Released in 2009 for the Nintendo Wii, The Conduit was a "bland, but enjoyable" sci-fi first-person shooter with an interesting puzzle-solving twist. I wasn't a big fan — I only made it through the first two levels before becoming frustrated with the Wii motion controls and giving up. Now the game is out for Tegra-powered Android devices, and I can't put it down.
How do you port a nearly four-year-old Wii game to an Android tablet? You start by tightening up the graphics on levels one through nine. While The Conduit HD will eventually make it to other mobile platforms, it's debuting on the Tegra 3 platform to demonstrate how much better it can look in your hands than it did on your television screen (though I suppose you could always connect your tablet via HDMI). The game is sharper and crisper on Tegra — the textures really pop. The depth-of-field effect from the Wii version didn't make the cut — War Drum Studios CEO Thomas Williamson told me it didn't translate well to mobile — but enhanced lighting effects and less overall muddy-ness make up for it.
War Drum, the studio that brought Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to mobile, took a novel approach to translating The Conduit's Wii controls to touchscreen. First they filled the screen with virtual buttons. Then they took them away one-by-one. They took out jumping, adding ramps to the three or four places in the original that required a hopping hero. They added an option to auto-fire your weapons when targeting enemies and destructible objects, which works quite well until you pick up your rocket launcher while standing next to a crate. I use it anyway. Keeps things interesting.
There are plenty of control scheme customization options. The way I've been playing is left thumb moves, right thumb aims and shoots. There's a button for weapon sights in the top-left and two for weapon swapping and the puzzle-solving All Seeing Eye gadget in the top right. Grenades are a double tap on the middle of the screen, a fact I stumbled upon explosively.
After playing an hour of The Conduit HD I was struck by how well the game controlled. Not once did I find myself yearning for a game pad. I didn't even think about it. I just played, and I had a blast.
Sacrifices had to be made. There is no multiplayer in this mobile version of The Conduit. High Voltage and War Drum wanted to focus on delivering the best single-player experience they could. It's really not that much of a loss, as much of the original game's multiplayer appeal was due to the novelty of an online shooter for the Wii. There are plenty of online shooters for mobile, and none of them control quite as well. Maybe one day we'll see it added, but I'm not missing it.
And despite the fresh coat of paint and tightened controls, this is still The Conduit, with it's strange conspiracy theory plot, so-so voice acting and repetitive enemies. Even so, The Conduit HD is so much better than standard mobile shooter fare. While other games mimic the console experience, this one improves upon it.
Update: The game was originally scheduled to go live by the time this review ran, but stuff happened. Expect the link below to go live later this afternoon or early evening.
Update 2: It's live.