Joystiq hands-on: The Conduit online multiplayer

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Wii's biggest FPS of the summer (we'd say year, but Ubisoft has a little something cooking), The Conduit, has, perhaps in keeping with its theme of conspiracy and hidden secrets, only just now been shown with its online multiplayer component virtually complete and ready for the game's June 23 release. We spent an afternoon at Sega America playing through its various maps and modes with other games press and members of the dev team from High Voltage Software.

Before we even got into the action, though, we were already impressed by how, well ... un-Wii-like the online mode was in both presentation and function. High Voltage has clearly spent a good deal of time pondering what players will want to find when they sit down for a multiplayer game of The Conduit for the first time.
%Gallery-51693% Choosing the online multiplayer option from the game's main menu immediately connects via Nintendo WFC to servers operated by the console-maker. At this point, players can choose to create a match, find their friends' matches or use the matchmaking system to be either automatically dropped into a game or shown matches that meet their criteria either regional or worldwide. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a modern console FPS, but not necessarily what we've come to expect from Nintendo WFC titles.

There wasn't a hint of lag but the visuals were clearly not on par with the offline campaign's.

There's a main multiplayer menu from which players can customize their online character (kept to simple palette changes of in-game models) but also -- and this was very cool -- their on-screen display using a computer-like drag-and-drop system. Every possible HUD element can be repositioned to the player's liking. We chose to group the weapon, ammo and radar displays down one side of the screen and the score, messages and objectives down the other. It's really a matter of play style, but the fact that the option even exists is great.

We initiated the game and set it to "friends only," which worked because we could actually see which friends (in this case other stations) were also playing the game, could be invited, etc. For the purpose of our hands-on, everyone playing was simply told to connect with our game. And ... there they were.

The game lobby is basic, showing the upcoming match type, map and weapons set. This can be dictated by the host, randomized or each item can be put to a vote when the match is ready to go. There are also 12 slots representing the 12 total players in an online match. When other players join, their "badges" -- which denote a level between one and 24 -- are shown. The game also supports Wii Speak. It works in the lobby and in-game, where it's used for team chat or conversing with the five nearest players. A speech bubble icon appears next to players using the peripheral and changes to indicate when they're speaking.

With everything explained, set and ready to go, we began our first match from the Team Objective mode. It was capture the flag ... only the "flag" was actually the single-player game's All-Seeing Eye orb. While the match was very much standard fare, it gave us time to warm up and take note of how everything worked and felt. The verdict: overall, quite well. There wasn't a hint of lag (again, we were all in the same room but playing via Nintendo's servers) but, at the same time, the visuals were clearly not on par with the offline campaign's. It also took us a couple of minutes to adapt to the rate of movement, which felt slower than pretty much every other online FPS we're used to. There's no "run" or "sprint," either.

The rate of movement felt slower than pretty much every other online FPS we're used to.

The controls also took some adapting to for multiplayer, even though they were mostly the same as in single player. Holding down Z to get a lock on an opponent and display their vitals worked, as did pressing up on the D-pad to pull a quick 180. In the midst of frantic multiplayer, we found some of the defaults weren't to our liking. Thankfully, nearly every command can be remapped from the pause screen.

Next up was team deathmatch (called "Team Reaper" in the game) on a map accurately named "City Streets." According to the match setup screen, this map was smaller -- better suited to 2-6 players. There were 12 of us. It was, as you can probably imagine, a bloodbath. Four of the seven total maps are intended for 8-12 players, the remaining three are "best played with 2-6."

One thing we took away from this match was just how useful the grenades are in The Conduit multiplayer compared with other games. We found the IR aiming and Nunchuk "throwing" motion was extremely precise as we lobbed grenades through small windows and right in front of moving targets with ease.

It's a big step in the right direction for online games on Wii.

Our final match was easily our favorite. It was in the game's third match category, Free For All. It was called Bounty Hunter and was set up so that, at any given time, one of the 12 players was the hunted and the others the hunters. Points were awarded only for killing the hunted, so it was a mad dash to nail them first. We have to mention at this point that all 12 demo stations bore the name of a different U.S. President. Ours was "Obama," and we seemed to kill "Nixon" a lot.

This last match also switched up weapon sets. There are several to choose from, including human, Drudge, explosive, close-quarters, short/long-range and charged. It's also possible to define custom weapon sets for matches from the game's entire arsenal. In addition to Bounty Hunter, we spotted Free For All modes such as Last Man Standing (10-life limit), ASE Ball (whoever holds onto the ASE longest wins) and other score/life limited match types.

There wasn't anything about The Conduit's online multiplayer that really wowed us, but it was definitely fun, solid and well thought out. Will it be enough to pull us away from COD4, Halo 3 or Left 4 Dead? Probably not -- but it's a big step in the right direction for online games on Wii.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.