Conduit 2

May 10, 2011 // Published by Matthew Blackwell

Apparently, High Voltage Software was listening to its fanbase when they started work on the definitive article-less Conduit 2. That doesn't mean they made a good game – far from it, in fact. The fact remains that those "improvements" were built upon a completely broken foundation, both in terms of genre and fan expectations, and just because this series delivers something on the Wii that is prevalent on the HD consoles doesn't automatically make it good; in fact, it makes it sad and pathetic.

The Conduit series is a fairly convoluted tale of aliens (called, hilariously, "The Drudge," which is as apt a description of the game as it is the aliens) invading Earth, antagonists named after dead presidents, and the bog-standard "badass with guns" protagonist, Michael Ford. The first game saw the player tossed into a bland, personality-free corridor shooter that was only partially saved by the game's fantastic controls, but I've always contended that games shouldn't be praised simply because their mechanics (easily the most boring part of game design, and something that really, really should be taken for granted by now), and the absence of anything resembling originality, intelligence, wit or cleverness made The Conduit a real slog through its artistically poor environments and boring shooting sections.

Conduit 2 does very little to rectify the central problem of the series, which is that, in every aspect, Conduit 2 has been designed to intentionally ape other (and some, though not me, would say "better") first-person shooters. The game is intentionally Halo-esque, Duke Nukem-esque, Half-Life-esque, and its only identity is its dogged determination to provide the "HD shooter experience" on the Wii.

The problem with this is that no one thought to mention to High Voltage Software that the majority of first-person shooters on the HD consoles are flawed from a fundamental standpoint; that their design flies in the face of interesting or good ideas in favour of a masochistic bending to the whims of their fans who crave the same easily consumable, unchallenging, boring game design; and that, I think anyways, most people who own Wiis want them not for this kind of experience, but for the more universal, inviting game designs found in the Wii's wheelhouse – games that recall retro designs.

For a moment, though, let's pretend that I like first-person shooters and don't find them generally reprehensible (I REALLY FUCKING HATE SHOOTING THINGS), and also that I liked The Conduit, but thought that certain aspects could be improved. In that sense, Conduit 2 is a modest improvement over the original. There are more diverse guns, the environments are generally larger and more detailed, and there's more of a commitment to over-the-top moments. But even with this generous assessment, there are a number of huge problems with the game.

For starters, the story, characters and situation are totally worthless. In the transition from the first game, HVS traded Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) as Michael Ford for Duke Nukem himself, John St. John. This was a terrible idea, because it gave somebody at HVS the idea that they could write comedy. Being released on the same day as Portal 2 exposes Conduit 2 for the charade it is, as this is one of the most cringe-inducingly unfunny games I've ever played. All of the "winks and nods" fall completely flat, and John St. John seriously sounds like he barely knows what the English language is. Not only is Michael Ford completely unoriginal, he's now both unoriginal and an unfunny douchebag. As well, there's a moment in the game where he, basically, gets Master Chief armour, and it's all the game can do to just try not to say "look at this Master Chief armour!" If Conduit 2 needed anything, it wasn't misguided humour and in-jokes.

And while the game's environments are improved, they're also completely thematically unlinked, and those "big open spaces" are exposed for the facade they are. This is a corridor shooter through and through, a brainless, mindless shooting gallery posing as "good gameplay." This is a game that refuses to let you think for yourself, and while some mindless games can be excellent (see Diablo, for instance), tying it to endless, relentless killing with guns makes for an unforgivable game in my mind.

Finally, the story is completely incomprehensible. I played the first game and I still had no idea what the hell was going on. Apparently, acknowledging the story as B-movie camp is supposed to make this acceptable, but simply acknowledging your work as crap doesn't automatically make it good (see Snakes on a Plane, for instance).

So the game is boring, the story is laughably bad, and the design is fundamentally broken. What would make someone want to play this game? Well, it's two-fold I think – first, there's its "me-too" HD FPS design which, for the Wii-only and desperate and tasteless, could be appealing. And second, it's about the controls. The idea of the "perfectly controlling" FPS game appeals to people, and while Conduit 2 is not quite as accurate as the classic mouse/keyboard combo, the amount of fine-tuning you can do is frightful, and it likely comes the closest to the PC standard on consoles.

But that's just not enough. This is a game completely devoid of anything resembling good design, and often it feels so reverential to FPS culture to almost come off as a super-subversive satire. Unfortunately, it's not that at all, but just a piss-poor game in an oversaturated genre with no ambitions to push outside its generic boundaries. What good are perfect controls if all they're used for is something so utterly boring?

(side note on the multiplayer: yes, it works. Yes, all you do is shoot at other people. No, I don't find this kind of multiplayer terribly interesting, ever, in any game.)