Conspiracy theories can always make for a good story. Sometimes they are simply a fun romp held together by contrivances, and speculation. Other times they are deep stories, that bring up philosophical questions. Some are so good in fact, they will make the possible seem plausible because they are told so well.
The Conduit is between these two ends of the spectrum.
PROS: PC level controller customization, campy story, voice acting, satisfying gun play.
CONS: Multiplayer is no longer playable. Unique ASE mechanic far too underutilized.
ODD: Head shots that decapitate aliens but not humans. Strange.
Made for the Wii as an exclusive labor of love, The Conduit tells a narrative of a centuries old plot by a secret society to allow extraterrestrial beings to take over the world. The protagonist of the story, Michael Ford, is a secret service agent who saves the president from an assassination attempt.
In doing this Ford, unwittingly throws a wrench into the works of this plan. This causes a man named John Adams (Who shares a name with our second president) to contact him, and recruit him to do work for a shadow government entity called the Trust. The Trust is over 200 years old, and has access to many top secret technologies at its disposal.
The Trust sends Ford on a counter terrorist mission to find a man named Prometheus (Named after the character in Greek mythology). Prometheus is said to be behind the invasion of Earth by aliens known as the Drudge. But just when Ford thinks he’s caught him, Adams double crosses him, and it is here where The game really begins to take off. Ford will traverse throughout Washington DC fighting off alien threats in his quest to track down Adams, uncovering all sorts of vast conspiracies along the way.
The Conduit was novel in its release because at the time, very few first person shooters were being released on the Nintendo Wii. Developers decried the underpowered graphics hardware, praised the infrastructure of Microsoft’s Live service, and Sony’s horsepower, and went for those. Developer High Voltage Software, (who had mostly made licensed tie ins throughout its history) looked at the console’s pointer controller, and decided it could be used to play shooters.
HVS really surpassed expectations with its in-house engine. Called the Quantum 3 engine, it allows the Wii to produce some lighting effects previously not thought possible on the system. While the environments are not littered with detailed textures, or high polygon counts, The Conduit does feature some impressive effects. Explosions, lens flares, reflections all make for a few “Wow!” moments. Sadly, this does make for a little bit of unevenness, as some drab areas will lead to some really impressive ones only to go back to some drab ones.
The Conduit’s biggest victory however, has to be its emphasis on tweaking its control scheme.
You can change everything from what button, or gesture does what function to how sensitive the pointer is, to how big or small you want the bounding box to be. You can even change the colors, opacity, and layout of your Heads Up Display. Do you want your health bar in the dead center of the screen for some reason? You can certainly do that. Do you want to make the D-pad your pause button, and melee attack? Absolutely. For the truly insane, you can remove the HUD altogether. Of course most players will try to set the layout as close to a familiar setup as possible. Once you have it configured properly it definitely controls very nicely. While it doesn’t give you quite the precision a good mouse on your computer does, it is more responsive than most analog pads. It even beats out a lot of other Wii shooters in terms of tweaking controls, and user interfaces.
You can even map melee or grenades to motion sensors adding a little bit of interactivity to the experience.
As for the game itself, it is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag. The main campaign takes a lot of cues from other more successful games on other platforms. The most notable one being Half-Life 2. The game takes a very linear point A to point B approach to level design. This is far from the only game over the past decade that uses this blueprint. But few are able to mask it with an environment full of supplemental subtext the way HL2 does. To its credit though, The Conduit will keep you involved enough to finish the campaign. This is in large part because of TV show caliber performances by Kevin Sorbo, Mark Sheppard, and William Morgan Sheppard. While they can be campy at times, they all do give the game a TV movie feel. Other bit players are peppered throughout the background for those who wish to look for things. Notably some Military radios players can eavesdrop on, as well as AM radios playing parodies of popular, and fringe talk shows as well as news media.
The game borrows Halo’s weapon limit system, as well as the regenerating health system popularized in so many shooters. It does work in the game as it makes players have to think about which few toys to carry into which areas. One final thing the game borrows is the spawn point system from the old arcade game Gauntlet. There are portals that allow aliens to come through until they’re destroyed, as are egg sacks that allow smaller ground level enemies to keep spawning until they are destroyed. It works fine enough initially, but it does become formulaic. Eventually they’ll be the first thing you look to destroy in a shootout section. A.I. is nothing revolutionary, but it’s really no worse than what you’d find in the typical Call of Duty title. Enemies will try to find cover, or try to cover another enemy. But sometimes you will see a bad guy just stand out in the open like a sore thumb.
Character designs are honestly pretty cool. The insect look of the alien enemies is quite nice, with some real life inspiration. Human enemies also are also well designed, and varied. You’ll see men in black, mercenaries, research lab guards, and more as you play throughout the campaign. Even the weapons are inspired by the enemy designs. There are a host of weapons based on real world military armaments. But there are just as many alien themed ones. Some of them are your expected laser guns, and plasma rifles. But the look of these weapons also has a very organic, insect theme to them. This correlates with the insect designs of the Drudge.
The audio is also really good. The soundtrack is a blend of electronica, and orchestrated music that marries with the B action movie feel the game goes for. Weapons, explosions, and even small details like footsteps are presented well. In between stages there are animated cinema screens with Michael Ford talking to Prometheus or John Adams. Again these sections are well acted, but It really would have been nice to see these done in engine. Be that as it may, the cinema screens are utilized about as well as they could be.
