The Conduit isn’t any good. There, how hard is that? Brevity can be a blessing, people, but it takes this first person shooter an unreasonably long time to tell you its story of aliens and government conspiracy and for much of it you won’t be having very much fun.
It’s clear what The Conduit was meant to be. It wears its inspirations like death masks. There’s flashes of Halo in the enemies and technology. Hints of Fear and touches of Half-Life elsewhere. Given that I’ve just named three of the pillars of the modern first person shooter, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hope that The Conduit would pick up a trick or two from one of them – after all, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally. Instead, this is a game that seems almost wilfully bland.
For nine (blink and you’ll miss them) levels, long dull corridors filled with enemies lead to big dull rooms filled with more enemies. They’ll probably be the same enemies – The Conduit really doesn’t have that many to choose from. There’s the rubbish spooks, special-forces types who unrepentantly wear their night-vision goggles even under the harshest fluorescent lighting and half-a-dozen breeds of gangling aliens. Thankfully, none of them hang around and will, almost without exception, charge into your line of fire with a grin on their face and a song in their heart. Perhaps they’re aware of the game they’re in and are hoping for the sweet release of your bullets.
In order to entertain myself after the second straight hour of playing The Conduit I decided to draw up a list of my favourite stupid things the enemies did:
- Running behind cover, but leaving their head exposed for a tasty headshot
- Completely refusing to work as a group, to the point where they actually shoot each other
- Throwing grenades, but never to flush you out. Just randomly, like they’re bored of holding them
- Running up to me, doing nothing, and then running away again
- Shooting the exploding barrels they were hiding behind
There’s no need for tactics in battles, no thought required, or feeling of threat engendered. This alien invasion could be warded off by a ten-year-old throwing Lego. This would at least give your character some personality.
Instead, he’s another gruff US secret agent improbably tasked with saving the world all by himself while spitting out dialogue that you’d happily have your ears removed never to hear again. It just all feels so… lazy.
If you have to clear out one room filled with soldiers, then in five minutes you can guarantee you’ll do it again, in exactly the same room, with exactly the same soldiers. Advancing through a subway train filled with enemies should be exhilarating, but you’ll be so bored you’ll end up wondering how soldiers can rappel through the windows when there’s less than a foot between the train and the walls of the tube. If you’re very lucky, at this point you’ll be hit with lighting. I wasn’t, and lived to regret it.
Even the guns can’t spice things up. The human weaponry has all the variety of a box of cornflakes, while the alien and energy weapons feel woefully underpowered. To compound matters, grenades only do damage if you throw them down somebody’s throat. A man standing a foot away can shelter behind an open newspaper and feel perfectly safe. The much touted All Seeing Eye can scan scenery for invisible clues, but the puzzles that require its use are so tedious and obvious that it becomes annoyingly banal about ten minutes after it’s introduced.
The Conduit‘s not even saved by its looks – the favoured retreat of so many mediocre shooters. Developer High Voltage has been making much of its technical wizardry but you need only to look at Zelda, ICO or Okami to know how much that’s worth.
Beautiful artwork and carefully constructed levels are the best apologies for poor hardware. The Conduit runs quickly and looks okay in flashes, but there’s no sense of scope, or grandeur, or atmosphere to any of its environments. They might as well have you running through the inside of a shoebox.
Just about the only technical achievement worthy of note is the aiming, which finally delivers on the promise of that Wii controller. It’s zippy, intuitive and allows for a high degree of precision previously only seen in Metroid Prime 3. However, that’s like lauding the plumbing in a house with no roof, smashed windows and a rotting body in the living room. It’s an achievement certainly, but it can’t excuse the rest of a paint-by-numbers shooter with almost nothing else to recommend it.
I can’t remember the last time I was this scathing about a game under my eye and have been racking my brain for something more positive to say, if only because it’s impolite to spit in the eye of the man you’ve just electrocuted with your word voodoo. Unfortunately, about all I could come up with is that The Conduit is at its best when you get so bored of it your mind starts to wander and you realise you haven’t paid your gas bill yet, saving you a hefty fine. I recommend you just buy a calendar instead and put this out of your mind.
The Conduit is out now.