The Conduit Preview: Mr. Ford Goes To Washington
Sega’s “The Conduit” has a lot riding on it from all ends of the gaming spectrum. First, and foremost, core gamers are hoping that it will finally give them a reason to turn on their Wii, and play the first well-designed FPS game that has been released in a long time. Casual gamers (at least the ones that know about the game) should be hoping for a game that finally lets them take their next step in gaming – a game they can play with their hardcore friends, and actually compete. And finally, Sega is hoping High Voltage’s latest Wii title will be able to blow away the competition much like the players will be blowing away the aliens in the game. Will “The Conduit” be able to make all these people happy? Well, you know what they say about making everyone happy all of the time, but if there are gamers chomping at the bit for a solid, more traditional gaming experience on the Wii, “The Conduit” is just what they are looking for.
Since the FPS genre’s inception way back with “Wolfenstein 3D” and “Doom” gamers have been shooting up everything from aliens, to zombies, to other humans, and “The Conduit” isn’t much different. At some point in Washington D.C.’s unfortunate future, something will go really wrong, and it’s up to one man, known only as Mr. Ford, to investigate it, and set everything right. Basically, this game has everything – alien invasions, government conspiracies, terrorists, secret societies, even the Oval Office to tickle your gamer pickle. While the actual plot of the game may be a bit complex, it should hopefully weave itself together sometime before the closing credits.
The game plays like your standard Wiimote inspired FPS fare - which substitutes controller movement for analog sticks - just point the controller left, if you want to aim left, and right if you want to aim right. Obviously these controls have been done before, but High Voltage took them one step further and offered the player the ability to customize their area of motion. If they desire a bigger square in the center of the screen to target their foes, they can tweak the game’s setting to only allow movement on the outer edges of their televisions. The opposite of this of course also applies. I’m certain that this feature is really going to shake up the game’s online multiplayer, allowing each and every player to really tweak the controls to their optimal settings. It’s just one really nice feature out of a bunch that High Voltage thought to include.
The level I had a chance to play took place on the streets, early in the game, with “aliens” surrounding Mr. Ford as he progressed through the level. The enemies were humanoid in form, and were scattered all over the game’s environment from straight ahead to perched on fire escapes way off in the distance. It was essentially your standard run and gun scenario where you needed to take out all the enemies to pass. One particularly challenging spot contained a couple of portals that allowed for the aliens to continually spawn until you took out the portals. While most of the enemies I saw were pretty much your cookie-cutter attackers, until the end of the level, where the boss looked much more epic, and seemed like it could have been right at home in “Gears of War.” One of the particularity nice features of the gameplay was the fact that the grenades were exceptionally easy to throw, with just a flick of the nunchuck, and the targeting system was superbly adapted to the Wiimote’s controls.
In addition to the set of man-made guns Mr. Ford is equipped with and the alien weapons that he picks up, he also has an orb accessible to him called the “All-Seeing Eye,” which is basically a device that allows him to see vital parts of the game that aren’t visible to the naked eye. For example, you may come to what appears to be a dead end, but if you whip out the A.S.E. and it may reveal a clue about how to pass, or even a puzzle that you need to complete to open a door. As I was played I had the opportunity to check one of “The Conduit”’s early lock-and-key type puzzles, where you had to rotate different sides of an emblem in order to open a door. As you rotated one level of the puzzle, it would shift another one, similar to how a Rubik’s cube works, and you had to keep shifting them until they all fell into place in the correct order. I was told that this was one of the early puzzles, and that they become a bit more complicated as the game progress. It seemed like a nice break from the standard FPS gameplay where it’s always all about the shooting; mixing in this reoccurring puzzle element was a nice touch, as long as it’s incorporated sporadically into the level design. Additionally, using the A.S.E. will allow you to discover more about the back story of the game through hidden messages scribbled on different areas of the game.
Beyond the gameplay, and the story are little parts of the game that really make it stand above all others. You can create a really great game, but sometimes it’s the little things that can ruin it or make it truly memorable. For example, there is an almost unheard of level of customization in the game, offering you the ability to tweak everything from the H.U.D. to the controller layout. While that may not be anything new, “The Conduit” is the first game I can remember to offer this level of customization; you can even completely remove the H.U.D. if you want - which, in my mind, is an amazing thing. You can tweak the controls to make your gameplay experience feel natural, instead of having to relearn where the jump button is. Fortunately, from my time with the game, it appears like the team at High Voltage have really put a lot of time and effort into making “The Conduit” a complete package that will appeal to hardcore gamers, without scaring away their casual newcomers.
In addition to the customization, a couple of other things that “The Conduit” offers that should really be noted are the 16-player online battles, and astounding graphics. Online multiplayer has been done on the Wii before, but I have a feeling that “The Conduit” is going to be the title that really breaks out on the Wii. In the end, the experience may not surpass, say, “Call of Duty” on the 360 but, it may end up as the King of the Wii.
As for the graphics in the game, they are already in the running for best looking game of 2009. High Voltage wisely built their own engine to run “The Conduit,” and, in the end their effort really pays off. Both the environments and character models appear to be hitting the very high end of the Wii’s capabilities, at least compared to what we’ve already seen on the system, and people who have been hung up on the graphics make the game conundrum will be very please with what “The Conduit” looks like.
As I watched and played “The Conduit” I saw it as kind of an unfortunate test: there is no doubt in my mind that this is a triple-A title, and that there is definitely an audience out there for it, the question being, whether or not that audience is willing to use their Wiis. The thing is, there are so many Wii’s out there, that there have to be gamers that are going to enjoy this game - not everyone that owns a Wii can be averse to pretending their Wiimote is a giant gun and that they need to use it to save humanity. Watching the thought and attention to detail that went into making “The Conduit” really made me think back to the last game that really revolutionized FPS games - “Goldeneye.” It’s proof that High Voltage’s attempt to do things that other developers weren’t trying has really come together, and they’ve made an extremely solid experience that shouldn’t be missed. While it will take a full review to really dig into the depths of “The Conduit,” it is shaping up to be one of the Wii’s must play experiences of 2009.