Conduit Retrospective Part Two: Conduit 2 Review

The Wrath Of Kahn. Empire Strikes Back. Judgment Day. Sequels sometimes do surpass their precursor stories in every way possible. All while continuing the overall arc. Other times not so much. Conduit 2 is a lot closer to the former. At least for most of the ride.

PROS: Improved graphics. More controller options. Split Screen Multiplayer.

CONS: Voice actors from the first game have been replaced.

HA, HA, HA: The ending is out of left field, and unintentionally hilarious.

When you first start up Conduit 2 you will be thrown into a brief montage of the end events of the first game then find yourself on an Oil Rig near the Bermuda Triangle. Right away you’ll notice that HVS significantly upped the ante on their Quantum 3 engine. Bump mapped water, reflections, and other lighting effects give the game some of the highest visual effects seen in a Wii game.  Player models, and environments are still low detail, and even drab in some spots, but the texture work is vastly improved which hides away some of these imperfections.

Environments are also much more varied in their settings this go around. This is due to the storyline that takes you all over the world. No longer confined to Washington, you’ll be in snow-capped mountains, jungles, the ocean, and more.

The control options are just as customizable as in the last game allowing for players to find the right feel for themselves. Once again you can reconfigure the look of the Heads Up Display, the sensitivity of the pointer controls, and remap the button layout. The game also takes full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus accessory. Enabling it in the options makes the pointer much more accurate, improving its tracking. For those who could never get behind the idea of using a pointer in a shooter, Conduit 2 does allow them to use a classic controller. People used to playing on twin stick controllers may feel a bit more at home. This is also fairly customizable allowing those players to remap the button layout in addition to the sensitivity of the thumb sticks.

This review is also going to be a bit spoiler heavy. Mainly because there is an aspect of the campaign that cannot be ignored. That aspect is the ending. Which we will get to. Of course in order to show you just how far the beyond the shark it is, we will need to talk about the storyline.

At the end of The Conduit  Michael Ford escaped John Adams’ secret bunker through a conduit portal with the ASE. Prometheus absorbed his consciousness  into the ASE beforehand. During the rolling credits we find out that Adams is actually a shape shifting alien Reptoid. He was sent by his race to take over the world, and some of the Drudge were beings based off of Prometheus’ alien DNA structure but intertwined with human DNA.

Right out of the gate, the game begins at the end of an exit conduit. You come out of the conduit to find yourself on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. After you fight your way through hordes of hired mercenaries the oil rig is attacked by a Leviathan. This is one of the moments when Conduit 2 really shines. This boss fight is everything a boss fight should be. It involves running around the top of the oil rig, and manning turret cannons to bring it down. While this is going on however, small grunt enemies will come out to attack you. So you will be bouncing between avoiding the Leviathan’s attacks, and dispatching grunts before going back to fighting the boss.

As you go through the rest of the campaign you’ll travel the globe. This begins when you stumble upon Atlantis, which turns out isn’t a sunken city, but an ancient extraterrestrial  war ship. The ship’s defenses come on while you are inside, so you will have to defend yourself against them. As you fight your way through it you have to find a woman named Andromeda, and take her out of cryogenic sleep. It turns out she was led to believe Prometheus betrayed her eons ago, and you convince her over time otherwise. When you free her you are given a special battle suit in the vein of Metroid heroine Samus Aran.

Andromeda also pilots Atlantis which has the ability to open up Conduits of its own. This turns the ship into a hub level where you will return between stages. It also allows you revisit past stages, and bonus training stages. At one point you return to Washington DC to find the Drudge are in a civil war.  Some of the creatures are liberating themselves from the group, while the rest swear their allegiances to the Trust. You’ll end up saving one of the free Drudge named Thex. He then helps later in the mission, by bringing in his forces to help you in one of the larger scale fights the game has to offer. Prometheus also gives exposition about other aliens, called Progenitors. These beings are involved in secret societies around the globe who must also be convinced Adams needs to be stopped.

