Marathon 2: Durandal
Mac - 1995
Also available on: Windows
Description of Marathon 2: Durandal
Bungie's Marathon series of three dimensional, first person shooters has long enjoyed success in the Macintosh world. The release of Marathon in Christmas 94 was revolutionary in the Mac gaming community, and was followed up by an equally successful sequel in 1995. In Marathon 2: Durandal for Windows 95, Bungie makes the transition onto new playing field, entering the fierce competition of the PC 3D-gaming industry. However, armed with an aging engine, and entering the market at the tail-end of the recent release of Quake, Marathon 2 will be hard pressed to make much of a splash among PC gamers.
The story behind Marathon 2 is fairly involved, to the point that newcomers to the Marathon world will be confused by all the references the game makes to the original game. Briefly, in Marathon 2 you take the role of the hero of Tau Ceti. Seventeen years have passed since you defended the planet from the Pfhor invasion in Marathon 1. You are awaken from stasis by the rogue artificial intelligence Durandal to find your ship in orbit around the alien planet Lh'owon, home of the S'pht. With only the barest of briefings, and a hand pistol at your side, you are sent by Durandal to the planet's surface.
The action begins quickly as you are teleported to the alien compound on the planet's surface. Immediately, Durandal's Born On Board commandos secure the surroundings, clearing the area of any alien soldiers. Once all the nearby aliens have been neutralized, the BOBs teleport back to the ship. The BOBs return to the surface later on at critical stages in the game, and although their presence is mainly theatrical, on occasion their support is crucial to the successful completion of a level. This is a refreshing change from the one (wo)man vs the universe approach taken by most other games of this genre. Once the BOBs are gone, you can begin exploring your surroundings. One of the first things that you will notice as you navigate through the rooms and passages is a computer terminal. It is through these terminals that you communicate with Durandal and receive your mission objectives. Each level is completed when the objectives given to you by Durandal are met, rather than when you find the magical door leading to the next level. Mission objectives range from placing computer chips at specific uplink spots, to wreaking havoc in strategic alien installations. This gives the player another goal besides staying alive, and provides for a more interesting gaming experience.
Veterans of 3D shooters will feel right at home in the Marathon 2 . The screen layout is familiar, with a console across the bottom containing the standard inventory list and a shield-energy (life) metre. Another metre is also present, indicating oxygen level. You use up oxygen while underwater or in a vacuum, and it is not a good idea to run out of it in either environment. Beside the two metres is radar-type screen that monitors the surrounding area for motion. Enemy units moving within the proximity of the detector show up as red blips on the radar-screen, while friendly BOB appear as green spots. The basic controls remain unchanged from other 3D games, with various run, strafe, swim, shoot and glance controls. One noticeable difference from other more recent 3D games, however, is the lack of a 'jump' key, but this does not present itself as a major deficit to the game.
As you explore the levels, you will encounter many nasty aliens who try to prevent you from completing your goal. Obviously, their most convenient solution is to kill you. The monsters in game range from mutant insects to robot weapon-platforms. Each alien has different strengths, abilities, and of course, weaknesses. This demands the use of a variety of tactics in approaching the different foes. The Artificial Intelligence behind these monsters in Marathon 2 is solid. The monsters do not just mindlessly attack you head-on, but often strike in concert from multiple angles. They employ hit and run tactics, using their ranged weapons with deadly accuracy and then disappearing into the shadows. Ambushes seems to be another popular tactic among the aliens. More than once I have been caught off guard by a pack of mutant hiding underwater, motionless, and therefore invisible to my sensors.
Implements of Death
You will soon find the pistol you start out with ineffective and childish as you battle some of the tougher enemies. Luckily, there is a variety of weaponry to find and use in the game. Some of these weapons, such as the rocket launcher and the shotgun are pretty much standard throughout the genre. While others such as the fusion pistol are more exotic. My personal favourite though is the napalm flamethrower. There's just something about cooking an alien bug within its own shell that makes using this toy a unique and totally exhilarating experience. As in Duke Nukem 3D, the weapons in Marathon 2 use clips. When a clip runs out, you must pause briefly to reload. While fighting the enemy, however, these precious seconds can mean the difference between life and death. This means that carefully conserving and allocating the use of ammunition is even more important to survival. Also, you will need to choose your weaponry carefully. For example, firing the flamethrower while underwater is quite ineffective, while launching a grenade in an enclosed area is just plain stupid. Marathon 2 is more than just a game of aim and shoot, to be successful you have to use your weapons with wisdom and respect.
