Conduit 2 preview

It's hard not to want to cheer developer High Voltage Software on. The Illinois-based studio was something of a licensed game factory, cranking out multi-platform games based on the latest kid-friendly theatrical release or TV show, until they made the gutsy move to develop a series of Wii-exclusive games and tried to push the hardware more than any other third-party developer on the platform.

The result was their in-house Quantum3 Engine, and with it came The Conduit, a conspiracy-driven tale of alien invasion amid the country's capital. Though technically proficient, The Conduit's issues weren't in presenting a pointer-driven first-person shooter well, it was... well, the game itself was less than stellar if most reviews were any indication.

What The Conduit absolutely got right, however (beyond the various hardware-pumping tricks, of course), was allowing the players to have an unprecedented amount of tweaks to not just normal control options like the bounding boxes for looking or turn speed, but where and how the individual HUD elements were placed. It's something that no developer, first- or third-party, has really been able to match, and though that same level of control is available in Conduit 2, High Voltage is piggybacking off that kind of depth and feeding it into the gameplay.

It was, they say, the result of plenty of listening to the community that formed around the first game. That initial title was eager to embrace the tragically underused Wii Speak system for chatting (something that's absent from the sequel), and offered a fairly robust online mode to let people shoot each other in the face. This time around, though, there'll be a lot more variety to those faces everyone's using.

A new character customization system starts with a handful of different models that can then be individually tweaked from head to knees, adjusting limbs, shoulders, torso and more across eight different pre-set parts. Each of these can then be painted with whatever colors one desires, and in turn each of the game's loadouts with various perks and weapon choices can then be color-coded on a per-part basis with primary and secondary flavors. Want a sniper with bright pinks arms and legs and a jet black head? Or a sneaky, cloaked infiltrator that's entirely muted colors? You can do that, or any variation thereof.

And yes, we did indeed say cloak, one of a handful of new options we got the chance to peek at during this year's Game Developer Conference. The power is actually linked to a specific weapon (the AR-C Eclipse) with an interesting dynamic: the longer the gun is fired, the hotter it gets and the more damage it takes. But there's also a cooled shot that, when powered up, will actually turn the player near-invisible, Predator-style, and allow them to slip by things like automated turrets to attack them from their unshielded rear. Should the cooling effect be used for too long or firing result in too much of burst, the gun will freeze and need to have ice smashed off or a core will be ejected to cool down.

This alt-fire system exists across the game's various weapons, from the Widowmaker Turrent with its own independent tracking and built-in camera that can be used to scope out areas from afar to the Shrieker that now fires off a set of charged particles with an energy stream connecting them to take out enemies with a wide swatch, or an alt-fire mode that's a much faster stream of single shots.

These weapons become available for purchase in Conduit 2's hub world, which opens up fairly early on. An Arsenal Replicator lets leading man Michael Ford build his loadout before heading into a mission -- including new powers that can be used both in multiplayer modes and the single-player story. These include more standard stuff like being able to sprint for longer, but can involve more outlandish options like Blinding Powder, which turns simple melee strikes into a flashbang-style white-out effect for other players or enemies.