What do you expect from a sequel? If you’ve played The Conduit it might have come to your attention that there were quite a few aspects that needed improvement. Certainly, the controls and graphical engine were done well, but the linear level design and A.I. were substandard to say the least. Fortunately, High Voltage Software (HVS) took the criticism on the first game as a basis for Conduit 2 and created a worthy sequel that does improve on its predecessor in pretty much every area, even if it will rarely blow you away.
The first Conduit was a game that focussed mainly on a single player campaign surrounding treacherous characters, conspiracies and an alien invasion, topped off with an additional multiplayer mode. This sequel seems to focus mainly on multiplayer, with a single player added on to move forward the story set in the first game. There we saw how the player, as former secret agent Michael Ford, teamed up with the mysterious figure called Prometheus, whose alien consciousness ended up in the spherical multi-tool called the All Seeing Eye. In the game’s finale, Ford stepped into a conduit leading to an unknown destination. Conduit 2’s single player starts off when he emerges from the other side of that conduit and heads into unfamiliar territory.
Where the first game was set in and around Washington D.C., Conduit 2 takes the player around the world to over half a dozen locations. The mythical city of Atlantis is Ford’s base of operations in this game. It acts as a hub from where a large conduit takes him to other locations in the game: China, South America and good old Washington D.C. to name a few. Being able to visit various locations adds some well-needed variety to the game as each location brings a distinct look and feel and apart from a couple of drab landscapes, most look really good. The Atlantis hub also allows you to configure your weapon loadouts, so you can choose the most suitable weapons for the next mission.
Most locations offer missions where players need to complete objectives in order to progress. High Voltage deserve praise for adding some nice boss fights at the end of these missions, certainly compared to the lacklustre excuses for boss fights in the first game. The on-rails section near the end of the game is also a cool bonus. Still, most missions are fairly linear, though not quite as linear as in the prequel. Some locations in the game offer nothing more than a closed square-shaped map with random enemies placed all over. Unfortunately, these maps feel tacked on, because they’re exact copies of multiplayer maps. They were probably added to add even more diversity and, granted, they do have a purpose as you can find a lot of collectibles there. Nevertheless, the way the locations are presented and the lack of objectives to complete there feels a bit cheap as they don’t move the story forward at all.
The goal of the game is to hunt down your mysterious adversary, John Adams. He has destroyed Washington D.C. and killed everyone in it, including your family. Needless to say, he must go down! However, John Adams is no mere mortal. In fact he’s an alien who’s been in an age-long conflict with Prometheus, your ally trapped in the ASE. Ford and Prometheus bundle forces to forever bring an end to Adams and his long reign of terror. As you progress through the game and get towards the ending, you’ll notice this game isn’t exactly taking itself seriously in the slightest. And when you finally beat the short 6 hour campaign and gaze upon the final cinematic, you’ll forego every belief that games in this franchise will ever be more than goofy fun shooters, supported by storylines covered in cheese.
The characters are not to be taken seriously either. On your way you’ll notice how Ford’s relationship with Prometheus has somehow evolved into a Michael Knight – KITT relationship, which is especially evident when Prometheus refers to Ford as "Michael". On the other hand, Ford has undergone a transformation on his own. Not only will he be fitted with cool but ultimately useless Master Chief armour early in the game, he also has a new voice to add to this fresh bad-ass appearance (more on that later).
What High Voltage got right is the amount of flavour they added to the game. Though the b-movie feel is still ever-present, the conspiracy objects and graffiti you’ll encounter at times add a lot of depth to the game. By scanning these with the ASE (which now looks and acts more like the Scan Visor from Metroid Prime) they will refer to historical figures and mysterious events, myths and legends from the real world – including the supposed existence and disappearance of Atlantis – as well as lore from the first game. If you are a completionist, you will find extra replay value by trying to find every scannable object in the game.
