I've spent the past week playing through the short, but inevitably sweet single player campaign of the sequel to one of the most talked about games last year. I then spent some time playing through its new multiplayer modes and having some fun online. Yes, this sequel was released last Tuesday and it was kind of a big deal.
I am of course talking about The Conduit 2. Wait, what did you think I was talking about?
To learn about the other sequel that landed last week and see if it is worth picking up now that you've torn through Portal 2 five times over or if I delayed my own Portal 2 playing for absolutely no reason, please read on.
Conduit 2 (Wii)
Developer: High Voltage Software
Released: April 19, 2011
Both Jonathan Holmes and I found a solid amount of flaws with the original The Conduit, but behind that we both discovered a fun and interesting game that pushed the boundaries of what we'd seen on the Wii. Still, there was plenty of room for improvement as you can probably tell by reading our reviews. The guys at High Voltage heard that loud and clear. In fact, I'm pretty positive they read our reviews and made adjustments based off of our exact complaints to the letter. Almost everything about The Conduit 2 is an improvement on exactly what Jonathan and I complained about in our review.
The entire game that is Conduit 2 feels like a gut reaction to everything that was said about the original. Where the first game felt old school in a plethora of ways (both good and bad) this one is like a testament to how modern FPS work (both good and bad). The perfect example of this is in the removal of the talking heads that gave expository dialog in the first game. It felt right out of some PS1 disc from years ago and delivered the game's story terribly. This time around that is gone and most of the story is told from the first-person point of view, a al almost every modern FPS you play these days. The mindset between these two games is in such stark contrast that it's almost impossible to call this one a sequel to the previous game. Someone with far more time on their hands and a really strong ability to bullshit could easily write an essay on how the two games represent two completely different ideals of game development. It's absolutely stunning how far The Conduit 2 has come from its predecessor and it shows in almost every aspect of the game.
Let's start with one of the things both game's have consistently bragged about: the graphics. High Voltage's infamous tech demo for their game engine on the Wii had people instantly turning heads and thinking that finally someone other than Nintendo had managed to use the Wii's power well. Unfortunately this was only partially true when the first Conduit landed. Sure the enemies and weapons looked great, but the game's levels and textures were bland and boring. Not so in Conduit 2. Whatever advancements the team made with the engine it worked. The levels seem positively vibrant in comparison to the original game's and it is very clear that the art direction of the entire game was a major focus. Level design and look is light years beyond the original and so much more varied. The game even takes you back to Washington D.C. for a bit as if to say, "See, this is what we were going for. We can really do it well." There were parts in this game where I would have expected it to be on my 360 or PS3 if it wasn't for that pesky lack of high definition.
This extra level of polish can be seen throughout the game. Enemy AI and type is better all around, especially on the harder levels and there are some pretty impressive shootouts that can occur. The level design actually allows for some of the gun fights to be pretty epic. Unlike in the last game where for most of the time you felt like you were running down the cramped hallways of an early FPS, Conduit 2 feels more open and expansive. The levels are still linear and closed off compared to other more open, modern shooters, but the emphasis on design and adding liveliness to the world makes them feel much bigger and more grandiose. It also helps that they threw in a plethora of actually destructible items, a detail you wouldn't really notice if that hadn't been so obviously missing from the previous game.
While there are a few new guns in the game it should be reemphasized what a great job High Voltage has done in designing clever weapons that really just work better when using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck (though I suppose now they'd work with PlayStation Move as well). Thanks to the fact that the game also supports the Classic Controller I can tell you for a fact that these guns just aren't as fun without the Wii Controller.
And, speaking of support, the game also allows for the use of the Wii MotionPlus, which I initially thought would be utterly useless in an FPS. However, the extra nudge of control was noticeable (or I'm slightly crazy) in my aim, and if not there it was definitely noticeable in the motion controlled melee. Without the MotionPlus the melee, which is triggered by stabbing the Wii Remote forward, made your aim basically go insane. With it the melee movement you made with your hand actually translated into a normal melee on screen. Of course if you don't have the Wii MotionPlus you can remap everything in pretty much any way you want. The insane depth of control options has returned for this game, but it feels even more intuitive to work out your controls this time around.
