Championed by many in the press as the prettiest game on Wii, The Conduit truly is the belle of the ball. Journos paw at her silky framerate. They ogle her depth of field. Little bits of their slobber fleck her real-time shadows, particle effects, bump mapping and hi-res textures. But they don’t get to know her. We’ve deliberately held off covering The Conduit until we could get a proper hands-on impression, and while she’s a gorgeous game, she ain’t half dull to hang out with.
Boot it up and the looks are a slap to the face. A really high-res slap to the face. The gleaming sliver of reflection off a gun barrel. The anatomically correct shadow where crude blobs normally reside. Grenades that send human puppets and their alien masters flailing through the air. Water that – in The Conduit’s finest trick – reflects the environment, and ripples and distorts accordingly. As a series of oooh and ahhh moments, The Conduit really delivers. The pace, too, never falters: it took four successive grenades to force a framerate hiccup, and only then with smoke and flying limbs filling the screen.
Our beef? That it plays like a glorified tech demo. The technological building blocks are there, but fundamentally it seems like High Voltage doesn’t have the knowhow to put them together, y’know, and make something fun. Take the water, for example. Stumbling into a half-submerged room, your jaw droops at the beautiful wet before your brain kicks in and asks: dur, what is this water for? Deep in an underground complex, could it be a henchmen-only spa? Maybe it’s a gross alien spittoon? Either way, it exists only as a graphical effect. Unless ‘cleaning your mucky boots’ is a secret objective.
It doesn’t help that the demo level is a trudge through a corridor facility. A corridor facility that culminates in our hero, Mr. Ford, delivering some gun justice to explosive barrels. Once more with feeling: explosive barrels. So we get a central corridor to show off the wide-corridor tech, with smaller rooms letting them flaunt their cubicle-generating skills. Each of the rooms has some shelves in them. We’ll be damned if they aren’t the finest looking shelves on Wii, but the fact remains: THEY ARE SHELVES. In these less-than-stellar settings the effects aren’t special, they’re necessary.
Moving through the facility we found plenty of rooms with abandoned desks and computers, but nothing to rival stepping out of Samus’ gunship for the first time onto Elysia. Hell, even Samus’ dull bit – the genero Olympus – had the decency to give us space battles to watch through the windows. There are no windows in corridor world. Hopefully it’s just an early artistic stumble.