High Voltage has really been making a name for itself lately. The Chicago based developer has actually been making titles for a long time, but with "The Conduit", they look to really put themselves out in the public eye as the premiere independent Nintendo Wii developer. Most developers and publishers have written the system off as a shovelware dumping ground, or labeled it as "fool's gold" for profit. It seems only fitting then that trailblazer SEGA would team up to help deliver the Wii's tour de force of graphics, control, and online gameplay.
The first thing anyone sees in a game is the graphics. The Nintendo Wii shocked gamers when it was revealed to be a small upgrade of the Gamecube. This has lead to most game looking like PS2 era titles, sometimes even worse. High Voltage suspected what some of the gamers had been wondering, If Nintendo Gamecube was able pull off some pretty slick graphics, shouldn't the Wii look even better with more RAM and processing power? High Voltage developed its own in house custom graphics engine. Dubbed, The Quantam 3, it powers not only "The Conduit" but also its lineup of upcoming Wii titles. Boasting lots of bump mapping, shaders, and lighting effects, "The Conduit" is very likely the most technically advanced game on the system to date. It is one of the very few times where playing the game, the last generation graphics dont constantly remind you of the Wii and its limited horsepower. That is not to say its perfect, background details and some of the basic wall structures and textures can come off bland. Some of this is helped by bloom lighting to hide the lower polygon edges. Theres has been some debate of the artwork within the game as well. Truthfully, it is niether better nor worse then any other realistic first or third person shooter on the market. There is a limit to stylization when going for hyper realistic graphics, and any game that goes for that will show you. Still the Alien designs and Trust suit do look pretty nifty, if a little genaric in the long line of sci-fi shooters.
The music in the game is a bit of a mixed bag. There are plenty of moments where it captures the action of a summer thriller perfectly, and other times it simply fades into the background. The alien themes on the other hand are not so great. It is clear effort was made to make it sound other world like, but it comes off as grating rather then just weird. The voice acting is well done, with a staple cast of established actors. The script is a bit dry and overly serious. Much has been made about the plot of the game when in reality very little background info is ever given. It is really more of a mishmash, or hodgepodge of popular urban myths and conspiracy theories.
The single player campaign is set in modern day Washington D.C. and despite what some trailers may lead you to believe, there isn't much context given to you. Each level, including the starting mission, ends and starts abruptly. Theres is a briefing sequence with dialouge before each mission and thats about it. "The Conduit" is a very "pure" FPS. There are no cut scenes, there is no civillians or innocents, there are no rescure missions. You tend not to notice this as the game is very brisk and straightforward. It likely wont take you very long to get through the campaign either. As already detailed in the previews, "The Conduit" has the most in depth conrol options for a FPS on a console ever. Every major and minor detail can be adjusted and tweeked to your liking. From button mapping, to IR sensitivity, to remote shaking sensitivity, HUD display, running speed etc. it can all be optimised to your needs. I strongly encourage every player to take a moment to test out everything on the first or second level as it will greatly improve the experience. Once you have found your niche, the first third of the game will leave you in a zen like state of gaming. After all these years there is finally a console equal to the mouse and keyboard. Only this time, you are pointing and shooting rather then sliding and clicking. If there is anything that the campaign truly cries out for, its co-op. Since you would not have to worry about a partner shooting a civillian or failing a quick time event, and the fact that the campaign is literally a marathon of enemy waves, its ommision becomes all the more glaring. While the competitive multiplayer is fantastic, the kind of straight shooter campaign in "The Conduit" seems almost made for co-op.
There is no split screen multiplayer in "The Conduit" and its absence is hardly missed. This is due to the inclusion of a first rate online multiplayer. What many may not know, is that "The Conduit" does not actually require friend codes in the way you might think. What it does is, it reads the friend codes that are in the system address book and uses those. When adding a friend to your roster, the game even uploads your entire address book for you so you can instantly add friends without entering any numbers. Your system code is also displayed predominatly on the multiplayer main menu just in case. This is a major breakthrough over the completely ass-backwards online infastructure Nintendo as made. Instead of requiring you to manually enter a 12 digit code again for every friend that buys the game, you can simply use the already established address book of friends. "The Conduit" also makes use of the Wii Speak peripheral for online voice chat. This is limited to regeistered friends, however, it does turn out to be a blesssing in disguise. Any Live user can tell you, online voice chat is a cesspool of swearing, racism, and juvinille humor. The downside is the peripheral itself. It even tells you not to use surround sound speakers when using it, and voice sound like a speaker phone. This is not High Voltages fault at all, but rather Nintendo and their ridiculous solution to online voice chat for the Wii. "The Conduit" supports a nice amount of modes and weapons for online matches. Stacked against other titles on the Wii, it towers over them but to a multi console owner it wont be anything special. One of the popular modes seems to be "ASE football" which is basically a copy of "Carry the Skull" from "Halo". Personally I prefer "Bounty Hunter" as it leads to not only frantic shoot outs, but hilarious moments of people scrambling to assissinate one other player.
High Voltage has blazed a trail on the Wii, and set the bar for console FPS controls. It is sad that it has taken this long into the consoles lifecycle, but here it is. The amazing part is, for once its not Nintendo setting the example on their system. It is an independent third party. The ground work has been layed on the system for graphics, controls, and online. If High Voltage can keep it up, and others follow their lead then the divide of console and pc FPS just got a whole lot more narrow.
Final Verdict - 8/10
An outstanding effort for an independent third party. It raises the bar for graphics, controls, and online gameplay for FPS on the Wii. While the single player could use more variety and co-op, the online is the best on the system. High Voltage along with SEGA have just proven there place as the premiere third party developer and publisher on the Nintendo Wii.