It is revealed that Adams intends to murder all of the Progenitors, and consume their souls.  In doing so, he can take their powers, and add them to his own. So your job is to find each of the Progenitors, and warn them of Adams’ plot to kill them for their power which he will use to enslave the Earth.

You will then go to China to confront another alien named Li who doesn’t believe Adams is much of a threat nor does he believe you are the true bearer of the exosuit. The China stage has some of the cooler moments in this game. Statues come to life, and attack with powerful melee moves, while other enemies try to gun you down. Li is also another huge boss with an old school pattern you have to discover to take him down. He can also recharge his life bar.  While it is an overused, game convention, it is implemented at a level that doesn’t make him impossible to beat either. When you do defeat him you absorb his consciousness into the ASE. You’ll find this becomes a running theme.

The trail then leads to Siberia where you travel through mountainous terrain, discovering hidden military bases, and labs. It is here you will have to free another alien leader named Katarina. Things become really dicey however. So she will sacrifice herself in order to keep you alive. Like previous alien leaders she too sends her consciousness into the ASE. The trail then leads to Central America where you’ll discover the Lost City of Z. While there you’ll find another top ranking alien has died, and again absorb them into the ASE.

The last mission takes Ford back to the Atlantis where John Adams invades in his human form with a small army. This results in a huge horde battle, and Ford quickly dives into a conduit after Adams who tries to escape in the classic movie villain trope. In classic video game fashion however, this really leads to a second boss fight against Adams who shifts into his true form. This fight is actually a bit of a let down, as it’s not one of the more strategic gun battles as you’ve had thus far. There’s not much of a puzzle element, just one of those fights where you hope for the best. Like in the original Doom when you first found the Cyberdemon. Be prepared to empty whatever rounds you have, and hope it is enough.

Once you do defeat Adams though you find you can also absorb his consciousness into the ASE. This leads to one of the most over the top endings in any game you’ve ever, ever, (and I mean ever) played through. It turns out that the reason Thex had you absorb all of these beings into the ASE is so you could beat Adams with their combined might. However absorbing Adams into the ASE causes it to overload, and send an emergency beacon into space, where a Borg inspired spherical planet begins to travel toward Earth. No sooner does Ford find himself completely perplexed when some people pass through a Conduit to tell him they’re here to help.

Those people aren’t another group of aliens, an extraterrestrial task force, or an as of yet introduced government agency. It’s our first President George Washington, and our sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln. Both of whom are dressed like space marines. Other former Presidents, and historical figures then come piling out of the Conduit. All of whom are sporting the biggest armor this side of Warhammer 40,000.  The Conduit 2 logo then flashes in front of an outer space backdrop, and the credits begin to roll.

Now the storyline involves on an alien plot to take over the world, and the antagonist is one who shares a name with our second president. Plus it’s hinted he may have been one in the same. It’s silly, and a bit campy. But it’s still presented seriously enough where the suspension of disbelief allows most people to get invested. At least enough to want to see the story through. There have been movies, and TV shows with less plausible ideas, that many of us have been invested in. Here is the thing though. Are we supposed to buy that all of our Presidents have known about this plot, and are also hundreds if not thousands of years old? Why would all of them be dressed like Captain Titus? How did the Presidents fake their deaths so well? A little bit of camp in a story that centers around conspiracy theories can be a nice dose of comic relief. But this ending is  so over the top, and so campy, that most anyone playing it will either: A.) Laugh. B.) Ask “What the hell?” or any number of variations on the question. Or C.) Both.

Bad ending aside, the campaign really is a good time. Certainly if you love exploration in your First Person Shooters. Especially if you are the type who loves to read up on conspiracy theories. Not only do secret messages return from The Conduit, but High Voltage Software went through hours of researching conspiracy theories to implement a ton of objects referencing them. There are secret plans for H.A.A.R.P., evidence that the Dropa Stones were of extraterrestrial origin, and touch on many other conspiracies.

