In Sega's The Conduit, you play as a pawn in a vast conspiracy involving aliens, shadowy government agencies, and the president of the United States.
But the Wii-exclusive first-person shooter hopes to win gamers over not with its plot and known voice talent, but its nuanced controls and solid multiplayer gaming. With the ability to tweak every control in the game, from HUD layout to motion controls, High Voltage Software seems to be going out of its way to try and appease an audience sometimes hard to please on the Nintendo console.
But can even the voice talent, sci-fi plot and solid controls help turn a core game into a mainstream success on the Wii?
Tight Controls: Even without messing around with the settings, The Conduit has responsive, tight controls for a point-and-aim shooter. Players use the nunchuk to move around the game while aiming and firing off shots with the Wii Remote. The buttons on the two controllers let you jump, duck, spin around, swap weapons and grenade types on the fly and reload. Stabbing toward the screen with the remote lets you pull off a melee attack and swinging the nunchuk lets you toss a grenade.
Control Customization: While the presets for The Conduits controls are fairly good, the ability to change just about everything in the game's controls means you can make the game play like you want to. After beating the campaign, for instance, I went in and shrunk the Wii Remote's dead zone down to the size of a largish postage stamp. Moving outside of the dead zone moves the camera. Making the dead zone that small meant that the game felt and played like I was using a mouse to aim and shoot and gave me a sizable advantage over gamers who hadn't tweaked in multiplayer matches. You can also change sensitivity, the location of everything on the HUD, what the game does when the remote stops pointing off the screen and the button mapping.
Weapons: The Conduit has more than a dozen weapons and three types of grenades. The weapons are broken down into three categories: conventional human guns, high-tech Trust guns and alien guns. The weapons all act differently enough to give the game, and better still the multiplayer matches, a lot of variety. Some guns even detect when you twist the remote, allowing you to tweak the spread of multishot weapons.
The ASE: One of the only interesting twists that The Conduit brings to the first-person shooter genre is the inclusion of the alien All Seeing Eye. The floating ball can detect items in a hidden phase state and pull them into the physical world. Unfortunately, that means putting your gun away for a few minutes as you sweep an area and then use the ASE to pull it into the world. It's a nice twist that breaks the monotony of running and gunning.
Interesting Level Design: While much of The Conduit's single player campaign is a bit monotonous, the levels you have to fight your way through offer up a pretty broad spectrum of settings and maps. The game has you working your way through the White House, the Pentagon, down city streets and inside bunkers. It's a nice reminder that not all shooters have to take place on a battlefield.
Multiplayer Matches: The Conduit's multiplayer matches are surprisingly fun to play. While the game only includes three modes of play, each mode can be tweaked with a variety of rule sets that change the maps, the weapons and basic rules of the game. Add to that the inclusion of voice chat support through the Wii Speak peripheral and the variety of weapons and you've got yourself a fairly robust Wii shooter.
Background Graphics: While The Conduit's front-and-center graphics are fairly impressive, the little stuff, the backdrops, the decals, have some major issues and go a long way to undermine the game's overall visuals. Looking through windows in buildings net you flat backdrops that look like cardboard cut-outs. Blaster burns from weapons sometimes float in midair. The horizon for some settings is often blurry, and uninspired.
Blundering Enemies: The enemy artificial intelligence, the heart of any single-player experience in a shooter, is tragically flawed. Enemy aliens and humans occasionally get stuck behind things, continue to fire despite having no clear line of fire, and respond to obvious triggers in the game, allowing you to systematically clear a room with careful footwork.
Voice Acting: With the likes of Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda), William Morgan Sheppard and Mark Sheppard doing voice work for the game, you'd think it would be, at least, a fun listen. You'd be wrong. The trite dialog is made worse, not better, when this trio get their voices on it.
Plot: Conspiracy theories are often not the best fodder for video games. Generic conspiracy theories are even worse. While the plot is pretty straightforward, it would be easy to get confused searching for some substance in the dialog.
Despite its shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Conduit to be a solid shooter that offers just enough in its single-player campaign to keep me playing to the end and enough multiplayer support to make me want to stick around after I'm done.
The key moment for me was when I went in and played around with the control settings. Once fine-tuned to my tastes, The Conduit felt nearly as intuitive and precise as a shooter played on a PC.
The Conduit was developed by High Voltage Software and published by Sega for the Wii on June 23. The Teen-rated game retails for $49.99. Played through the entire single-player campaign and a dozen or so matches of online multiplayer matches.
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