The year was 2008. The event: E3. Held within the terribly empty Los Angeles Convention Center - a once proud, boisterous host, forced to become a vapid shell of its former self - it was considered a shadow of finer Electronic Entertainment Expos gone by. Maybe it wasn't as awful as the Santa Monica summit, but that sour experience had left most without hope. Unsurprisingly, many of 2008's attendees felt it was a waste of their time.
Yet the group from High Voltage Software didn't stand among that "many." They looked at those long, lifeless hallways, and saw an opportunity. Despite having neither a publisher nor a bottomless bank account, these developers were incredibly enthusiastic, and they only needed three things to prove their worth: an electric socket, a small backpack containing a developer's Wii and its complements, and a playable build of The Conduit. I was fortunate enough to bear witness when they seized their chance, showing off what they'd lovingly toiled away on.
Several of TNL's staff members, including myself, sat cross-legged as we watched them set up the Wii on the carpeted floor. When everything was wired up to a small, portable LCD, they fired it up, and happily demoed their precious creation. Shortly thereafter, I was given a chance to appreciate everything The Conduit had to offer. As I played, images of Doom, Serious Sam, and like titles sprang to mind. It represented a simpler kind of FPS: something pure, dedicated - and yet, it wasn't on the PC, as one would expect. It was on the Nintendo Wii.
There was nothing high tech about their presentation, and there didn't have to be - their ambition was contagious enough. Subsequently, High Voltage polished their product, SEGA became their publisher, and sadly, the final product came and went. The uninterested media collectively sighed. For all those high hopes and dreams, The Conduit was mocked as a digital embodiment of wasted potential. With the foundation they had, they could've built something magnificent, a console FPS for the ages . . . and that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why you should be interested in Conduit 2.
Calling its predecessor a tease would be right as rain, as Eric Nofsinger hinted in interviews before The Conduit was even released that it was a mere prototype of what Conduit 2 would become. Spending countless hours on refining an excellent, responsive, and highly customizable control scheme, and having fun with an acceptably silly storyline, they shipped their "test product" to stores, all while planning to build something much greater. A reasonable percentage of gamers responded favorably, and the tepid media reception was just lukewarm enough to ensure interest in a sequel.
Unsurprisingly, there still aren't any unstoppable FPSes standing on the top of the Wii's pile of must-plays, making High Voltage's gamble a wise one. After gauging the public's reaction to the original, they've beefed up Conduit 2's list of features, including the undeniably valuable co-op mode. Either using a split-screen option or by connecting to someone over the Internet, owners of Conduit 2 will be able to share their experience with up to three others, a trait befitting of both a Wii title and any modern FPS.
Naturally, a deathmatch with only four competitors wouldn't impress, so the online battles will allow up to twelve participants. Although the FPS crowd is used to much bigger groups, focused battles raging within well-designed maps will win anyone over, and High Voltage has endeavored to deliver exactly that. The comparatively mundane stages of The Conduit are a thing of the past, as Conduit 2 brings maps that are both well-planned and more vibrantly decorated.
To be a little less cheery, it's doubtful anyone will be chatting about its storyline, which may be another case of by-the-book, sci-fi cheese. What everyone will be able to talk about is support for Wii Speak. The shamefully underutilized peripheral may find new life as Conduit 2's players strive to trash talk their foes and collaborate on strategies with their comrades. Voice chat may not be a new concept, but its absence is always more noticeable than its inclusion, making this a great addition. Everything you loved and loathed about Xbox Live and its kin will finally be available on the Wii - well, for one game, at least.
That's supposing there won't be a Conduit 3, but that could be an erroneous assumption. High Voltage Software wants this to be a successful IP and already proved with the original that the team could create a magnificent foundation that stirred feelings of hope within every FPS-loving Wii owner. Now, they aim to suck in every pessimist who didn't think it could be done with a much more refined and accessible sequel.
If you still aren't excited, try out the first one. Think of it as a full-sized demo. While working your way through the game, every time you think "I wish they would've done this instead," hold that thought. Then, wait and see how many of your dreams are realized with Conduit 2. It'll likely be shown in greater capacity at this year's E3, and will be released sometime in the fall of 2010.