Hi again, how are you today? That's so nice! Me, I've had quite a miserable morning actually. My corkboard knocked over a glass of water damaging my magazine collection, and I forced myself to play the last two levels of The Conduit so I could get this up today. But on the plus, yes, I do put posting stuff on Destructoid ahead of my own emotional well being, which I hope can be the shape of things to come. So moving on, I'd like to first thank you for the feedback on my last write-up, and I hope you enjoy this one too!
As a prideful student in creative writing, there exists a pool of words associated with gaming that have been hung and stretched to the realm of cliché for so long that I won’t allow myself to use them. This can be a real pain sometimes when I want to explain something simple, continually having to replace the word “hype” with “press generated around the title in the months coming up to its release,” but it manages to satisfy that egotist side of the brain that keeps me working as a writer. Each time one of my most respected journalists or bloggers - therefore one who I envy the talent - writes a thoughtful piece using one or more of the handful of random words I’ve decided that I don’t like, I can quite easily re-adjust my beret, tip my tiny John Lennon glasses, and snark down at their efforts like a giant douchebag. Ha, Official Nintendo Magazine, you just used the word “casual” to describe a type of game, which I disagree with: ho ho ho, I exclaim, before weeping openly in my palms because I’ll never be as good as them. Whatever gets you through the day.
In not using certain words, I like to think that I’ve developed immunity to their actual meanings. The convoluted lashings of hyperbole and sugar-rush excitement infused into PR speak for example, has become so ridiculous over years of exposure that I’m not entirely sure whom their audience even is (those of us who are used to the gaming industry can read through it, but are also the only people who see PR?). As for the aforementioned case of hype; well, isn’t that just when a developer decides to release little to no information on their game apart from a cool sounding concept, say, a Wii first-person-shooter done properly with Xbox 360 quality graphics, and from there on wait for the yellow submarine to whisk them away into the magical valley where all of this comes true.
This will be better than all of your games put together, plus a million times infinity. I should know. I watched the press conference on Youtube.
To be honest, the reason I have a dislike for this word in particular is not just its overuse (1) but because in most cases it can be interchanged with the much nicer word, “hope,” just without the dressing of a different vowel sound. The Conduit was hyped to be good; The Conduit was hoped to be good. That single letter doesn’t seem like much but changes a lot. In the world we inhabit today, I notice that the former of the two will often be used to assume that any product in question will be amazing, leading to the unfortunate side effect of copious usage of expletives and the Caps Lock key when it only garners a seven on Megacricket, or whatever. The latter on the other hand follows a calmer train of thought with none of the build up, followed only by rations of mild disappointment when an item turns out not to be as impressive as its potential. Hyped, Hoped. You can see why I’m not a fan of the word.
But lets not dwell on semantics for any longer (2), and get onto the bulk of the matter. My own experiences with this game.
The Conduit was a game that had a lot of promise, and I really, really wanted it to live up to that. I’ve actually written about my anticipation for the game before, comparing the unique weaponry and alien bug quashing from the trailer to that of Turok 2 – still one of my absolute favourite shooters of all time – hoping that this new Wii title would be like a second coming of those bygone days. Massive, powerful guns slaying legions of monsters for no better reason than because. An enormous lifespan, with the opportunity to explore a selection of beautiful, exotic locations. Maybe throw in a couple of cheats too: disco-dancing enemies, why the hell not. Combine all of that with pointer controls and that’s my dream shooter right there. I had been completely aware that this illusion would be crushed after reading the streams of (negative) coverage, but this is what I wanted The Conduit to be like. It’s a real shame that positive thinking isn’t enough to carry a person love in this world.
After mediocre reviews, I thought waiting out for the price drop would be the best option. Fortunately, I managed to snap up a copy of the special edition (3) last week in a deal, along with my second choice of Boom Blox Bash Party, which ironically, is going to turn out to be the more enjoyable of the two. Where on earth did things start to go wrong?
