The first Conduit game, despite all the fanfare regarding its supposed good-looks (not to mention the simple fact that it was a non-Metroid FPS on the Wii), was a bit of a letdown. Conduit 2 though, looks a lot better. In fact having gone hands-on last week, I can say that it plays a lot better too. Developer High Voltage seems to have wised up to a lot of the first game's problems, and as a result I found myself pleasantly unplagued by the disappointed memories I still harbour of the first game.
Our very own Matt Keast has already covered Conduit 2's set-up and sexy-sounding new weapons, so make sure to check that out if you haven't already. And in the meantime, read on, and I shall tell you of the fundamental changes that I found most impressive.
Enemy AI. It has it
This shouldn't be a big deal in this day and age, but if you played the first Conduit you'll know that it is. Because the grunts and aliens of the first game seemed religiously conscribed to a battle plan more closely resembling the hokey-cokey than any accepted guerilla combat tactics.
They stepped into doorways and took cover. They stepped out of doorways and fired at you. Then they stepped back into those doorways, took cover, and no doubt shook it all about. But that's not all. Sometimes they even acted out the very same sequence but ducked behind boxes rather than into doorways. Truly, these guys could have ended World War II before Hitler had made his first cup of tea of the conflict.
In Conduit 2 though, things are greatly improved, with much more emergent AI controlling your enemies in a more organic fashion. Enemy mooks will use cover effectively, flanking, holding back, and rushing you down as each evolving situation requires. They'll back down and wait for you to make the first move if they're outgunned. They'll properly use the available space to get new firing angles on you. If they're on their own, they'll get the hell away and snipe while you're busy with other tasks.
Essentially, you'll actually have to be aware of where they are and what they're doing at all times, and change your tactics accordingly if you're going to make it through. It's nothing revolutionary within the great scheme of things, but it does make Conduit 2 feel like a proper FPS rather than the coconut shy that the original game could often devolve into.
The level design feels designed
Corridor, corridor, corridor, corridor, room full of dudes to shoot. Corridor, corridor, corridor, corridor, room full of dudes to shoot. That was the first Conduit. It was a game so repetitively designed that you could count the same environmental assets going past over and over, like the background scenery in a particularly cheap Hanna-Barbera cartoon. The Conduit 2 level I played though, from the opening of the game, was much better.
Set on and in a vast oil rig, it's a far more varied and better paced effort than The Conduit's intro offered. Split between indoor sections, packing a varied spread of environmental shapes, sizes, layouts and cover options, and deck areas exposed to the stormy outdoor elements, the first level doesn't mess around. It's an intense, breakneck start, with a plethora of enemy encounters of every scale, and a steadily-building inertia. The journey around the installation makes good use of the structure's verticality and scale, both within and without, to give a real sense of progression around a physical space, putting it leagues ahead of the first game's mind-warping repetition.
Throw in a bunch of in-gameplay, Half-Life-style set-pieces and the ability to create custom cover by flipping furniture over like in Gears of War 2 and you've got a far more immersive experience this time around.
The core shooting is more satisfying
While utterly comprehensive customisation options meant that it was impossible to complain about the implementation of the original Conduit's controls, shooting things just feels better this time around. The aforementioned evolution of enemy behaviour is a great boon, but aiming also feels sharper, to the point that I didn't even consider using the available lock-on option once.
This is helped by the inclusion of an aim-down-sights option this time, with nippily accurate zoom-blam action swiftly taking care of the game's newly tricksy, more evasive bullet dispensers. It doesn't feel a particularly natural fit for Conduit 2's more outlandish alien weaponry, but with the more realistic assault rifles and shotguns it feels right at home.
The tone is deliciously b-movie all the way
Intentionally or not, Conduit 2's narrative elements are brilliantly cheesy. Think Half-Life 2 as directed by Ed Wood and you're pretty much there. Bombastic delivery of shclocky plot elements from all cast members really makes things fly with a cartoony vibrancy they never would have achieved if played straight.
In fact, given that protagonist Michael Ford's frequent hokey one-liners now seem to be delivered by the very voice of Duke Nukem, Jon St. John, I'd guess that the more hammed-up tone is definitely intentional. And it certainly works to elevate the "OMG there are aliens again and this time it's even worse!" plot to a noticeably more entertaining level.
Jan 17th, 2010