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As I mentioned before, few games outside of the sports genre really work well for multiplayer action on the same PC. First person shooters and racing games, for example, are better experienced multiplayer over a network of some sort (either LAN or Internet). Sports games, though, often encourage multiple people to control the onscreen players. Also, nothing really gets the adrenaline going like a little head-to-head competition between, say, the Vikings and the Packers.

Gravis Xterminator
The Xterminator is relatively easy to set up for multiplayer, although Gravis made one odd, and I'd say unfortunate, design decision: multiple controllers have to be hooked up by daisy-chaining them off of your gameport. That's right: you have to crawl behind your PC to hook up your Xterminator by plugging it in to your gameport. A friend comes over and wants to play soccer with you? On your knees, Bubba: you've got to enter the wire jungle again. More important, though, than the inconvenience factor, is the fact that this severely limits your seating options in front of the PC. Let's face it: most of the time you spend in front of a PC is spent by yourself, and your gear is bound to be set up that way. Bring in another person, and there's a lot of shifting around that has to go on. By forcing both controllers to be hooked into the gameport, Gravis restricts just how you can place yourselves front of the PC. Once you hook them up, though, gameplay is excellent. The less experienced my opponents were, though, the more fear they expressed upon first being handed the Xterminator. Additionally, they frequently had to be reminded of which buttons did what in various games. In many cases, no more buttons were assigned than with the Sidewinders, so I suspect there's a psychological factor with the Xterminator pads.

Microsoft Sidewinder
The Sidewinder is also really easy to set up. It, however, has done the multiple controller hookup right. Your first pad goes into the gameport. Other pads, though, simply hook into the front/top of each other. This effectively doubles the length of your cord from the gamepad to the gameport. At first, I was worried that this arrangement would affect gameplay, from the first person moving around and jerking the second controller, or from the weight of the connection weighing down the first person. These fears, however, were groundless. Also, the connector has a nifty snap-off protective cover to keep dust out when you aren't hooked up for multiplayer. Gameplay was impeccable and no one ever seemed to notice or complain about the hookup method. Even rookies could easily grasp (yes, pun intended again) the Sidewinders and there were very few difficulties getting a good game out of just about anyone.

Microsoft Freestyle Pro
Bizarrely, the Freestyle Pro cannot be used as a multiplayer controller with another Freestyle Pro. They don't even have the connectors available. You can hook up a Freestyle Pro to a Sidewinder, if you'd like, but that's it. This, unfortunately, does not meet our standards of multiplayer gaming. The surest way to cause complaints in a head-to-head game is to have unequal or different equipment. If one person has a controller different than another, each one is going to suspect that his opponent is receiving some sort of unfair benefit from the differing controller. The Freestyle Pro, then, is disqualified from multiplayer.

Multiplayer setup winner: Sidewinder. I would love to hear Gravis' explanation for their unfortunate choice of hookup options. I suspect most of them are based on the same concerns I mentioned about hooking up the Sidewinders. Trust me: those concerns are baseless. The Sidewinder is the perfect multiplayer gamepad, especially if you have a novice opponent who might be easily intimidated by the Xterminator's bewildering array of options.


Overall winner
Microsoft Sidewinder. This is an excellent gamepad at an excellent price. It's not often in the computer world that last year's technology, at a bargain price to boot, beats the latest and greatest of what's on the market. The Sidewinder is such a wonderful controller, though, that I think some smart sound card manufacturer should offer it in a gamer's bundle. The Sidewinder is simple to use, comfortable, responsive, and great for multiplayer. This gamepad is a bargain. Buy it now.

Second place:
Gravis Xterminator. This is also an excellent gamepad, but it suffers from a few fatal flaws. It's too complex, too hard to configure, and too restricting for a multiplayer hookup. Once you've got everything going, the Xterminator is a joy to play with. I fear the learning curve and complexity, though, are too much for most gamers.

Third place:
Microsoft Freestyle Pro. I was actually surprised by how much I disliked this controller. In my opinion, hardware is something that Microsoft has really been able to do well. I like their mice, their keyboards, their joysticks, the Force Feedback Wheel, the Sidewinder...and yet the Freestyle Pro I actively disliked and couldn't wait to get out of my hands. The tilt technology, although cool, is not worth the compromises required to experience it. Save your $70. Buy a Sidewinder and spend the leftover money on a copy of FIFA 99.

- By Rick Worrell

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