating glitches. Just don’t expect much from the single-player (apart from some practice with the controls) and prepare for the occasional multiplayer hiccup and you may find yourself more addicted to High Voltage Software’s (otherwise ordinary) shooter than you thought possible.