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Conduit 2 preview: Pipe dream


High Voltage certainly had ambition and vision when designing the original Conduit for Wii, hyping it as a marquee FPS title for Nintendo's console. Unfortunately, the execution wasn't there. Fast forward a year since its release, and High Voltage is working on a sequel. Although the team admits the first game didn't meet expectations, I couldn't help but get a sense of déjà vu while watching the strictly hands-off demo. This time, it's actually going to be really good -- but isn't that what you guys promised us last time?

Conduit 2 has all the features you'd expect of a sequel. More locations! This time, you'll be wandering around a variety of locales, including the mythical Atlantis. (You do make a return trip to DC, but only for one level.) More weapons! With more human, alien and Atlantian guns to use this time around. Better graphics! Or, at least, better art direction and a closer attention to detail. Each level looks very different, with an intentional focus on offering different color palettes throughout the game. Humor! In an attempt to take things a bit less seriously than in the first game, expect many more quips from Ford as he goes through his mission. The banter felt strangely reminiscent of a Duke Nukem game.

Yet, in spite High Voltage's efforts to build upon the previous game, there's one feature I still couldn't find in the hands-off demo: fun.

Gallery: Conduit 2 (10/14/10) | 5 Photos

The build I saw was very early, and High Voltage e-mailed me a follow-up video, showing what the game looks like with enhanced AI

Simply put, there wasn't a single moment where I felt like the game was trying to do something new, mechanically or narratively. In spite of the aliens and the laser weapons, I couldn't help but watch, unentertained, as enemies continued to spawn out of the conduits. I don't doubt that these are solidly-constructed set pieces -- but it all lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that make other shoot-at-aliens FPS games look and feel more compelling.

Perhaps it was the absent enemy AI? During the demonstration I saw, enemies would simply walk straight forward towards you. There was no sense of impact from the guns, and no sense of danger for the enemies. Instead of feeling like threats, the lack of intelligence displayed by the AI made the game look less like a battle, and more like a shooting gallery. Apparently, the build I saw was very early, and High Voltage e-mailed me a follow-up video, showing what the game looks like with enhanced AI. It was far more compelling: enemies jump away from grenades they see, duck from bullets, and try to flank you. (Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to share this video with you.)

Without a proper hands-on, it's hard to get an accurate feel for Conduit 2. The first game's strengths lied not so much in its design, but how natural it felt with the Wii Remote. It's easy to see why the game received such a lengthy delay -- even now, it feels far from finished. There's a lot of time before its 2011 release, time which should be spent on making the game not just technically competent, but artistically inspired.

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