"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come." - Anne Lamott
I can't help but think of Lamott's insightful quote concerning hope when reflecting on The Conduit. Going into the game's release, so many of the Wii faithful were banking on The Conduit as being the 'white knight' that was needed for the console. Well, I hate to burst the hopeful bubbles, but this white knight is a dud. For the most part.
As always, this is a first impression as there are a few key components of the game I haven't gotten around to or have not delved deep enough to offer my full thoughts in a review. However, I can't see things getting any better for The Conduit. To offer perspective, I'm into the third mission of single player and have three multiplayer matches on my record.
You can always tell what I'm most excited about for a game based on the first steps I take. Generally, this is deciding between single player or multiplayer. With The Conduit I found myself fiddling around with my controls off the bat. The way High Voltage kept bragging about the amount of customization, I couldn't help myself.
If first impressions mean anything in gaming, then The Conduit made a very remarkable one. This is hands down the greatest control customization I've seen in console gaming. It's not really fair to compare the game's customization to PC games, considering how many button configurations are available with the keyboard. However, nearly everything you could want to change with your Wii Remote controls is available. It's not a good sign though, when most of the fun I had was tweaking my Wii Remote's dead zone and not the game itself.
The Conduit starts out with a muddled plot, but to be fair I'm only into the third mission so maybe the game is trying to be ambiguous on purpose. One of the first plot devices used in the game, that I can't stand in storytelling is the 'backtrack'. Where the story starts out in a certain period of time, then goes back in time just to catch up with itself again. UGH. If you don't mind, or by some divine force like backtracking in your story then you can ignore this critique.
Once the story gets underway, and the game starts up you'll find a very mediocre FPS waiting for you. To provide context I should tell you that I'm a FPS connoisseur. And I probably judge FPS titles the hardest out of any genre. There's a couple of reasons for that. First, it's easily the most saturated genre in this current gen landscape. Secondly, it's very hard to create a unique FPS experience with all the gameplay devices that have been used in the past.
Repetitiveness, and bland game design is what really hinders The Conduit from being more than it could have. The first two stages, I felt as though I was playing an on-rails shooter more so than a FPS. The stages played out like, go from Point A to Point B, and shoot a few bad guys on the way. Rinse and repeat. In the second level, there are sections of the game that look completely recycled from areas you just left. Felt like I was going in a loop rather than make progress.
Along with the level and game design, the enemy A.I. is completely bonkers. Many people have been comparing this game to Goldeneye, and when it comes to stale A.I this is the case. Enemies might strafe back and forth, but there's no sense of strategy whatsoever. Sometimes you'll run right upon an enemy and he just stands there. He won't shoot, run away, or do anything. Just stand and look at you a second, giving you an unfair chance to strike first. This might make it easy, but it doesn't add any urgency to the experience.
Another issue with A.I balance is the difficulty of enemies. There's a certain type of alien that you'll encounter in the first stage that is a breeze to get through. However, in the third stage the same enemy has the potential to two shot kill you. It happened to me twice, so it wasn't a fluke. This off-balanced enemy difficulty distribution just feels like lazy development to me.
Besides controls, another aspect of The Conduit that High Voltage heavily touted was its graphics. There was talk that the Quantam3 Engine was pushing the Nintendo Wii to its limits. From what I saw much of the game looks similar to Onslaught, which is a download on WiiWare. The weapons, and the cutscenes look fantastic. There's a sheen, and metallic look to the weapons that have an abundant amount of detail. Your enemies will look detailed as well, just don't take too much time to look around at your settings. The textures, and colors used for the game's setting looks bland, dreary, and not even close to being as detailed as the characters. Metroid Prime 3 looks better than this game, and it's over a year old.
Enemy Details - Good...Setting/Background Details - Bad
Along with the textures, the animations suffer from a very bland execution. I think I've seen two different death animations so far. Again, another example of lazy execution that takes away from the aesthetics of the game. Explosions, from grenades and objects in the game just look like an orange ball rather than anything resembling a flame.
Coupled with the graphics, the audio of The Conduit feels passable. The voice acting gets the job done, but with the talent that High Voltage signed on for the game I was expecting more. None of the voice inflections ever really drew me into the experience, and it really felt as though I was just listening for the sake of progressing to the next stage. The sound effects feel right, and it's gratifying to unleash a clip of ammunition on to some unsuspecting terrorists and aliens.
After being done with single-player, I took to multiplayer. Here, I was met with a much better game experience that left me with a few gripes that just didn't seem necessary. First, was the time it actually took to find a Regional match. I can understand it taking awhile to find a game in a lobby or what have you. But when it found a match, I was greeted with a timer and it looked as though the game was trying to search for players. When you see something like this in a game, it generally takes 5-15 seconds. I was waiting upwards of 2-3 minutes. That just isn't acceptable for online play.
Two out of my three matches ended with network trouble, which led to me testing out another game to see if it was my connection. That game worked fine, so I tried The Conduit out one more time. I played the third game without a hitch. Unfortunately, 33% isn't a good number for successful connections with a game. Hopefully the servers were just maxed out and I won't have the problem again.
For the one game that I was actually able to finish, I had a blast. The twelve person free-for-all is everything you would want it to be. Here is where I was whisked away to the old feelings of Perfect Dark multiplayer, only I was able to play online. There's always an intangible force attached to FPS games that makes it unique from others in the genre. Whatever spirit The Conduit is harnessing, it feels remarkably familiar to the Rare FPS's on the Nintendo 64. Which is a compliment.
Before a match you get to vote on weapon sets, rules, and maps. I would have liked to seen more detail put into what can actually be included in a game. For instance, only choosing one weapon or a completely wacky rule set if it's wanted by the majority of the group. I was also disappointed at there only being three match types to choose from. I think that 5 is the standard in multiplayer FPS's these days. Again, so much of multiplayer feels like it could have been more.
I alluded to an Anne Lamott quote based on hope in the beginning of my first impression. That's because many times, hope can be a blinding and dangerous trait. We become so wrapped up in what we want The Conduit to be, that we lose sight of what it really is...a bland, and contrived FPS. If you're just getting started in the FPS genre, then The Conduit is a good start actually. With the simple level design, and toning down the difficulty there is some fun to be had for beginners. If you're a jaded veteran like myself then you'll see that so many games before it have done better, and looked better doing it. Even with the amazing console controls.