Another one of those improvements that just had to be because Jonathan and I complained about it is the game's "hook," the All Seeing Eye (A.S.E.). In the original game the A.S.E. simply shined a beam of light like a flashlight and with this light you could uncover puzzles and invisible bad guys and all other sorts of gameplay elements. But it was a pain the ass to find things with the beam of light and eventually got to be not so much fun. Thankfully the A.S.E. this time around (in your new crazy, alien armor) works more like Samus' scan visor in the Metroid Prime games. This means that instead of a single stream of light you have to shine everywhere to find things you instead get your entire screen to actually look around. On top of this the A.S.E. has an even better ping function that helps you find collectibles and items in the world.
These collectibles can be anything from random notes that fill in the back story to coordinates to your next level, which brings me to the final big change that makes The Conduit 2 feel more like a modern FPS. Instead of charging straight through levels you're taken back to a home base of sorts each time you complete your missions in a level. From here you can actually change your loadouts (once you find gun schematics in levels using the A.S.E.) or choose which level you want to jump into (once you find a level's coordinates in previous levels using the A.S.E.) in case you want to try to go back and find all the hidden A.S.E. stuff. Sure, it's pretty much the same as having a level select menu, but it's the kind of design that bespeaks of a more modern and interesting take on game design and a take that brings the gamer more into the game's world.
Sadly, not much else helps with bringing the gamer into the world of the game. The story, which actually starts off sounding like it could be interesting, dives headlong into "go here and get these to save the world" until it concludes in a twist ending so terrible that you wonder where they're taking the franchise. Then you stop wondering because you realize they're taking it straight to the the bottom of the barrel. I suppose I should mention that you are once again playing as super agent Michael Ford and chasing after the evil alien Adams with the help of the good alien Prometheus. Apparently, these two and a few of their alien friends have been on earth for years messing with humans and you're the final piece in the little war.
Unfortunately, Ford has gone from being a slightly bland character with bland voice acting to the most annoying protagonist ever with the worst voice acting I've heard since the original Resident Evil. I am not even being harsh here. It is that bad. For some reason the designers decided that Ford, a supposed ex-military super badass, would now be a wisecracking gamer who every so often turns and winks at the camera metaphorically with a horrible joke delivered terribly. It's even odder because the rest of the characters seem normal enough and their voice actors actually deliver their lines competently. Game ruining? Well RE is still a classic, right? But in this day an age it's highly disappointing.
Thankfully you don't have to put up with it too long because the game's single player is short. If you simply charged through it you could probably beat it in 3-4 hours. I collected everything the game had and my game clock still didn't break nine hours. The developers must have realized this because they put in some of the multiplayer levels as bonus worlds you can go into in single player and pick up more items, but again, I completed all of those within the said nine hours. Maybe the new focus on the art direction and level design meant less time to develop the game, but it felt like there should have been at least one more full level on there. I'd actually theorize that they planned to do that as well since near the end of the game you're swept off into a jungle level that is short and pointless and taken from the multipalyer, but would have made a fine opening into one last concluding level.
Thank goodness then for the game's multiplayer, which is about as robust as you can get on the Wii. If it's in your favorite modern FPS's mutliplayer it's most likely in Conduit 2's as well -- plus you actually get split screen. You've got a full profile; a store to pimp out your armor and character's in; a wide array of selections for your loadouts; perks that you can purchase with points that you earn in the single player or multiplayer world; levels designed around different tactics and character abilities. You can, believe it or not, even talk with your friends over a headset while you shoot each other. The creative weapons for the game also mean that shooting each other can be a lot more fun than in a game with strictly realistic weapons. You probably won't find the depth of strategy you do in other top-tier FPS's multiplayer, but for me that actually makes it more fun to play.
Yes, friend codes are present here too, but the game also has a system called "Rivals" which allows you to select people you've played with previously online and would like to play with again. When someone is your rival you'll be alerted to the ability to play with them again if it ever happens and you don't need a Friend Code. Of course you can't interact with them as deeply as you can with a friend, but it's a great end around to being able to quickly add someone without a bunch of friend code swapping. There's a plethora of multiplayer game modes as well ranging from the standard shoot everyone you see until they're all dead to a Mario Kart inspired Balloon Battle.
I may sound like I'm gushing on the game a bit so let's do a reality check right here. In comparison to most top-tier FPS Conduit 2 is flawed in many ways. While I've championed its improved graphics and gameplay it still feels overall like it's one step behind the best FPSs out there. It's fun to play, has some awesome multiplayer and is a massive step forward from the first game in terms of design and philosophy. If you enjoyed the first game you won't be upset playing or owning this game, but has the Conduit series graduated into a top tier shooter? Not yet.
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