The Conduit is a portal of sorts, of apparently unknown origins, at least to my knowledge. Having completed Conduit 2, I still couldn’t rightly tell you what a ‘Conduit’ is exactly; it bears a striking resemblance to the Stargate, and yet, stepping through one yields no strange, distant Egyptian planets. Instead, the Conduit appears to function as a time traveling device, because once you’ve passed through it, you’ll feel deeply reminded of the Nintendo 64 era.
Firmly situated in old-school shooter design, Conduit 2 gets off to a rocky start. Having not played 2009’s The Conduit, all that was made clear to me was that I was a Mr. Ford, I had a talking bauble named Prometheus, and that a Mr. Adams was determined to kill me. Stranded on an offshore oil derrick rigged to explode, it quickly became evident that Conduit 2 is unsure of itself. The rapport that develops between Mr. Ford and Prometheus suggests the game is instinctively aware of itself and its B-movie vibe, but for some reason they’re the only characters that are in on the joke. While Ford himself drops the occasional dumb-but-hilarious one liner, such as calling himself a ‘Killionaire’, the general quality of the writing doesn’t serve the half-hearted attempt at being self-referential.
Thankfully Conduit 2 isn’t overly concerned with its disposable narrative, however, it is interested in drawing the player in with its highly customizable controls. Using Wii Motion Plus, I played with several of the toggles and sliders, tweaking cursor movement, bounding box size, camera rotation speed and the input sensitivity for grenade and melee gestures. After several minutes I settled on a setup, one which I was satisfied, if not happy with; despite the near infinite amount of tweaking, I couldn’t find any combination that felt quite right. Additionally, Mr. Ford’s run speed is defaulted to 100%, which still feels too slow, especially since this is an FPS minus a sprint button.
Soldiering on, it wasn’t long until I’d settled into Conduit 2’s yesteryear design. Spanning a number of locations scattered across the globe, the game pushes the player through the standard assortment of corridors and small open arenas. Enemies are split between two factions, the Drudge and The Trust, but again, it’s never totally clear what their motivations are. Both groups have their own specific set of weapons, the Drudge’s consisting primarily of single shot energy weapons and The Trust’s running the range of normal human firearms. In practicality most of the Drudge’s guns feel worthless, as the slow fire rates are never compensated with enough added punch, leaving the automatic weapons of The Trust the preferred option when available.
Conduit 2 is at its most fun when you’re on the move, have a rapid-fire weapon in hand and are using the soft auto-lock; trading shots from behind cover is just not the games strength. While the actual cursor recognition feels precise enough, hit detection doesn’t always feel accurate, compounding the ineptitude of single shot weapons. The AI doesn’t help either. Some enemy types remain aggressive, mostly consisting of Drudge, but the vast majority of opponents will stick to occasionally popping out from cover to exchange fire. Moving your reticule to their pop out point and waiting is an effective, but exhaustive strategy. Then again, it’s still better than the occasions when the AI immediately knows where you are for no good reason, or when they’ve forgotten to react to a nearby colleague’s untimely demise.
Despite the occasionally dumb AI, Conduit 2 inexplicably still seems to have its fair share of difficulty spikes. The default difficulty level is the second lowest, but throughout the campaign I had to bump the challenge up and down a number of times to compensate. A great example is the first boss, which allowed me to stand in one solitary place for nearly the entirety of the fight without any threat of dying; I moved the difficulty up. A few stages later, a three tiered elevator section with four to five units on each floor with no cover proceeded to punish me; I moved the difficulty down, twice. And so it went, all the way until the final boss, who preposterously has infinite spawning minions, a weapon that deals heavy long range damage and is the only area in the entire game with destructible cover; I beat him on easy.
Some of the uneven difficulty could have been alleviated by the items you find along the way, which include various character upgrades and energy – assuming you figure out how to use them, since they’re barely mentioned. Throughout the game a quick scan of your bauble – the All Seeing Eye – can yield various collectibles. In addition to energy and upgrades, there are weapon blue prints and a myriad of back story pieces, not so cleverly titled ‘conspiracy objects’. This isn’t Metroid Prime, and although scanning is only a brief endeavor, it’s not very fun. Conduit 2’s relative strengths are in combat and motion, not in its story or atmosphere, which makes scouring for relevant, useful items an unnecessary burden for the average player.
Ditching most of the dead weight that hobbles the campaign, multiplayer is unequivocally the best part of Conduit 2. Supporting up to four players locally and twelve online, the game boasts a wide array of modes and options, easily trumping other offerings on the Wii. Many of the modes are of course twists on existing multiplayer game types, but Conduit 2 does just enough to personalize the modes for its own purposes. Smartly the game allows you to search for ‘Hardcore’ games, which remove radar and auto-aim. With them enabled matches feel quick and chaotic, and thus also, a bit too random, making it nearly impossible to catch someone by surprise since you’re visible on radar and always in danger of being easily picked off.
For those that buy into Conduit 2’s multiplayer, players are rewarded in the now standard format of experience and progression. As ranks are accrued new models and colors become available, increasing your ability to personalize your character and experience. Whether or not you stick out the multiplayer will ultimately weigh heavily on your penchant for classic deathmatch, which seems to be what most games devolve into. Strangely though, character upgrades appear to carry over from the ones you’ve found in single player, meaning you’ll have to suffer the campaign some more to get the most out of multiplayer.
Rather than deliver the definitive first-person shooter on the Wii, developer High Voltage Games has delivered one of the most comprehensive. Nearly every aspect of the title has a wide breadth of options and settings to allow you to tailor the game to your liking. Considering the level of flexibility, it’s still likely you won’t be totally happy with Conduit 2; the campaign is lazy, marred with bad AI, lots of balance issues, poor writing and impotent weaponry. The multiplayer is the sole reprieve, but even then, it’s still only a relative high point.