PAX Hands-on: The Conduit

You wanted The Conduit, you got it. I waited in line twenty minutes on Saturday to get my hands on the Wii-exclusive shooter (definitely one of the shorter waits at PAX this year). And after screwing with the Wiimote sensitivity in-game, I set out through the demo level to try and shoot me some aliens.

The Conduit, in case you've never heard of it, is a futuristic sci-fi shooter aimed at core gamers. That might seem weird, then, that it's only on the Wii, but developer High Voltage Software is convinced that the Wii is where it's at for shooters on the count of the controls being so intuitive. I wasn't going to argue with them on that point, but I heard myself muttering "Not Red Steel - please not another Red Steel..."

Chief Creative Officer Eric Nofsinger (who was running the PAX demo) heard me too. "Oh no," he said. "Definitely not that." He showed me the menu wherein players can set the Wiimote sensitivity for everything from turning speed to reticule motion when firing. This is great for klutzes like me that tend to flail when being shot at, but it didn't do too much for the realism of shooting, really. The Wiimote has limitations, after all, most of which Red Steel demonstrated. At length. *sigh*

I didn't have too much success actually killing aliens Saturday, but that had more to do with me getting lost in the demo level than with difficulty. The guy before me had stopped playing at some point in a narrow hallway and I had a hell of a time finding the fallen-in wall that was my exit. Once I finally got out onto a street, a shot cutscene showed me a big spider-looking boss that I was supposed to kill. I shot at it with my glowing orange gun and for a moment, I felt like I was 14 again, playing Turok on my N64 (but here, the environments weren't drawing in and there was no disco code to make the aliens dance).

The next day, I revealed myself to Eric as a Kotaku correspondent and got to watch him go through the whole demo so I could see what it really looked like from start to finish. Eric started out on a destroyed street littered with broken cars and was almost immediately confronted by aliens running towards him. A few headshots solved that problem, and we moved on to the dark hallway and then through to an alleyway out onto a street where the demo boss waited (and I don't need to tell you he did a much better job killing it dead than I did the day before).

Even though The Conduit was only in pre-alpha, it already looked way better than Red Steel. Certainly not as good as Metroid, but then, as Eric said, "That'd be like saying you're better than Jesus."

I asked about Wii MotionPlus because in theory that'd solve the realism problem. Eric told me Nintendo hadn't handed over the goods quite yet, although they were expecting to get their hands on dev kit materials this week. At least Nintendo had been helpful in providing High Voltage with a way to incorporate a Wii chat for online multiplayer.

Eric went on to say that the idea was to create an in-depth shooter that didn't dump a bunch of cutscene exposition on you. The actual cutscenes between levels will be short, sweet and to the points and, for people who have to have a story with their shooters, the levels are all peppered with little things you can find and interact with the get more of the story (radio broadcasts, TV shows, etc.). Kind of like Cloverfield, only without the motion-sickness camera.

I definitely got the feeling that the actual shooting was the star of the game. Not the story, the graphics or the multiplayer - although, that could change as The Conduit moves into the beta phase and actually adds multiplayer. And if what Eric said about aiming at core gamers is true, then The Conduit might be just want the doctor ordered for the Wii's ailing shooter release list.

Keep your eyes peeled for a trailer later today.


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