As rumours abound of the likelihood of a 'Wii 2' announcement at this year's E3, you would be forgiven for thinking developers had long since jumped Nintendo's sinking ship; leaving only first-party releases like Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to go down with it.
And yet, under the watchful eye of Sega, High Voltage Software defiantly attempt to stem the tide with Conduit 2, a sequel to the 2009 first-person shooter underdog, which faced mixed reviews and unfavourable comparisons to Metroid Prime: Corruption and its high-powered HD cousins, and yet overcame enough obstacles to garner much good-will in the gaming industry. With their follow-up, High Voltage say they have listened to complaints about the game's dull grey environments and disappointing plot and promise this instalment will be the shooter The Conduit could have been, but will their release be a worthy swan song for third-party development on the console - and if so, will that song even get heard?
High Voltage wear the failings of the previous game on their sleeve, and, if nothing else, their commitment to addressing them appears genuine. Early previews place the variety of locations centre-stage, from the offshore oil rig on which you battle a great leviathan to the Goldeneye-style mountain base you must infiltrate in Siberia. The progression of missions seems designed to facilitate much globe-trotting as you travel the planet unearthing conspiracies, and it's with great joy I say that each vibrant environment is a mile away from the anaemic corridors of The Conduit. But while the palette is thankfully expanded, the lack of details can sometimes be quite noticeable. The Siberian base and the Dead Space helmets of its inhabitants look fantastic and add a lot of character, and so it's unfortunate that some levels still appear a little on the under-textured side, perhaps betraying the hardware's limitations.
Equally, the travels of protagonist Michael Ford demonstrate the promised improvements to story, and the game begins immediately after the anti-climatic end of the previous game; as Ford steps blindly through the conduit, and finds himself on the aforementioned rig. The game length will apparently have a boost after the paltry offering of The Conduit, with around 12 hours of single-player campaign. Also, cinematics will take greater prominence this time around (though not to the detriment of interactivity, say demonstrators). Aside from developers' assurances of a far more satisfying ending, the attention to narrative is also apparent in the small details scattered throughout levels as you overhear snippets of dialogue - both trivial and less so - between AI. Playable levels have been liberally peppered with these instances, but whether this is representative of the entire game or has been arranged top-heavy to beguile previewers remains to be seen.
Despite its limitations, the core gameplay of Conduit 2 flows easily, and lacks any of Goldeneye 007's notorious lag. Demonstrators were keen to showcase the intelligent cover-taking of AI, which has its faults, but when coupled with the option to flip terrain to create cover there is clearly the potential for nuance. Much-like Goldeneye, the game features stealth vs. action play-style options and while these are currently less refined than those of its peer, checkpoints are distributed far more generously this time out, and so a misstep causing your cover to be blown will no longer mean you must replay the last 20 minutes.
In its current state, Conduit 2 plays best as a run-and-gun shooter. Weapons are varied and the alternative fire offered by each allows for a variety of uses. The AR-C Eclipse is an early favourite, necessitating a balancing act between the rifle's primary fire overheating the weapon, and its invisibility which can overcool it - finding the delicate balance between these could be a specialist's dream. Meanwhile, the swarm-firing Hive Cannon, projectile-drawing Aegis Device and cover-defying Phase Rifle promise to give plenty of scope for finding your individual niche, especially as the increased proliferation of ammo should allow you to keep your favourites stocked up.
Carving a niche
Conduit 2 continues to utilise Wii's online capabilities, with 4 player local split-screen increasing to 12 players online. Despite the previous game being one of the few to champion Wii Speak functionality, Conduit 2 goes without. Nevertheless, with 14 game modes (including a horde mode which pitches you and three companions against endless foes) and customisable character pre-sets, weapon load-outs, and upgradeable perks, Conduit 2 could offer the longevity and individuality to be a success online. Cheating will also be less of a problem than it was in the previous instalment, as High Voltage are apparently already in talks with Nintendo to patch the game at a later date.
Conduit 2 is a less than perfect offering at the moment, but despite niggles with textures, waggle controls and some seemingly ineffectual weapons it has the potential to enter that most rare canon, as one of the Wii's successful FPS's. With the vast customisation of both your online persona and offline controller options (not to mention rearrangable HUD layout) it appears to be a game that is eager to please, and may well have the technical potential to do so. Whether it will reach that wider audience or be worth their time we shall see, but as High Voltage recently showcased a 3DS version at GDC as 'proof of concept' it may be that Conduit 2's success or failure may not be as linked to that of Nintendo's home console as we might think.