Conduit 2 is a breath of fresh air in a genre that takes itself far too seriously. Breaking away from the shackles that made The Conduit an insipid chore, this unrestrained sequel addresses every concern from the first game with a jester's aplomb. Gone is the overly dramatic story that made government conspiracies as banal as a tour through a doorknob factory, replaced by a tongue-in-cheek narrative that revels in preposterous logic. The paint-by-numbers level design has been tossed in the scrap heap as well. You travel the globe in Conduit 2, and the circuitous layouts make it fun to figure out where to go next. There are even thrilling set-piece moments mixed in, culminating in a number of over-the-top boss fights that provide an explosive change from the normal action. That's not to say Conduit 2 is without fault. The core action is mired in problems, ranging from hapless AI to predictable combat, and the lifeless multiplayer fails to build on the cartoonish charm of the campaign. But Conduit 2 rises above these complaints. It has a style all its own, and though it has its fair share of issues, you'll still have a smile on your face the whole time.
When the story begins, it's impossible to tell if it's a serious attempt to relay the plot of another alien-themed conspiracy cover-up, or if it's making fun of genre cliches. Mr. Ford is a surly, take-no-guff protagonist, and his guttural growls make it easy to dismiss him as another run-of-the-mill tough guy. But it soon becomes apparent that you aren't meant to take this goofy story seriously, and the outlandish plot provides more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. Take, for example, the taunting words of one late-game boss. After you shoot him in the head for nearly 10 minutes, he bellows at you that he's through negotiating. In another amusing exchange, Ford questions why the architecture of the building he's in seems to repeat. Your helpful friend responds that time and money force designers to reuse assets, just like in video games. It's moments like this that make it easy to just relax and enjoy the show. Conduit 2 isn't particularly smart or insightful, but it has enough silly banter to make the story enjoyable.
The Conduit was heralded for its outstanding controls, and the precision offered by the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo is just as impressive the second time around. Now the Classic Controller is an option as well, and though it's not nearly as accurate as the standard scheme, it's a welcome addition for those who would rather use a dual-stick setup. There are some notable issues, though. You may have to slam on the duck button multiple times before your avatar reacts, for example, and aiming is far too touchy, even after you tweak the sensitivity settings. These quirks are annoying, but they won't impede your progress thanks to the laughable artificial intelligence. Enemies act more like vaudevillian performers than trained mercenaries. You may see a soldier take cover against a wall of air or perform a somersault and forget to shoot afterward. Oftentimes, you strafe into a room with your gun cocked, only to find your foes standing around as if they're at a cocktail party. Make no mistake about it, the AI in Conduit 2 is atrocious, though it does fit within the B-movie vibe the game exudes. It's funny gunning down these fatuous fools, and because Conduit 2 never pretends to be a serious shooter, the inept AI only adds to the charm.
Your varied arsenal includes military staples such as machine guns and sniper rifles mixed in with a healthy assortment of out-of-this-world armaments. The earthly weapons generally act as you would expect, though there are some exceptions. Damage with the shotgun is woefully inconsistent, so you may behead a vile enemy with a sure blast in one fight, only to find it takes three headshots the next time around. Your alien firearms look a lot more interesting than an ordinary pistol, but they're not quite as effective in combat. Oftentimes, it takes two or three times as many shots to kill an attacker with an intergalactic offering, which makes using these fancy tools of destruction less enticing. There is one exotic gun that not only has a creepy visual design, but is a fine killing machine as well. The hive cannon looks like a grotesque insect, complete with slithering tentacles, and delivers a deadly punch when fired. Despite some neat-looking weapons, the action in Conduit 2 is rather predictable. Fights too often erupt in narrow corridors littered with handy pieces of cover, and the typical layout combined with the aforementioned AI problems make for functional, if derivative, shoot outs.
Confined corridors make up the bulk of your armed conflicts, but the level design in Conduit 2 is actually one of its strengths. Diverse visual design is the most striking element. Each level has its own style, and just soaking in each world is a pleasure in its own right. But you don't have to create your own excuse to go exploring. Levels have a multitude of branching paths and alternate routes, which means you have to put a bit of thought into where you need to go next. There are occasional problems with this open-endedness, such as hidden ladders that are not readily apparent, but it's generally a success. There are even secrets hidden throughout each stage that give you a tangible reward for your nosiness. Uncovering conspiracy pieces gives you points you can spend in multiplayer, though it's admittedly more fun to seek out these objects than it is to cash in your earnings. These items include top-secret documents that shed some light on the backstory, but the best of these are as goofy as the main story. For instance, you have to smash an aquarium to scan a rare coelacanth, and you may laugh at your reckless disregard for animal preservation.
There are a handful of boss fights in Conduit 2 that do a great job of injecting some variety. You know what you're getting into from the first moments of the opening stage. The frigate you're scurrying through is being hounded by a monstrous leviathan, and you can see it breathing fire and gulping down soldiers as you make your way down its many hallways. The level finishes with you squaring off against this colossal foe, and you have to sprint from turret to turret to shoot its weak point and bring it to its proverbial knees. These fights are more exciting in theory than in practice because they don't always play fair, but taking down these bosses is still a thrill. The novelty of getting into fights with these maniacal meanies more than makes up for their cheap tactics or inflated life bars, so it's hard to complain about their inclusion. The boss fights provide memorable moments that stay with you even after the ending credits roll, which is a huge improvement over the immediately forgettable events of the first game.
The campaign lasts about 10 hours, though you can always go back to search for hidden objects or torment the spectacularly inept AI. But if you want something new to dabble in, there's a healthy suite of multiplayer options as well. Up to 12 players can go head-to-head in action-packed online battles, and it can be fun for a little while. ACE Basketball is the best of the included modes, mixing your killing prowess with evasive skills in a thrilling team battle. And there are 4-player splitscreen modes to play with friends, such as Invasion, in which you gun down waves of attackers. But the multiplayer is ultimately the weakest part of this package. The core action is just not interesting enough to hold your attention for long. Everything has been seen in countless shooters before, so for anyone who has played a modern first-person shooter, Conduit 2 feels like just another ho-hum entry in the overcrowded genre. It's a shame, too, because the campaign has a distinct personality that separates it from its peers. If the multiplayer had captured the B-movie feel of the single-player experience, this might have provided a hook to lure people into the fold. But in its current form, it hits all the requisite check boxes without doing anything unique to distinguish itself.
It would be easy to label Conduit 2 as a guilty pleasure, and in many ways that would be a valid description. But the most important word you should hold onto is "pleasure." There is no way you're going to confuse Conduit 2 for an expertly crafted shooter on par with the genre kings, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. This game has a unique feel, which makes it easy to laugh along with the over-the-top story and smile at the incredibly inept enemies. Conduit 2 exudes a goofy charm through its adventure, and it has enough genuinely good moments so that it can hold its head high. This is a refreshing change of pace from what you typically find in the genre. Conduit 2 is a huge leap from its dour predecessor, brushing aside its many faults to provide a consistently enjoyable experience all the way through to the end. Sometimes you'll laugh at the game, sometimes with it. But the most important thing is that you'll be laughing the whole time.