One element of the game that feels underutilized is the highly touted All Seeing Eye. When you first start playing The Conduit you will find it rather cool, as it lets you decode hidden alien, and masonic texts hidden in the game. Finding enough of these will help you gain achievements, and unlock concept art. The ASE also lets you unlock secret doors that lead to experimental, and alien weapons. Many of these weapons are exclusive to the secret rooms, and do higher damage to enemies than many of the other weapons.
Also, in some areas there are invisible bombs it can detect. Once detected, the bombs become more, and more visible. Concentrating the ASE on them long enough, can destroy them from a safe distance. It can also find cloaked switches that correspond to certain locked doors. All of this sounds great, and it is. The first two or three times. Unfortunately, you’ll begin to see it become formulaic. There simply isn’t enough variety with the ASE. It becomes little more than a key before long. You will enter a level, have a shoot out before getting some more exposition, and then the ASE will start to go off. You’ll immediately realize you need to find a hidden lock for a secret room, a locked door, or a bomb.
It’s really too bad that it becomes so limited here. Because it could have been much better. Part of the fun in this game are the National Treasure, X-Files, Alien Nation, V, styled tropes, and influences. Seeing the ASE implemented even further as a way to find clues, or translate a lot more than graffiti would have elevated the experience a great deal. Some more use as an interactive narrative would have certainly been welcome.Nevertheless, the game does keep everything together throughout the campaign hitting all of the notes you’d expect. There are even some awesome boss fights along the way.
The Conduit also featured multiplayer. I say featured because the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection servers are no longer running. But I felt like I should talk about the game’s multiplayer because of its significance. It was pretty decent initially, bringing competitive gameplay to an underserved audience. But there were a number of problems with it. In terms of online modes it was relatively sparse. The game had the prerequisite death match mode. Aside from that, It had one called Bounty Hunter (a variant of death match where each player has to kill a specific player), and ASE football where one player holds an ASE for as long as possible without being shot to death.
There was also Team Reaper (Team Death match like mode), Team Objective (Which is a Capture the flag like mode), and Marathon which was timed. Multiplayer maps were mostly pretty good, the best probably being Streets, and Pentagon. The Conduit was also one of the few games that took advantage of the Wii Speak accessory. This allowed players to use voice chat in multiplayer game modes.
Multiplayer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be however. When playing against only your friends it could be a lot of fun (Even if you did have to exchange Friend Codes). But publicly the game eventually became rife with cheaters, and griefers. Far too many to recommend it over other multiplayer shooters that would come out soon after. People clipping through walls to unreachable areas. People using a glitch to gain access to unlimited missiles. Even loading into a test level that was never intended to be seen were all things you would have run into again, and again. There were sometimes bad lag issues when far away players connected, resulting into shots that didn’t register as hits. Or rubberbanding, and other hated things. Also, take into account its better levels are also in the much improved sequel. At this point, there would be little incentive to play this mode even if you still could.
Aside from the multiplayer mode the game does have its own set of achievements you can go for if you are so inclined. Some of them are your garden variety rewards for simply getting further in the campaign. Others are rewards for pulling off certain challenges, such as killing a certain number of an enemy type with a specific weapon. The game also had a number of unlockable extras through a promotional code system. The codes were given away with the special collector’s edition of the game. The codes grant players a couple of skins that can be used in lieu of the stock ones. They also unlock a few special buffs one can use in the campaign if one finds the campaign too difficult.
The unlockable content also includes a lot of concept art. Much of it is nice, but the average player isn’t going to pay much mind to it. This is almost always the case with concept art. The most dedicated fans may go through several replays to see all of it, but most players won’t bother. The game is certainly worth revisiting from time to time. But like most single player campaigns, concept sketches won’t be the reason for replaying it.
The special edition does also have two other differences. The first is that the package art is much, much nicer. It has a slicker style in the vein of a DVD or Blu-Ray movie cover. The other difference is that the collector’s edition included an art book. Much like the one Nintendo bundled in its Metroid Prime Trilogy collection. The art book is actually pretty nice. It isn’t just artwork featured here. It also has some behind-the-scenes commentary for good measure. The other interesting fact is that the promotional codes aren’t only compatible with the collector’s edition. They work with every version of the game.
The Conduit is one of those games that is by no means terrible, but fails to hit its lofty goals. It may not have the best single player campaign, or the best storyline. But it is a fun campaign to play through. The story does have its share of cheese, but it’s delicious cheese. Cheese that compliments the rest of the meat in the proverbial sandwich rather than distract you from it. It has some interesting characters. It has some wonderful voice acting. If only the multiplayer were a bit more refined, and the ASE mechanic were allowed to blossom. The Conduit could have been a bigger deal. But there is also something to be said for being a cult classic.
It’s also notable in that it’s one of those games where the developers, not the publisher, paid out-of-pocket for most of its production. Even notable still in that such a small, humble team caught the attention of much larger, developers, and publishers. After The Conduit came out, Wii owners saw proper ports of Call Of Duty games like 4, Black Ops, and Modern Warfare 3. They also saw Goldeneye, a Wii shooter that was actually converted to its competing console brethren. It also got UbiSoft to try again with a second Red Steel.
Even if The Conduit failed to set the world on fire it did succeed in what it intended to do. Proving that FPS titles could indeed work, and play well on Nintendo’s white box. It also proved that High Voltage Software is capable of making a blockbuster action game if given the time, and resources. The Conduit would be a solid first effort, spawning a sequel before seeing a port to Android mobile devices.
Final Score: 7 out of 10