The back of the case informs me that this is "the most fluid and intuitive shooter on the Wii" but of course, I have no understanding of such meaningless terms. *scoffs down at box*
Upon booting up The Conjwit for the first time I notice two things. One: I really like the title music. Its sort of reminiscent of the pulsing electric tunes heard in Perfect Dark, which certainly deserves a point to High Voltage for making me remember that fantastic title. The second observation is cheats. Oh sweet mother those lovely beauties of yore are back, and among other goodies hidden away in the extras menu too. Gently brush your eyes past the concept art dross, that every game worthy enough to be printed on a disc these days appears to require as an unlockable even though nobody on this planet cares to stare at artwork on their television more than once due to an irrational need to say that they’ve seen all of what the game has to offer, and you’ll find Achievements. Sweet. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fun getting those. The attention given to presenting a nice cover to this book is apparent already, and I commend the developers for making a product where even tweaking the options is a pleasant excursion. Well done! Its leagues ahead of the rush job that made up Red Steel’s menu screens. I’m already feeling good, and I haven’t even got to the game yet.
And that good feeling is sustained, at least up until the point I get into my first combat setting. Great! I think, as I walk into the room with old Bob and his six or so identical brothers, proceeding to gun them all down for some reason, because the door won’t open unless I do. Yeah, I murmur, as I go down the next corridor into the same room again, taking out Bob’s clearly inbred cousins who seem to be a little miffed that I murdered the rest of their family. Sigh, I let out, as… I’m sure you get the picture now. If Halo/Killzone/Metroid/insert your favourite here were the titanium of shooters, The Conduit would be the cardboard.
This game has no soul.
Lets make it clear that there are some good, solid systems working behind The Conduit. Pointing and aiming is great, (I didn’t even notice the lock on until half way through) the default controls work nice, and there’s a layer of not brilliant, but pleasing visuals to tide you on. Problem is, I just don’t feel anything. Attacks have no weight to speak of, and even though every weapon looks different, they all merge into the same thing. Existence is only pointing and clicking, with the occasional corridor trawl. There’s no thumping heartbeat to carry you through its campaign. No points where you’ll stop, and take a moment to bask in the amazing world built around you. You’re just doing stuff, for the sake of moving forward. Because that is all there is to do. Its a consistent flat liner, with maybe one or two tremors at various points through its campaign, hoping to present the illusion that possibly, at some point it will spring to life and start dancing like the best of them.
Unfortunately, to my disappointment, I can’t say it ever did.
I'm one of those shallow people who thinks that reloading animation is everything in a shooter, but when an enemy can deplete your entire health in the time it takes to insert a clip, maybe its not so welcome.
Looking deeper, I can see how this game became devoid of a steady pulse, using the mystic practices of where-have-I-seen-this-before? Let us do the list. At first, we are presented with a core game concept, consisting of scanning the walls for various plot points or door switches. Fair enough. There’s some nice organic alien weaponry in there, wrapped around a government conspiracy theory plot. The good guy at the start turns out to be the bad guy about three levels in, and vice-versa. Security must have forgotten to take out no less than four explosive gas canisters from an airport waiting room. A conversation takes place over the credits, presenting a twist to the plot. Those little screaming grunts from Halo are in it. It’s at this point that I realized where the true nature of The Conduit lies.
I have no problem at all with games borrowing ideas from each other, as long as they’re executed in a beneficial way. However, it quickly becomes clear that The Conduit simply a checklist of the last few years’ good ideas in the FPS genre, compressed together in a single package. Problem is, they’ve been compressed to such an extent that the lovely insides’ fans love to feast on got squeezed out in the process, leaving nothing more than a ground up shell to play with. The first rule taught in essay writing is not to draw from too many sources because cohesive argument will get lost underneath the pressure, and that seems to be what happened here. In an attempt to comprise everything great about the genre, The Conduit has fallen into a kind of limbo between the excellent and the awful.
