There’s no denying the Wii has been lacking in the first-person shooter department. Game publishers who make blockbuster hits for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 often farm out development of the Wii version to “B” and “C” teams, or skip making a version for Nintendo’s console entirely. And Nintendo’s development teams tend to stick to fare that appeals to gamers of all ages.
Sega thought it would have a hit on its hands with “The Conduit,” a T-rated shooter that launched with all sorts of hype back in June of 2009. But, though it clearly had hopes of being the Wii’s “Halo 2,” middling reviews and the online limitations of the Wii meant it never quite caught on.
Now, Sega and High Voltage Software are returning next week with “Conduit 2” and are clearly hoping they got more stuff right the second time around. I recently had an opportunity to preview the game, and it seemed like “fans” and what they wanted out of a “Conduit” game were mentioned every fourth sentence. After a while, I took “fans” to mean “people who bought the first game and weren’t happy.”
Environment artist Oscar Bustamante gave me a tour of some of the game’s features at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, then let me test drive the game myself for a bit.
The single-player game picks up right after the end of the first “Conduit,” when series hero Michael Ford follows bad guy John Adams through the titular portal. As in the first game, Ford will be doing battle with the Drudge, an alien race trying to invade Earth with the help of a secret organization called the Trust. (Yeah, shades of “The X-Files” here.)
Like all sci-fi shooters, the “Conduit” world has some unique weapons. I got to play around a bit with the “Hive Cannon,” which shoots bees. The gun’s secondary fire actually shoots out a kind of sticky gunk that adheres to enemies and attracts the insects. So after hitting a Drudge soldier with the gunk, I opened fire with the insects and watched the mayhem go down. It was as satisfying as “BioShock’s” Insect Swarm plasmid.
The fact that your primary enemies are colorful, stylized aliens and not realistic-looking Marines helps gloss over the Wii’s graphical weakness. From a level-design standpoint, Bustamante explained that the first game took a lot of criticism (from “fans”) for its numerous cramped corridors. This time out, the developers have made more of an effort to mix in some opened-up levels with a larger scope.
When I heard this, I immediately thought of Bungie Studios’ early “Halo” games on the original Xbox. In fact, when I was seeing “Conduit 2” in action, it was nearly impossible not to compare the game with classic online shooters from the era of Microsoft’s first Xbox. Obviously, a game on the lower-powered, online-limited Wii isn’t going to be able to compete with the Xbox 360 and PS3’s big boys, but it’s fair to compare it to the likes of “Timesplitters 2” and “Halo 2.”
While it doesn’t boast the online community features and matchmaking of “Halo 2,” “Conduit 2” seems to hold its own in a lot of departments. Like Bungie Studios’ classic shooter, “Conduit 2” supports up to four players split-screen on the same console. Online, it supports up to 12 players and ships with a fairly generous 14 maps. (That might be one front in which players benefit from the game’s being on the Wii. Paid add-ons haven’t really caught on on Nintendo’s console meaning you get all the content for the game up front.)
Just as those older shooters to which I found myself comparing it, “Conduit 2” supports a decent number of game types, most of them variations on tried-and-true online multiplayer staples. Given the general lack of this kind of gameplay on the Wii, that’s probably fine. The game does benefit somewhat from its own era, though, and includes a variation of the Horde mode popularized by “Gears of War 2” on the Xbox 360.
“Conduit 2” also features a “Call of Duty”-like progression system, but instead of XP, players collect coins called Conduit Credits that they’ll use to purchase upgrades. Oddly and somewhat hilariously, the collection of these coins is accompanied by what can most accurately be described as a retro-gaming coin sound-effect. You can also earn the coins in single-player and offline play, so if you’re getting destroyed online, you can do a bit of grinding and unlock more abilities to be used online.
While it’ll be impossible to know how “Conduit 2” will perform online before the game is in the wild next week, it stands to benefit in at least one arena: the invention of PDP’s Wii Headbanger Chat headset. Marketed for last year’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” the headset, which is supported by “Conduit 2,” appears to be a huge improvement over the Wii Speak accessory used to chat in “The Conduit.” While Nintendo’s accessory can best be described as a speakerphone, the Headbanger will ensure you (mostly) hear your online opponents and no one else.
“Conduit 2,” rated T, launches Tuesday for the Wii and costs $50. It supports both the Wii remote-and-nunchuk scheme, as well as Nintendo’s Classic Controller Pro.