The artifacts you discover from these conspiracies are a really nice touch. They add more to the narrative than the campaigns script does at times. Sci-Fi fans of shows like X-Files, Alien Nation, and V will find themselves enjoying the references. After you beat the game you can go back to any stage to find any secrets you may have missed, and even play through bonus stages you may have unlocked by finding hidden coordinates. Stages are a lot more open than other shooters that have come out over the last few years. Some have branching paths, and the freedom is an appreciated touch, after the me too linearity seen in the original game, and so many other games this generation.

The role of the ASE was also expanded in this game. The last game limited it to being a key for weapon closets, a graffiti translator, and cloaked bomb detector. This time, it is used to find artifacts which, as described earlier, tell more of the story. It also finds coordinates, and weapons. The ping system has also been changed from an automatic ping to a manual one. So it won’t be going off on its own whenever you stand near a possible cloaked threat or a secret. It’s a small change, but it does make hunting for secrets something you’ll want to do.

One thing that may disappoint you (aside from the ending) in Conduit 2, is the voice acting. The entire cast was changed. Most notably Mark Sheppard was replaced with Jon St. John, while Max McGill, and Sam Mowry were cast in place of Kevin Sorbo, and William Morgan Sheppard. The new cast isn’t bad. But they bring very different portrayals of Michael Ford, John Adams, and Prometheus to the series. Jon St. John brings a vocal flair similar to his Duke Nukem performance to Michael Ford. It isn’t exactly like Duke Nukem, as it isn’t as deep. There also aren’t a lot of witty or crude one liners in the script. But the character still has a lot more bravado in this installment as a result. It certainly isn’t a terrible performance by any means. But because it so different from what was presented in the first game, it can come off as jarring.

McGill, and Mowry don’t fare quite as well. Prometheus ends up sounding a lot more mechanical here. Adams is a little bit closer in terms of the character’s over confidence. But the delivery still ends up being a far cry from what we saw in the original game. Again none of the performances are absolutely dreadful. There were certainly well-intentioned efforts put into them. But because the new cast are different people who had different ideas on how to portray these characters, obviously the result is different, and different enough to turn some people off.

By contrast, the biggest improvement to Conduit 2 has to be its multiplayer. Once again, seeing how the game’s online multiplayer is no longer functional, you won’t be playing it. Over the course of the three years it was playable over the internet, the game  received several patches. The developers made a commitment to reduce cheating, implemented a customizable system for players to have specialized load outs, and even costume designs. The game also has a Call Of Duty inspired levelling system allowing the truly devoted to unlock, and level up weapons. There was again an achievement system, and the game allowed you to pick friends, and rivals through your non private games which allowed you to essentially friend them without having to get their friend code. Sadly you didn’t get as much in the way of game type tweaking in non private games. You could only pick from a few grab bag modes.

The modes that were present were the typical Free For All Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Last Man Standing modes. ASE Football returned, along with a horde mode, where players tried to survive waves of enemies. All stuff you’ve seen before. But it was really well crafted. Map designs were built around the modes. There weren’t nearly as many lag, or performance issues as in other Wii online multiplayer titles.

Fortunately, Conduit 2 added in 2 to 4 player split screen multiplayer. So all of the mayhem you could experience online, can at least be played locally with friends, and relatives. Some of the multiplayer maps are truly great romps. My favorite being the crash site where you can climb into the crashed space craft, and turn on its afterburners. Anyone foolish enough to stand behind it is burned to death pretty much instantly. Some of the new weapons in Conduit 2 are also really cool. One of the best is the mobile turret, where you can place the turret, then through secondary fire go to a completely different area with a tablet, then use the tablet to remotely fire upon enemies through a camera app.

Conduit 2 is one of the best games you haven’t played, and one of the better games to come out near the end of the Wii’s run. If you own a Wii or a Wii-U you owe it to yourself to check this game out. If you are a multi platform owner who likes shooters  it’s worth a look. If you love stories about conspiracy theories, and Sci-Fi themed B-Movies it’s probably also something up your alley. Provided of course, you can deal with such an out of place ending.

Still, one can’t help but wonder if High Voltage Software will ever be allowed to show us where the Conduit could go from here.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

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