Review: Conduit 2 (Wii)

It'll take more than a new lick of paint to save this franchise

When High Voltage Software first decided to enter the Wii first-person shooter space, competition wasn’t exactly something they really had to worry about. Sure, there had been a few half-hearted ports of popular franchises, but The Conduit was the first proper FPS developed specifically for the console. It didn’t really seem to matter that the game itself turned out as pretty generic genre fare — because hey, finally, an online Wii shooter! — and by default set the bar for online features and controls.

That bar has since been greatly surpassed by a small but feisty number of shooters, including two post-Modern Warfare iterations of Call of Duty that shame prior ports, the MotionPlus-equipped Red Steel 2 and the all-around good time that is GoldenEye 007. Does leaner, meaner sequel Conduit 2 have what it takes to compete in this new environment?

Frankly, no it doesn’t.

It's not for lack of trying, though. The Conduit felt an awful lot like a proof-of-concept for Wii shooters, and Conduit 2 takes that foundation and builds an honest-to-goodness game on top of it while addressing some of the first title's larger shortcomings. The campaign is more environmentally diverse, there's a weapon and equipment loadout system that spans all modes, and multiplayer integrity (fingers crossed) may actually be preserved for more than a week thanks to downloadable patches.

The problem is that Conduit 2 would be utterly forgettable were it not for its cumbersome delivery, poking its fingers in too many half-baked pies to make any of them tasty. If The Conduit came off as a proof-of-concept, Conduit 2 comes off as a rough draft.

The story is hokey B-movie fodder, acting as little more than an excuse to plop fearless protagonist Michael Ford into power armour, send him around the world and shoot things in the face while making groaner wisecracks. Picking up right where the first game left off, Ford finds himself and disembodied partner Prometheus in pursuit of evil-doer John Adams, head of secret government organization The Trust. In his trek to kill Adams dead, Ford winds up at a facility located at the bottom of the ocean called Atlantis, home to ancient guardian Andromeda and some nifty power armour. You then go globetrotting to China, Siberia and a few other locales to enlist three Progenitors to help you take down Adams once and for all.

At least, that's what we think happened; it's difficult to tell as the storytelling is diluted and all over the place — indicative of the game as a whole, really — setting up certain events and then completely pulling the rug out from under you when they rear their head. There's so much implied fiction flying at you that it's tough to make sense of it all. Not to mention an ending twist so absurdly stupid that we couldn't help but laugh at it aggressively; its cliffhanger is so atrocious that whatever gravitas the story tried to cobble together is completely obliterated, turning the whole $50 package into what we can only see as an elaborate trolling of its playerbase. One could argue that it's befitting of the game's new-found sense of humour, as both are just as chock full of groaners, but that would involve being OK with shoddy writing.

High Voltage seems to have learned nothing from past mistakes when it comes to delivering interesting battle scenarios: there is no ebb and flow to shootouts, instead falling back on the basic idea of randomly throwing a ton of dumb enemies at you in slightly different environments. They may all look different, but each location is as uninspired as the last in design and pow-pow action that ploughing through feels like a chore. There is no sense of power like in Red Steel 2, nor any sneakery that made GoldenEye so much fun — just bland room to room shooting stuff.

Nor does any of it control all that well: the wealth of customisation only serves to mask that High Voltage couldn't figure out how to make a comfortable and smooth default scheme. While these options are welcome, the degree of fiddling needed to tame the frail and erratic controls and bring them to the level of its competition is excessive. MotionPlus and the Classic Controller are supported, with the former only seeming to allow cursor movement when pointing off-screen and the latter admitting defeat for a series that used to pride itself so much on how awesome pointer controls are for shooters. At least the metal-boot syndrome of the first game has been fixed.

To break up the gunslinging, the signature All-Seeing Eye is put to equally vapid use as a means to scan conspiracy objects to shoehorn real-world tin hat stuff into the game's wobbly end-is-nigh fiction, and to "hack" equipment to open doors and set off crescendos — it's essentially a glorified skeleton key that puts an extra, unnecessary button press between you and your goal. The Conduit at least tried to make a puzzle out of the ASE, but none of that here — it's as if High Voltage had an interesting idea and absolutely no clue what to do with it, yet still sallying forth.

One area to see improvement is undoubtedly the art department. Gone are the drab corridors of The Conduit, replaced with some much nicer-looking natural environments coated with what we lovingly consider Mega Drive-icity. Everything looks a bit shinier and more rounded, but even here the game isn't without flaws: the framerate bogs when too much happens and human faces suffer from occasional strange black lines, as if the polygonal seams were showing. On the audio side, the original voice cast has been completely replaced, with characters sounding nothing like before: Ford is a wisecracker who comes off as a not-quite mix of Nathan Drake and Duke Nukem, and Prometheus is more C-3PO than Sorbo. Dialogue is trite and, despite its best efforts, the humour for the most part falls flat.

However, if you're in it for the multiplayer then none of the above will really matter. What does matter is that it's been improved somewhat, but not enough to bring it to the same tier as other online Wii shooters. There's the requisite selection of new play types and maps, and a mode-wide loadout system allows you to earn credits by scanning conspiracy objects in the campaign, unlocking achievements both online and off as well as just battling online. You can purchase an assortment of weapons, equipment and cosmetics, which should keep avid players busy for a good while. A new offline co-operative mode called Invasion acts as a horde mode for up to four players (which can also be played solo) and, coupled with splitscreen multiplayer, should allow you to enjoy the game's multiplayer even if cheaters and hackers overwhelm online. But there really isn't anything overly compelling about the multiplayer other than that it exists as an alternative to other shooters, and is pretty much your only real retail option if you don't care for military flavour.

Conclusion

The Conduit got a free pass for being relatively ambitious for Wii shooters, but those days are over: Conduit 2 is a mess of undercooked ideas and impotent execution. It's not that it's a drastically worse game than its predecessor, but the design has been so far surpassed multiple times in the past two years that there is very little reason to return to this underwhelming well. It's clear that High Voltage tried to mimic all of the same bullet points of "good" shooters and address some of their last game's errors, but facsimiles of better games just don't cut it any more.

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