Genre: First-Person Shooter
Reviewer: Philip Smith
Overall: 5 = Average
For all of the interesting tidbits of backstory thrown around in Conduit 2, the game itself is surprisingly uninteresting. I jumped into it wanting a first-person shooter steeped in mystery and conspiracy, but what I got was a by-the-numbers single-player campaign and a decent, if standard, multiplayer component. While not a bad game by any means, fans of the genre would do better going with GoldenEye 007 for their first-person kicks.
Then again, at this point, there is little doubt that most Wii gamers have already done their tour as Bond and are looking for something different. Even if that’s the case, jumping from Eurocom’s revamp to High Voltage’s sequel will only highlight Conduit 2‘s deficiencies. While the science-fiction adventures of Michael Ford are more my speed—much more than traipsing around the former Soviet Union—the mixing of mythology and alien invasion is the only advantage Conduit 2 has over GoldenEye 007. In every other respect—level design, presentation, AI, and multiplayer (though this is more of a close-run thing)—it falls behind the latter.
But let’s ignore suave spies and focus on Ford’s stand against extraterrestrial (and terrestrial) enemies. From the outset, the game sets a rather humdrum tone and serves as an ideal representation of things to come. The first level is set on an oil rig that is ran by a government agency known as the Trust, which also happens to be looking to kill Ford, and is being harassed by a colossal leviathan. Sounds promising enough. And it is, but to get the encounters with the leviathan, which is really what you’re waiting for, and teased with via scripted events where the creature tears away chunks of the structure and feasts on Trust agents, there lay a stream of encounters that feature little variety and a lot of head-shaking enemy behavior. To push over a table for cover and take out a few agents in a small control room is exciting the first time, but not so much by the fifteenth. The lack of detail means that, regardless of how different they actually are, the streams of rooms and corridors all blend together into one extended sequence. The fact the AI can best be described as ‘sometimes adequate’ means there is little chance for the prospect of an exciting, intelligent foe offsetting the dull environment. While some of the enemies certainly seem to put up a fight, upon closer inspection, many are simply going through the motions—peeking out from the same area of cover every time. Others take a different route, charging forward to get shot or huddling together in confusion before snapping to and getting shot.
Those moments where the leviathan injects some excitement or when a Trust agent cracks a joke to a passing guard are those moments when the game’s hooks sink in just as you’re checking out. It’s those kinds of moments that managed to stimulate my ever-declining level of interest and keep Ford trudging along. Throughout it all, though, the biggest problem I had with the single-player campaign was that I just didn’t have much fun. It’s one thing to say I fought running battles throughout the corridors of Atlantis, but it’s another to actually do it and experience lifeless fights with bland enemies and discover that the fabled city is nothing but long corridors and strangely placed platforming segments (did the builders really want the inhabitants to literally jump through hoops to cross a room?).
The majority of the single-player experience can best be described as a build-up without the payoff. The All-Seeing Eye—an instrument used to scan for hidden messages, upgrades, data logs, and other hidden items—will reveal cryptic messages scrawled throughout the levels referring to gods and past horrors. Those reveals, along with other events that are elaborated on in the logs, really build up a great sense of anticipation. But the story itself doesn’t deliver on the clever set-up, and I was left with a lot of “… Oh.” moments.
Few games can manage such a build-up, though. However, a few items in particular stand out as weak points in the narrative, and that’s the similarity to Stargate: Atlantis and the weird presence of Duke Nukem. Regarding the former, Ford, along with a new companion, uses Atlantis as a base of operations from which he dials locations to travel to by using a large portal (conduit). There are also ancient aliens perceived as gods and took on the form of man and so on—it’s all eerily familiar. Then there is the fact that the original voice actor for Ford, Mark Sheppard, has been replaced by Jon ‘Duke Nukem’ St. John. Now I know it isn’t St. John’s fault that his happens to be the voice of one of gaming’s most iconic characters, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t jarring to hear Ford crack wise just like the Duke. Ignoring that Ford cuts more of a Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice figure, there are lines that sound as if they came straight out of a Duke Nukem—though with less panache, filled as they are with out-of-place and forced jokes. It’s hard to become engaged in the protagonist’s struggle when you don’t even really like him.
It’s a good thing that Ford has some sweet weapons to compensate for his lame personality. His arsenal consists of a mixture of alien and human weapons, many of which have secondary uses (the others instead utilize iron sights for better aim). There are scoped assault rifles, sub machineguns, shotguns, a rifle with a full-body cloaking feature, chargeable laser rifles, and my favorite, the rapid-bug-firing Hive Cannon. Even though small-ish hitboxes can make it difficult to hit close enemies, the controls are actually smooth with or without the WiiMotion Plus. Although it should be noted that the Classic Controller, often a great go-to backup for whenever the arms get sore, is a terrible alternative—it’s sluggish and imprecise. Even if the enemies aren’t terribly imaginative, they do make for enticing targets. Although tearmites, aliens with razors that spawn out of sacks and swarm like crazy, are some of the most annoying enemies I’ve faced in a shooter. In fact, the entire Washington subway tunnel segment bogged down by them spawning by the dozens should be wiped out gaming—I’m talking Singularity sewer and exploding-grab-things level of irritating. Few enemies in gaming have been as satisfying to punch.
One of the most interesting elements about Conduit 2 is its mixing of single and multiplayer elements. Using credits earned through the discovery of conspiracy objects with the All-Seeing Eye, as well as the unlockables it uncovers, you can purchase weapons, armors, and abilities to kit out one of several loadouts. These loadouts can then be used during the single-player campaign or online. This is a definite bonus as the weapons are the highlight of the game, and being able to tweak the story Ford is a nice twist.
Fans of multiplayer will enjoy what’s on offer. Granted, the entire process of gaining experience through completing objectives, kills, and other feats (e.g., double-tapping—killing a downed opponent before they are revived) has been thoroughly explored by the bigger franchises, there’s still some excitement in experimenting with new weapons and abilities. I’ve always found the search for optimal loadouts for level and weapon proficiency to be an addictive challenge, and it’s no different with Conduit 2. None of the levels stand out but they are largely decent, and there’s a nice voting feature for each round to help keep the rotation varied. While lag has to be next to nil for the game to be playable, as is the case with other Wiimote shooters, there are some good times to be had.
The modes are largely genre standards, with solo and team free-for-all deathmatches and objective-based challenges on offer. Some objectives are more exotic than others, though, such as having to toss an All-Seeing Eye through a goal. Multiplayer can be a bit bewildering in general, but the mode set is solid and the steady stream of unlocks add enough of an incentive to put in a few more hours. There is even a split-screen option for up to four players, which is becoming increasingly rare. The ability to unlock new models and name characters also adds a nice additional touch to the customization system. Gaming is always made more enjoyable by a well-placed headshot, and even more so with a personalized character.
Despite being unimpressed by much of Conduit 2, I can’t say that there is anything technically bad about it. Diehard fans of the genre will no doubt be excited by a new entry, but most will find the game wanting. The corridors are many, the characters and enemies bland, and the AI predictable; the multiplayer, while straightforward, does fare better, with the naturally addictive leveling-and-customization system that is so prevalent this generation. Conduit 2 has all of the first-person shooter ‘Musts Have’ boxes checked, but it’s all bog-standard stuff that teeters too close to—and dips too frequently into—the boring side. Not bad, not great, just bland.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)