The sharp-eyed gamer, the jaded gamer and the snob gamer will not mistake the screenshot of Conduit 2 atop this story as an image of an Xbox 360 game. "That's a Wii game?" they will sneer. "Figures."
You can sneer at Conduit 2. You can roll your eyes. It is one of those Wii game equivalents to a tuxedo t-shirt, faking it in a way that won't fool most people. It's not a Wii game like Kirby's Epic Yarn or Red Steel 2 or Little King's Story or so many of the others that seem comfortable being their own fashion.
That is the state of Conduit 2, a game that can't help but produce comparisons to the kings of console-first-person-shooters, most of them on consoles other than Nintendo's newest machine. Why would High Voltage Software even be trying for such a thing? Because, one might surmise, they can. Because, one might guess without being convinced it is sensible, so few others are. Because, as rough as that screenshot up top might be to Xbox 360 eyes, the Conduit 2, in motion, can fool you:
A few weeks ago, I did mistake Conduit 2 for an Xbox 360 game. I was at a Sega gaming showcase at a hotel in midtown Manhattan. I was walking from a Sonic Wii game in one room toward a Crazy Taxi port in another. I passed a game I didn't recognise that was running on a big-screen TV and sized it up as a 360 game. I saw the gun barrel. I saw the dark, sci-fi-world graphics. That was Conduit 2, looking as smooth as it looks in the game's new trailer.
Credit goes to High Voltage Software for fooling me, however briefly. They've been pushing the Wii's graphics and other tech for a while. It's in the service of games with this quasi-realistic look that you get from a Gears of War or Halo — firmly sci-fi but made of believable virtual earth and metal. But Conduit 2 also gets mistaken, at a glance, for a 360 game because this kind of shooter just isn't being made that much for the Wii. That is not a fact that helps Conduit 2.
Competition presumably breeds quality and the Conduit series risks the realities of being one of the few first-person shooter franchises on the Wii. Call of Duty is, of course, the big one. And it could be that lack of competition that keeps Conduit 2 from seeming special in ways other than its presence on the Wii.
I sat down at that Sega event to watch some High Voltage developers play through the game. They're nice people with a feature list for their game that would sound unremarkable on any console with more shooters. Their sequel brings iron-sights aiming and boss battles. It supplements 12-player online and 2-4-player split-screen multiplayer with a Gears of War-style, players-vs-enemies horde mode. It adds non-player characters to its world and more commotion to its backdrops. It now has a sprint button and supports Wii gaming headsets. There's a gun in the game that lets you turn invisible and another that tags enemies so that your bullets chase them as they duck behind walls — features reminiscent of a landmark game from another console more crowded with shooters, Perfect Dark of the Nintendo 64. What does Conduit 2 have that is great on its own? That is what is harder to deduce.
Conduit 2 picks up immediately after the end of the first Conduit game. It's hero is still armed with a special device that helps him battle aliens who have invaded Earth. He operates from a hub, an oil derrick in the Bermuda triangle, and travels to more and more varied locations than the Washington, D.C.-centric original Conduit. The trailer is accurate. This is a traditional first-person shooter, with its virtual guns mounted more as if each was on a swivel than in real hand. Its enemies demonstrate OK but not amazing artificial intelligence for finding cover and shooting back.
The gamer with only a Wii and a desire for a first-person shooter could look to Conduit 2 as a game that has the bullet points their 360, PS3 or PC-owning friends might say a shooter must have. The game, however, still struggles to impress outside of that context, when viewed as its own thing.
How ironic to see Conduit 2 this season, a season in which so few Wii games seem built to mimic games on other machines, a season when Xbox 360 games are now being built to feel like they were on the Wii. Conduit 2, perhaps out of place, but for it's developer's sake, hopefully not out of time, will be out on the Wii in February.