The Conduit offered a great variety of weapons and Conduit 2 takes the available arsenal a step further. Most of the weapons from the first game are back, slightly modified in some cases. HVS added cool new rifles which include an energy-based sniper rifle that shoots through walls, a turret you can place and operate from a distance, a gun that makes you invisible and even an energy weapon that allows you to put up a small shield that can collect bullets shot at you and fire them back. The weapons, though rarely original, are adequate, varied and fun to use.
High Voltage have always endeavoured to bring high production values to the table for the Conduit games. While in regard to the first game, the overall look was mostly hit-and-miss, they really stepped it up a notch for this sequel. The art direction is excellent and they’ve managed to improve the game’s graphical engine quite a bit, adding a more varied colour palette with better saturation overall. Still the environment still isn’t always dynamic, lacking destructible walls and barriers. On the other hand, the player can now knock down furniture and soda machines to use as cover and there are plenty of destroyable cars and explosive barrels to shoot. HVS have also managed to bring down loading times to a minimum.
Cut scenes are tolerable and functional, but the character models fail to impress as much as those in, say, GoldenEye 007. In that regard, the bad lip syncing during conversations is an immersion-breaking flaw.
In addition to the graphical engine, the enemies have received an overhaul as well – the models are much larger and detailed than before. Thankfully, the A.I. was taken care of as well, if only just a bit. Enemies move and react much faster and even take cover appropriately, but in the end they’re still stupid and still begging to be shot. What’s bound to crack people up is when enemies throw grenades that bounce right back at them, forcing them to dive away wildly screaming "grenaaaaaaaade! " and getting blown away by their own explosive. Is this an attempt at humour? If so, chapeau to High Voltage!
Like its predecessor, Conduit 2 was also released as a special edition, this time dubbed "Limited Edition". And for good reason: it’s only available at Gamestop stores in the USA. Besides the cool packaging, you get two in-game goodies. The first is the "Eye of Ra", an enchanced ASE which scans everything twice as fast. The second is the "Gold Destroyer Armour", a skin you can use in multiplayer games. The icing on the cake is a special 44 page booklet which contains a great selection of concept art as well as developer insights.
For this sequel, HVS were not able to bring back the original voice actors due to scheduling conflicts. Though it’s apparent from the beginning that the new voices bring different personalities to the characters, it won’t take long for you to get used to them. What might be a surprise to most players is that Michael Ford is actually voiced by John St. John now, the original and legendary Duke Nukem 3D voice actor. The increased amount of cheesy one-liners in this game is an evident result of that transition. The enemies have also become chattier, spewing out tough-guy one-liners to Ford as they cowardly dive for cover. This is actually quite entertaining at times and makes the enemies look more than just lifeless puppets – but not much more.
The controls in Conduit 2 are almost identical to those in the first game, but with one extremely welcome addition: the formerly slow Mr. Ford can now run! Another addition is Wii Motion Plus support. This allows for smoother aiming and makes doing a melee attack more convenient – when thrusting the Wii Remote forward, you won’t end up with your gun pointed at the ceiling after doing the melee. You can now play the game with a Classic Controller Pro and that’s always a welcome addition, especially to those who are used to playing first-person shooters on other consoles.
The largest improvement in Conduit 2 seems to be the multiplayer, which HVS managed to improve in almost every aspect, by adding polish to the maps and making the online experience smoother and less buggy. Local split-screen was added, allowing for a fun night of shooting with friends in your very own living room. There are over half a dozen new maps as and a couple of popular maps from the first game make their return as well. You can add friends and rivals, host private games with them and chat with them through the special Headbanger Headset that’s supported. Or you could match yourself against strangers in a standard single player or team-based affair for up to 12 players. Online still suffers slightly from small bugs, but HVS luckily have the ability to send out patches.
Your online presence can be configured extensively. Not only can you use four different custom loadouts, you can also configure your online character by choosing from different character models and armour and dye every part of your body as you desire. The biggest addition is the shop, where you can spend credits you’ve earned in multiplayer battles and in the single player mode by scanning objects and completing achievements. These credits can be spent on weapons, grenades, upgrades, armour and configuring your character. In the end, the multiplayer is varied and polished and guarantees plenty of laughs.