The Conduit


posted 7/31/2009 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii

Whether it’s just a generic conspiracy romp or an introduction to something much bigger, the story wouldn’t mean anything if the gameplay wasn’t good. Thankfully Conduit has a competent, if not groundbreaking solo campaign by today’s standards. HVS based the entire game in D.C. so you get to see several historic locations, both from regular American tradition and conspiracy lore. During Conduit’s somewhat brief 8 hour campaign you’ll gun your way through a besieged Reagan Airport while terror advisories play ironically over the intercom; engage in a pitched shootout with Drudge drones on the shattered steps of the Jefferson Memorial; explore the Library of Congress and the Drudge-infested tunnels beneath it; and blast through a repurposed Bunker 13 in an early attempt to ascertain the truth.

These and the other locations are all iconic and fun to play around in but they fall prey to typical FPS level design: large set piece rooms connected by long twisty corridors filled with various kinds of cover. This makes for some memorable shootouts but the levels and the gameplay they facilitate aren’t exactly revolutionary. In particular I would’ve liked to see more open outdoor locations like the National Mall—after all, the Washington Monument featured prominently in the game’s advertising, and you only glimpse it from the Jefferson Memorial.

The design also has some balance drawbacks that make Conduit an ordeal on the harder settings. After a pleasantly challenging play through the “Guarded” difficulty I cranked it up to “Severe,” Conduit’s version of Halo’s Legendary mode. While the game was harder overall a few sequences became practically impossible; this is due to Conduit’s main gameplay style. Most areas are populated by enemies that are quickly reinforced by new waves that come out of Drudge egg pods or the titular conduits, glowing energy portals. There really isn’t any way to handle these sections other than barging in, staying on your toes and trashing the spawners; after getting accustomed to “duck and cover” games like Call of Duty and Gears of War, unlearning my tendency to dig in and stay put took some time.

This "mad charge" gameplay is manageable on easier settings but on the harder ones where it only takes a few shots to kill you, it’s downright maddening. Coupled with some questionable checkpoint placement it makes the hardest difficulty settings feel unfair and unbalanced rather than a meaty challenge.

That said I did make it through “Severe.” and when I just had to rush in and hope I came out alive, it was a refreshing change from cowering behind a rock in Halo waiting for my shields to recharge. I was simultaneously cursing and praising the AI as enemies took cover, flanked me, tossed grenades, healed themselves while under fire and rushed me when they had far superior numbers. Many reviewers have called the AI dumb; I’d like to see them beat the game on “Severe” and say that. Still, the “rush in, kill the spawners” scenario shows up time and time again—not enough to get boring, but I would’ve liked to see a few more ideas brought to the table.

At least you get an awesome arsenal with which to ventilate/vaporize the enemy. There are three classes of weaponry: standard human including automatics a shotgun and a rocket launcher, the psychedelic Trust plasma rifles and launchers, and the fleshy, bony Drudge biomass guns. HVS had some fun designing a few around the Wii’s abilities. The crustaceous Drudge Shrieker launches guided explosive orbs that you direct with the remote pointer. The Deatomizer fires a charged shot of bolo plasma bolts that can be angled by twisting the Wii remote, leading to a satisfying “wraparound” effect where the bolts encircle a target in neon blue death. The Hive Cannon, reminiscent of a few Half Life guns, fires insects and the firing radius can be widened or narrowed again by twisting the remote. The rest of the guns are more traditional, but every one of them is satisfying to use and as I’ve learned online, all can be used to lethal effect. There are even hidden weapon caches that hold super-powered versions of a few of the guns, so there’s no lack of variety.

Agent Ford’s most iconic piece of kit (and the plot’s central Macguffin) is a handheld sphere appropriately called the All Seeing Eye, or ASE. The little gadget can reveal hidden messages, detonate ghostly mines, expose invisible, invulnerable Drudge, and solve simple puzzles to open the aforementioned weapon caches. It’s also used for more mundane things like hacking terminals and while it’s a nicely symbolic item, I would’ve liked to see more creative uses for it, or at least some deeper puzzles.
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