The Conduit 2 may have been pushed back to the early part of 2011 (due, in no small part, to the looming appearance of Activision's Goldeneye reboot and CoD Black Ops this holiday season), but SEGA nevertheless brought a preview copy along to their recent product demonstration day. After deciding who was going to check out The Conduit rather than the latest Football Manager (using a professional round of rock-paper-scissors), I was able assess how things are shaping up thus far.
The demo level was set on a forboding oil rig in the middle of an torrential storm. Agent Ford's presence on said oil-drilling platform was incredibly vague since the preview build lacked voice acting... but in a nutshell, the objective is still to shoot everything in sight and occasionally whip out the All Seeing Eye to open locked doors. Rather than the tedious alien Drudge, squads of heavily-armed human combatants are pitted against the player who can refreshingly use cover and heavy weapons rather than just charging straight ahead or cheaply dropping from the ceiling. Flipping over tables and moving boxes to form makeshift barricades are definitely scripted moments, but serve to add a lot more character to the experience this time around. The visuals certainly weren't up to much- but Wii owners and reviewers are willing to prioritise gameplay over shiny graphics any day. Let's see how it stacks up.
Like its predecessor, the Wiimote controls the aiming reticle that can be used to target enemies and rotate the point of view when moved to the periphery of the screen. The nunchuck thumbstick deals with movement and strafing; and I'm delighted to report that it handles fairly well. Whilst the default control sensitivity is a little twitchy, this actually provides an intuitive setup that becomes second nature after a couple of minutes at the helm. The core gunslinging is fast, fun and fluid without compromising accuracy and control. Standard submachineguns, SPAS-12 shotguns and some obtuse alien weaponry provide a well-rounded arsenal, and harder difficulties will apparently include weapon-specific AI that will make for some hectic and tactical firefights. Suffice to say, it's shaping up nicely.
Unfortunately, this is is as far as my praise for The Conduit 2 can go… though for the sake of fairness, I have to point out that I was assured that my experience was with an “early build” (which would have been more convincing if the original release date wasn't just around the corner). From what the preview copy had to offer, High Voltage Software are going to need every single minute of the extra months that the delay has brought them.
The main offenders are poor level design and loading times. Thanks to the Wii's limited hardware, each stage is broken down into tiny corridors that use painfully slow bulkheads to blatantly disguise long loading/caching sessions. It's no exaggeration to say that I spent as much time waiting in front of doors as I did actually shooting anyone– and even had time to drink a cup of coffee and engage in some networking during one particularly long, boring wait. This completely and obtrusively breaks the flow of the combat... and more vexingly, several of these doorways eventually open into short empty corridors with yet another door at the end. I have absolutely no idea why this corridor wasn't replaced by a single bulkhead. Or even a loading screen. With a fun little minigame in the background. You can have that idea for nothing, SEGA.
The objective marker and cutscene triggers were also completely broken. I'd go into more detail, but it's pretty clear that this is due to the coding being behind schedule rather than a major problem with the game. However, the texturing was so unrepentantly drab and featureless that a functioning marker system will be a must for the finished product.
To conclude, The Conduit 2 needs a lot more work... but could potentially be a much more capable shooter than the original and a superbly strong Wii FPS if High Voltage manage to iron out the kinks. A lot less loading, more intelligent level design (with larger arenas replacing the pointless short corridors) and a few little graphical upgrades will go a long way towards providing a solid experience this time around. The demo concluded with an enormous alien sea monster rearing up and destroying half of the oil rig... and if High Voltage can keep the focus on interesting combatants and big budget moments, there's definitely a glimpse of a monster title on the horizon. The key word, I'm afraid, is if.