Nothing builds hype like a shooter. The first-person perspective immerses the player like no other genre, the near-universal inclusion of competitive multiplayer makes the games highly social, and the focus on graphics makes the games more dazzling and eye-catching than any other. Regardless of the gameplay merits of any particular FPS, you just can’t ignore them—they’re the blockbuster hits that get the most attention.
Up until now the Wii has been missing out on this hype, because as a platform it perceivably lacks two of the main ingredients of a successful FPS. Its puny GPU supposedly doesn’t have the technical bells and whistles that make a shooter dazzle the senses. Meanwhile Nintendo’s laughably weak online service and insistence on using counterintuitive friend codes make it a real chore to connect and play online. And yet, the Wii has one aspect that makes FPS a perfect fit for the console: controls. Hypothetically the Wii remote is the next best thing to a PC’s mouse and keyboard but with the aforementioned drawbacks and the console’s perceived audience of minigame hungry baby boomers and toddlers, few developers have dared scratch the surface of the FPS genre on Wii.
And then there was High Voltage Software. The studio has been quietly working on licensed games for years now, but they’ve never made an original IP. Their Chief Creative Officer Eric Nofsinger and several of his team members liked the Wii and believed in what it could do, but like so many other Wii owners they were dismayed that their consoles were collecting dust. They decided to change that, to make a game that they’d genuinely want to play on the Wii, one that was only possible with the Wii’s controls but that also pushed the platform’s graphics and online capabilities. For over a year they developed their breakout FPS The Conduit without the aid of a publisher, a risky move, but ultimately Sega backed the project.
Hardcore Wii owners came out of the woodwork and hyped the daylights out of the game from PAX to E3, but now that the much-anticipated Conduit is finally here, can it hope to live up to expectations? Well, in terms of what HVS was aiming for The Conduit succeeds in every major area, but whether it excels or not is a bit more complicated. It may seem easy to quantify many of Conduit’s faults and dismiss the game as unremarkable, but there is much more to it than meets the eye.
The Conduit’s story follows a familiar formula. You play as Secret Service agent Michael Ford, a man recruited by the illuminati-like Trust organization to combat a growing series of paranormal crises in Washington, D.C., culminating in an invasion by hostile insectoid aliens known as the Drudge. The whole thing appears clichéd to a fault, but unlike the Halo series and its shameless theft of everything from Larry Niven to Aliens, Conduit has more going on beneath the surface than a simple space marines vs. bug-eyed monsters conflict. Nofsinger expressed the desire to present a multilayered story that players could ignore if they wanted to, so it takes some digging to get at the story’s significance.
HVS has amassed and blended dozens of conspiracy theories to construct Conduit’s plot. Cryptic messages referencing ancient gods litter the corridors, news broadcasts mention Skull and Bones members planted throughout the government, the symbols of the freemasons and illuminati are hidden in weapon repositories, heck, the radios scattered around the levels even have numbered stations playing on them. My main problem was that these conspiracy references weren’t as overt as the stuff in, say, Deus Ex.
You get the feeling that there’s a lot going on in Conduit’s world and yet you see very little of it, and it’s hard to tell what is significant to the overall plot and what is just for atmosphere. It enhances the sense of being a pawn in the middle of a huge chess match, but so little of the story is expounded upon that unless you’re really interested and go poking around, it’s hard to stay engaged. After beating the game, some more of it made sense to me and the earlier messages about Sumerian mythology snapped into place, but a lot is still ambiguous. It’s also cool that most of the game’s pre-launch advertising presented misleading story details or outright disinformation, which enhances some of the plot’s early twists.
Something tells me that HVS is gearing up for one hell of a sequel with a very involved plot, and it’s not just the game’s “finish the fight” cliffhanger ending. As a standalone game, however, Conduit has a straightforward story with a couple really cool twists but only hints of future greatness. In any case the plot had the intended effect; Nofsinger said he hoped curious players would Google the clues sprinkled across the campaign, and they’ve made me comb through Wikipedia’s tinfoil hat directory to understand all the references.
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