In terms of bare mechanics and gameplay Conduit’s single player campaign isn’t going to shake up the genre—there are no huge boss fights and it consists almost entirely of down to earth running and gunning—but it’s still a pretty good run and it hits all the FPS staples in a very solid, satisfying way. It if weren’t really fun and addictive to shoot guys over and over again in Conduit then the solo mode would quickly grow thin, but it is a lot of fun and in that way it brings to mind of classics like Doom, Quake 2 and Half Life. Then again, half of what makes the raw gameplay so tasty are the pitch perfect controls.
A lot has been made of the Wii’s apparent glove-like fit to FPS controls and, aside from Nintendo’s own Metroid Prime 3 and the surprisingly good Medal of Honor Heroes 2, HVS is really the only developer to nail it. The basic scheme is comfortable enough for an intermediate player but more experienced gamers will want to fiddle around with the settings a bit. Luckily HVS lets you fiddle to your heart’s content—I haven’t seen this depth of customizability in a console FPS, ever. You can swap any button, adjust any sensitivity, and make your aim as loose or pixel-tight as you desire. Don’t like the default gesture controls for grenades or melee? Assign them to a button. Some of the adjustment sliders even take you back into gameplay so you can test your settings in real time. HVS said that they didn’t want to dictate what was the “best” way to play Conduit, and while they have some good default settings I still tightened things up a bit. It took me a while to find a scheme that was comfortable in both single and multiplayer, but now that I’ve locked it down I find it difficult to go back to dual analog control.
The controls make the biggest difference in multiplayer, leveling a playing field once dominated by analog stick wizards. It’s going to be a blast learning the ins and outs of real, competitive multiplayer on the Wii, and it is definitely Conduit’s most robust successful feature. What began two years ago as local splitscreen play has turned into a fully-featured online mode that rivals most 360 shooters, all because HVS listened to what its fans wanted. HVS has done its best to circumvent the backwards limitations that Nintendo has imposed on their online service, starting with those blasted friend codes. There is still anonymous regional and worldwide matchmaking, but adding friends has never been easier on the Wii.
Yes, you still have to use friend codes to add total strangers to your roster, but if you already have someone in your Wii address book, you can just send them a friend request like on Xbox Live. This is much easier and removes a whole extra step, and I’ve been wondering why more Wii games don’t do this in the first place. Once you’ve friended someone you can add the people on their friend list as well, quick and easy. Conduit also supports the WiiSpeak mic for voice chat between friends, adding even more incentive to friend people. Conduit’s intuitive system creates an almost viral nature to adding friends, and with a list limit of 64 people per profile, I can see the system reaching critical mass soon.
It’s not hard to see that happening, considering the number of traditional and creative options it offers. There are 7 maps, which is a pretty small number but the variety is greater than most other shooters I’ve played. Up to 12 players can participate in any match, and each map is decently balanced for this number of people. The bread and butter modes of deathmatch, team deathmatch and CTF are available, with team objective modes mixing up kill count and flag capture in various ways.
A few of the more original modes are ASE Football, a modern version of GoldenEye’s “hold the briefcase,” and the ever-entertaining Bounty Hunter. This mode assigns every player a specific target—if you kill anyone besides that target or the person hunting you, you lose a point. It’s really a creative idea and a lot of fun to watch 12 paranoid people running around a map, their trigger fingers itchy, doing their best not to blast everyone they see. I did run into sporadic lag in all multiplayer modes, but hopefully this will be ironed out once the servers calm down.
Both single and multiplayer are graced with some truly spectacular production values, for a Wii game anyway. Nofsinger said he wanted HVS to be “the most technically innovative Wii developer on the planet,” and that wasn’t idle boasting. Using their Quantum 3 engine HVS has pulled off graphical tricks that even Nintendo hasn’t managed. Weapons, items, characters and to a lesser extent environmental textures sport a wide range of pixel shader effects, including bump, normal and gloss mapping. High dynamic range lighting adorns the environments, while the scifi guns produce lively bloom glow and particle clouds that make for some gorgeous disintegration effects. Depth-of- field blur melts in when you’re reloading or sighting in on a target and the color bleeds from your screen as you get closer to dying. The enemies and weapons are the real showcase, especially the Drudge and their equipment. Many objects look like they came right out of an Xbox 360 game, and the experience rarely strays from a rock solid 30fsp framerate.
Of course, some concessions have been made to maintain that fluidity. Some of the levels look downright bland and flat—not all of the textures are glossy and high-res, and the level geometry gets rough in spots. I imagine that replacing some of the rote corridors with more elaborate architecture could cover up the visual drawbacks—after all, the library of Congress and Trust labs were far more interesting than Bunker 13. Conduit looks its best when you’re in a highly atmospheric location, drenched in environmental effects and buzzing with enemy activity.
And for the most part, it sounds great too. You’ll get the occasional stock sound effect but the sound designers at HVS have done a great deal to diversify the spectrum of effects you hear, from the guns to the enemies and environmental sounds. The signature whir of the ASE or the agonized scream of a spec-ops troop as he’s reduced to constituent atoms are original and expertly produced. Each gun has distinct clicks, energy whines and organic squishes that add as much to their identity as their appearance.
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