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Like many people, my first experience of multiplayer deathmatch came in 1993. The game was the recently released Doom, and setting up a bout required my old mate Bri driving round to pick up my PC and my monitor, putting it with his on his kitchen table, linking the two up by a null-modem cable, spending about an hour fiddling with settings, then crossing fingers and hoping for the best. It was clunky and painfully slow, and required nearly two grand’s worth of equipment, but – boy – was it fun.
It’s funny how things have come on in the last thirteen years: in 2006 all we’d need would be two or more Nintendo DS handhelds and a copy of Metroid Prime: Hunters. Things are so much easier these days…
You see, Nintendo’s latest isn’t just the slickest and most enjoyable handheld FPS of all time – a stunning achievement on every technical level – it’s also the first handheld FPS to really work as a multiplayer game. It looks like a low-resolution version of Metroid: Prime, albeit one that runs without the glossier reflective effects and lighting setups, yet it plays at a lightning fast pace. What’s more, the DS’s touchscreen has proved the key to cracking FPS controls, doubling up both as a ‘mouselook’ control and as a control panel for weapon selection, complete with a handy double-tap jump function. Combine this with the D-pad for movement and the left trigger for fire, and you have a surprisingly effective setup that beats most full-sized console FPS controls hands down.
The overall feel, meanwhile, is brilliant. With the fast pace and the jump pads sprinkled around most arenas, deathmatch Hunters is pretty damn close to classic Quake III. It’s kill or be killed time, where you need to move fast and shoot faster if you want to survive. There’s an excellent selection of weaponry, including some satisfying heavy artillery and a cool sniper rifle complete with scope, and a fine range of arenas, running from large spaces with plenty of cover suitable for tactical warfare to smaller, fairly open environments for more intense, run-and-gun battles. Amazingly, there are even multiple game types, covering classic deathmatch plus variants on capture the flag and assault.