Image via WikipediaFor a little over a year or so, those in the gaming industry "know" have been aware about a really random blip on the Nintendo Wii's radar--a third-party, first-person shooter, built from the ground up for Nintendo's underpowered console titled, simply, The Conduit. This blip was important for a couple of reasons: 1) this game wasn't yet being backed by a huge, game-making machine like EA, but the relatively small team at High Voltage Software; 2) the reason it wasn't being backed was because it was a wholly original title trying to do something very risky in financially uncertain times. Throwing in with an untested company on a risk could mean bankruptcy along with so many other video game companies being purchased or sold off based a single moderate flop. So High Voltage made a full-time job of showing off their highly polished shooter. It was reported that at one demonstration, gamers thought they were looking at a new XBOX 360 game (a console capable of, among other things, better graphics than the Wii). All their hard work paid off, and the game was picked up by Sega--a Cinderella story if there ever was one!
But with a week after the game's release, is it a happily ever after? Sales reports aren't in yet, but the reviews are. And the general consensus seems to be, "Meh. Pretty good." And largely, I have to agree with them. Having finished the game earlier this week and finally had the chance to try out all of the game's toted sixteen person, online multiplayer options last night, I feel like I have a good grip on where the game is "meh" and where it's "pretty good."
For starters we have the game's story, though I hesitate to call it even that. It's more of a plot, a very, very, simple and used plot. Our hero, Agent Michael Ford, finds himself at the center of a huge conspiracy involving aliens. If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. This game would have been right at home during the X-Files series heyday--in fact, I think it was. I wish I could say it gets more interesting than that, but really, it doesn't.
The plot twists are expected, as is the cliffhanger ending. I wish I could say that these are at least original elements for a video game, but really, they're just tried and true. The game clearly pulls heavily from Valve's Half-Life 2 series (the government's experimental wormholes open the gates for alien invasion; our hero even wears an experimental protective suit/body armour), and I even found myself waxing nostalgic for the original Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 (some of the weapons and level design seem straight out of Joanna Dark's own conspiracy/alien invasion adventure).
Having finished the story, I don't know why it's there, and I didn't really enjoy it--the difficulty curve, for example, at the end is outrageous. I zoomed through pretty much the whole game only to get stuck on the last level by about 200 consistently spawning guards. Which brings me to the game's AI. The bad guys aren't smart so much as the game just bombards you with more of them.
And what bothers me most about the cliffhanger and obvious sequel-cue is that, sadly, it seems a future game will be marred by the same issues. Of course, all of this would suggest I don't like the game, but that's just the single-player mode.
The multiplayer, however, works shockingly well! This is where all of High Voltage's hard work obviously went. Okay, despite all the story's flaws, it's still visually impressive. And that really flows over into the multiplayer. Time and again, I've gotten online with anywhere from on other person to a dozen and played match after match of flawless multiplayer. On my Wii! Even Smash Bros. Brawl was hampered by lag issues!
High Voltage has really given Wii gamers something to sink their teeth into here. There are dozens of kinds of online matches to participate in, excellent weapon sets, and phenomenal level design. This aspect of the game won't be getting old anytime soon. In fact, the main reason I bought into the hype of this game was the promise of being able to play an online shooter with my Wii owning little brothers on the other side of the country. And to that end, we're already having fun.
All in all, as the hype for this game was centred around the amazing visuals, the highly customizable controls and interface, and the multiplayer, I'd say High Voltage succeeded. In the long run, however, the success of the game (not financially--at least not yet--but in terms of making a big-kid game for a seemingly little-kid console) will hopefully pave the way for more games like it. Indeed, High Voltage has already shown work on two new Wii-exclusive titles: The Grinder and Gladiator A.D. (the former further indicating the company's efforts to mimic what Valve has done for PC gaming on the Wii). In the end The Conduit is a noble effort, but it's value lies in its promise of things to come.