Kevin Sorbo plays Prometheus: your talkative, objective-handing-out sidekick. He sounds a lot more black than I remember him.
Those cheats that got me excited earlier. There are six of them. Three are obtained with the promotional code on the back of the art book, and amount to nothing more than “exclusive skins.” The game’s Xbox style achievement system is nothing special either; with goals not veering any further than your standard complete a level, get all the hidden items, kill a certain number of enemies with a certain gun, and so on. To pad on with some clichés relevant to the situation, The Conduit’s beauty is truly only skin deep. Don’t judge a book by its collector’s edition. Etc.
What confuses me is how High Voltage seemed to be dedicated to bring the game that no other developer could be bothered to do on the Wii, and have it turn out the way it did. Reading over past interviews, it’s clear that the team wanted to make something special, and I really respect them for that. The expensive coating they’ve produced and shined is apparent throughout, but too much stride is lost on the actual game aspect. Here are some assertions I feel the need to make. Timesplitters is still a more enjoyable game, and that came out over half a decade ago. Perfect Dark was even longer. Heck, I even enjoyed blowing stuff up in the buggy, unfinished Red Steel more, and that is coming from a person who couldn’t finish it because his (brand new) disc glitches out and refuses to load a level. What did The Conduit fail to do for me, that all these games managed years ago?
The Conduit. More like... The Condu-shit The Can't-duit. (The Videogame quip what I've done)
I finished everybody’s favourite Double Fine game, Psychonauts quite recently, and to be completely frank, I can’t say I enjoyed playing much of it at all. I encountered far too many graphical and sound glitches for my liking (4) and some difficult controls, which were far too big of a flaw to overlook. However, it had a certain charm that stopped me from completely disliking it. Character and personality course through the invisible veins of Tim Schafer’s effort, even if the outside is a little scratched. It unfolds like an experience, rather than a game, which I believe is the central pillar that all quality products are built upon. Technical wizardry is nice, but if it has no soul, all you have is a series of button presses.
The message needs to be clear: your game doesn’t need shiny-coated graphics, scanning the environment, or any of that superficial stuff to be accepted by an audience. All it needs is to be entertaining. In the five hours and fifty-five minutes I spent completing the single player, part of it was in replaying sections over due to an unknown death, but the majority was walking through the same corridors, fighting through indistinguishable laboratories, and trawling through similar sewer levels. Play the game, and judge for yourself whether you found it entertaining.
Gaming gets my blood pumping like no other medium can. The question to developers is, does it have that effect on you?
Characters. With character. Also a hint of personality. That's what I like to see.
(1) You know when you say a word over and over and over and it seems to lose all its meaning. It’s a bit like that. Even the word “graphics” is a stretch for me to use these days. I think it was only the italics mid-way through the paragraph that prevented me from changing it to “visuals.” Silly boy.
(2) I’ve actually been criticised by both my tutor and myself for never failing to write an anecdotal, overlong introduction to my write-ups, that have little or nothing to do with the actual piece at hand. I kind of like providing this ‘context’ (stretching the word) and I hope other people do too, but if anyone can recommend a medication I could take to stop these unnecessary words spilling from my keyboard it would be greatly appreciated, so I can at least pass my non-fiction class this year.
(3) Special Edition to which I don’t believe a regular edition exists. It only seems to be available in second-hand stores, where it’s likely that the previous owner just forgot to bring the slipcase with them when they traded it. Kind of makes those exclusive unlock codes redundant too, since they’re probably exactly the same between every copy of the game out there. Actually I feel like a fool for using the word probably there.
(4) Most notably, speech refusing to load so characters mouths jabber up and down like soundless puppets, and one moment in which entering into a boss fight presented me with a picture of some sky, meaning I had to fight the battle without being able to see a thing I was doing. Honestly I was glad the game was so short, since I constantly feared falling into some kind of glitch that would make me have to start the entire thing over again.