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Previews

The Conduit

Preview: Technically marvellous but it's not really much fun

A lot of people are getting very excited over The Conduit, and on paper it's easy to see why. The Wii isn't exactly rolling in first-person shooters, and this one's technically much more impressive than most. It's got great controls, detailed environments and some interesting weaponry. But fire up the disc and compared to even the most bog-standard FPS on Xbox 360, PS3 or PC, it seems fairly clichéd, uninspired and quite forgettable.

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The game's plot could be summarised as 'The X-Files meets 24 in a car park', or even more succinctly as 'pap'. As a be-suited secret agent known only as Mr Ford, it's your job to... well, it was all a bit confusing really, but rest assured it was Top-Secret Government Stuff. Some shadowy bloke called John Adams sends you places - such as the airport and library levels we got to see - and in those places you shoot, grenade and melee people up. In addition to more standard human foes, you'll also face a race of fearsome aliens named the Drudge, who should really consider a spot of deed poll name-changing.

Bearing a drudge
Wii FPSes live or die on their control schemes, and Conduit's is one of the best we've come across. It's not overly sensitive, like in Red Steel, or overly sluggish, like in Brothers In Arms; just like Goldilocks' third bowl of porridge, Conduit's aiming and motion controls feel about right. If, for whatever reason, you don't agree, there's an extensive array of sliders and customisation - you can even tinker with the HUD, dragging individual parts around like Tom Cruise and his see-through notice board in Minority Report.

Lobbing grenades is as simple as flicking the nunchuk, while melee attacks - which, at the moment, look terrifically clumsy - can be executed by shaking the remote. Holding Z lets you to lock onto enemies, allowing less competent marksmen a fair stab at combat.

There appears to be a wide variety of guns, including the usual assault rifles and shotguns, as well as superior government and alien weaponry. The best gun on show was the MK6 Detonator, which fires bouncing energy balls that explode like electric confetti upon contact, vaporising any hapless idiots in range. The game's weapons are definitely fun, just not the 'OMG YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!' kind of fun that something like Turok's Cerebral Bore brought to giddy N64 gamers all those centuries ago. There are two reasons for this: first off, The Conduit's corpse physics aren't really that impressive compared to most modern efforts, and second, the lack of any sort of gore makes the gunplay feel a tad sanitised and unsatisfying.

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Why, Voltage?
The environments are more varied and a bit less bland than in the last preview version we saw, but this isn't exactly Metroid Prime. Stages are disappointingly boxy, empty and inert - devoid of life, or really anything to do other than shooting people and hitting the odd switch. We're tired of saying this - and we fear it's become a kind of in-joke with developers - but exploding canisters? In an airport lounge? Come on, High Voltage, you can do better than that.

The Conduit's full of 'gamey' elements like this that don't fit with the pseudo-realistic action and don't appear to be justified in the plot. Enemies drop yellow energy orbs upon death, and by touching them you restore your own health. It's not a world of difference away from the regenerating health mechanic most first-person shooters seem to have settled on, but to us it did feel a little strange, and would perhaps be more at home in a cartoon platformer.

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Sega are really pushing the game's online multiplayer, which, features-wise, is comparable to pretty much any shooter on PS3 or 360. There are three modes we know about - Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag, for up to 16 players - and possibly a few more that have yet to be announced. Wii Speak is also included for anyone jealous of the immature banter often prevalent on Xbox Live, and wishing to add some of their own.

It's true the Wii doesn't have a great many shooters, but does that mean we should reward any old tat that comes along simply because the genre's better examples aren't available for the platform? We don't think so. The truth is that while The Conduit may be marvellous on a technical level, underneath it seems to be the same old corridor-traipsing gunfest you've seen many times before - and it's not really much fun. Still, maybe something will change before release day...

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