High Voltage gives us a solid first-person shooter that shows off everything the Wii has to offer.
At this point in the Wii's lifespan, it's safe to say that the first-person shooter genre has been a neglected one. We've seen a handful of third-party releases in pre-existing franchises like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Far Cry, but aside from Red Steel in 2006 and the recently-released Onslaught, completely original shooters have been virtually non-existent on the platform. Sega and High Voltage have stepped up to fill this gap with The Conduit, a Wii-exclusive first-person shooter recounting the battle to fend off an alien invasion of Washington, D.C. While not without its flaws, The Conduit is an impressively robust package that sets a new bar for the genre on Nintendo's console.
The Conduit places you in the role of Michael Ford, an agent for a mysterious organization called the Trust. Recruited by Trust commander John Adams, Ford is sent into Washington D.C. to recover an agency-developed prototype called the All-Seeing Eye (A.S.E.) from a terrorist known only as Prometheus. Meanwhile, the city is in a state of chaos, caught in the grips of an alien invasion while suffering from the spread of a flu-like affliction that turns humans into alien puppets. Ford sets out to recover the A.S.E., unwittingly pulled into an ever-growing conspiracy.
And thus we come to the most glaring flaw of The Conduit: to call its story, setting, and characters clichéd is being kind. The government/alien conspiracy angle has been done to death, and it isn't taken anywhere new here. Enemy and weapon designs are highly reminiscent of Halo 3, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and Resistance 2, and the side-story broadcast by radios scattered throughout each level is straight out of Resistance 2 as well. The first-person shooter genre has never been one known for its originality, but seldom do you come across a game so wholly derivative of others on the market.
Fortunately, these retreaded elements are wrapped in a completely new - and excellent - graphics engine built from scratch for the Wii hardware. Environments are varied, expansive, and detailed throughout the game's nine single-player levels. You'll battle through underground bunkers and subways, a meticulously-recreated Jefferson Memorial, the offices of the Pentagon, and even the White House itself. While some textures are recycled a bit too much, the look and feel of each level is different right to the end. There are occasional frame rate drops in larger rooms, but gameplay is never affected and the experience is a smooth one overall.
The Conduit's audio is generally good. Featuring voice acting by Kevin Sorbo and Mark Sheppard, High Voltage certainly spared no expense in telling the game's story. While the voice acting could be better (Sorbo and Sheppard have a fairly wooden delivery and some of the dialogue is downright cheesy), it's nice to see such attention to detail in terms of presentation. The musical score varies in quality, ranging from the excellent theme to forgettable background tunes, and sound effects are your typical alien screams and explosions.
These technical achievements would mean little if there wasn't a solid game to back them up, and The Conduit delivers for the most part. There's a substantial single-player campaign (about 8 to 12 hours in length) complemented by dozens of achievements, as well as unlockable art and cheats. There are several different difficulty levels as well, giving dedicated players plenty of reasons to keep playing, and of course its extensive online multiplayer component.
The Conduit's control scheme is very similar to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, with forward and lateral movement handled by the Nunchuk joystick and the Wii Remote acting as a mouselook and B-trigger. The bounding box concept is employed, meaning that moving the Wii pointer outside of an invisible box in the middle of the screen causes the player's character to turn in that direction. Some of the default Wiimote button mappings are difficult to reach (the spin and grenade selection commands, for example), but everything is customizable, so if you don't like the default layout you can switch up the controls however you want.
The motion controls are excellent, allowing you to turn quickly and zero in on targets accurately; aiming takes skill and a steady hand. The most unexpectedly impressive aspect, however, is throwing grenades with the Nunchuk. A thrust of the Nunchuk tosses a grenade, but how softly or hard this is done is accurately reflected by how far it's thrown. There's nothing more satisfying than dropping a grenade right in the middle of three enemies, exactly where you intended.
The Conduit is a brisk run'n'gun experience in the classic mold, pitting you against waves of enemies intended to prevent you from completing objectives and advancing the storyline. In addition to blasting baddies, players use the A.S.E. to hack into computers, decipher hidden messages on walls, and even uncloak invisible aliens. Like the scan visor mechanic in Metroid Prime, the A.S.E. is fun to use and gives players incentive to explore their surroundings. If you enjoy first-person shooters, you'll definitely find a lot to like here.
However, fans of the genre will also find a host of minor annoyances. There is no on-screen grenade indicator (like in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare), meaning that you'll run towards grenades as often as you run away from them because you aren't sure where they are. Objectives aren't always clear either, forcing you to pause the game and check your list to determine what to do next. You sometimes aren't explicitly told if your goal is to clear out enemies or their spawn points instead, so you may waste time unwittingly killing an endless stream of enemies.
Checkpoints are also problematic. Since checkpoints are the only way to save the messages you've deciphered with your A.S.E., dying means you have to decipher them all over again to get credit. Checkpoints also take an exact snapshot of what you're doing when you pass through, so if you're facing a wall with the A.S.E. equipped instead of a gun you'll start that way every time thereafter. These sound like nitpicks, but over the course of the game they become increasingly frustrating.
Level design is good for the most part, but there are irritations here as well. Later levels don't increase difficulty in any way other than throwing more enemies at you, and the general lack of enemy variety doesn't help. While none of these issues are game-breakers by themselves, as a whole they make the single-player campaign feel less polished than it should.
For all of the flaws of the single-player campaign, The Conduit's online multiplayer component is excellent. The lack of local multiplayer is disappointing, but there's still plenty to do. Players can challenge up to twelve friends or regional/worldwide opponents in solo deathmatch, team deathmatch, or team objective play. There are seven different maps, several different weapon sets (Alien, Human, Explosive, etc.), and many different game types to choose from. Among the best are A.S.E. Football (a variation of "Hot Potato" with each player competing to see who can carry the A.S.E. the longest), Bounty Hunter (one person is the target, and players lose points for killing anybody other than that person), and the classic Marathon (kill as many players as possible within a time limit). Throw in an online ranking system and full stat-tracking, and you have a multiplayer game that you'll be playing for a long time. Performance is also relatively lag-free, with some hitches when playing worldwide matches but nothing too distracting.
What makes The Conduit's online component so impressive is its robustness. Multiplayer is WiiSpeak-enabled (for friends only), allowing players to chat with others in the lobby and during gameplay. The quality isn't always the greatest: you'll get echoes depending on the speaker setups of other players, and voice chat sometimes cuts in and out, but it adds so much to the experience that it simply doesn't matter. There's nothing better than talking smack after an especially satisfying kill. Friend code management is also a breeze, including functionality that allows you to add mutual friends and send invites that others can accept later. It's as fleshed-out as anything you'd find on the Xbox 360 or PS3, and can only be described as a remarkable achievement.
This is the paradox of The Conduit. Its disappointing single-player component seems hastily-designed with its cookie-cutter plot, limited range of enemies, and myriad elements copied wholesale from popular recent first-person shooters. On the other hand, its multiplayer component is great, matching online shooters on other platforms feature-for-feature and providing a no-hassle experience that's among the best on Wii. Hopefully High Voltage will learn from The Conduit's shortcomings for their next game, but for now, Wii owners will have to settle for something very good instead of truly great.