I found the levels in Marathon 2 to be realistic and immersive. The levels are intelligently designed, and logically laid out. The are not mindless symmetrical playpens, but actually resemble an alien compound (not that I've ever seen one). The high resolution graphics richly poured into these levels create a visually pleasing, authentic-feeling environment in which to explore and fight. At the high resolution level (640x480), the levels and aliens are sharp with detail with only minimal pixelation. This coupled with the game's moody ambient sounds and explosive sound effects work together in creating a believable, immersive gaming world.
I have not had an opportunity to play multiplayer Marathon 2. The game supports two players over the modem, and up to eight over a LAN. Some of the features available for multiplayer are teams, cooperative, tag, 'king of the hill', 'kill the guy with the ball' and a grand melee, where it's every man for himself. This variety of gameplay options and objectives should make multiplayer a wild and frenzied gaming experience.
One feature of Marathon 2 that I disliked was the new implementation of save-games. Similar to the save-game system used in Abuse, to save your game you must search for a 'pattern buffer' device located at various points in the level. This device stores your character's biochemoelectrical pattern for later retrieval, and although allows the smooth integration of save-games into the story, becomes quite annoying. Not only do you have to waste precious time and resources searching for these devices, they are often dangerously spaced out, necessitating the repeated playing of the game's more challenging stages.
To Dee or Not To Dee
Technologically, Marathon 2 is a bit outdated. The engine that it runs on is inferior to those of the two current genre-leaders, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D. The Marathon world is composed of 2D bitmaps and sprites, lacking Quake 's advanced polygon system, and Duke 3D 's 'room-over-room' architecture and interactive environment. The features that are in the game, such as switches, platforms, staircases, etc, are not far beyond what was in the original Doom. This can be traced to Marathon 2 's origins. When the original title was first released two years ago for the Mac, it was ground breaking and earth moving. However in today's fast-moving gaming industry this two-year old might as well be a dinosaur.
Marathon 2 is definitely an enjoyable game. The gameplay is solid, and backed up by high quality graphics and sound. However, aside from these two features, the game does not really set itself above and beyond what has been standard in the genre for the last couple of years. In the race of realism and to be true 3D, Marathon 2 falls behind it's main rivals, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, both of which also excel in the areas of graphics and gameplay. Either of those two would be a better purchase choice. Nevertheless, among the 3D games out there vying for the often overlooked third place, Marathon 2 is as strong a contender as any.
Review By Games Domain
Comments and reviews
blahblah 2019-01-05 3 points
While PC gamers had Doom, Mac gamers had Marathon.
The game felt both innovative and lackluster at the same time.
It felt innovative in that it had an AI talking to you most of the time. In fact, it was innovative in that the AI was your boss. You were just a meat-bag lacky that the AI was sending down to planets to run missions. The AI you worked for was actually trying to free an alien species that was being wiped out, so it wasn't all bad. The AI would interrupt missions mid-way and just start expositioning to you about history or telling you that you needed to go do something.. it was interesting in that it felt like you had a companion looking over your shoulder instead of being out by yourself.
Also, in some fights, friendly NPC's would already be there to fight for you, or the AI would teleport them in. This made it feel like you were part of an assault team, or that you were getting reinforcements. The friendly NPC's would go down pretty fast, but they'd leave behind a pistol you could pick up.
The game also let you dual-weild almost any weapon.. including double-barrelled shotguns! Yuo'd burn through ammo ridiculously fast, but it was really fun.
The lackluster part was the overall maps, design and plot.
The plot was all over the place, and often hard to follow. You'd get so busy wandering around a map you'd forget what you were doing there.
Marathon maps suffered the same issue Doom maps suffered in that, while the limited engines could create boxish areas like space craft hallways ok, more natural environments (like underground chasms and stuff) just look weird. But, in Marathon, it just seemed more-so. Even squarish environments like buildings and spaceship interiors didn't feel like anything. It just felt like you were wandering through a random mish-mash of amateur Doom maps.. then your AI buddy wuold chime in and say they teleported you to a space ship. And you're looking around going "this is the interior of a space ship?!" Just very confusing and awkward map design.
And, like in Doom, you'll spend a lot of your time in "where do I go? what do I do?" mode, but in Doom it was just "find the keycard / find the door". In Marathon, you never know what you're looking for. You wander through some place, back-track, suddenly some location opens up.. guess there was an invisible trigger. In other places, you go hit some switch. In others you find a key card... and nothing ever looks how you'd expect, so you're clueless the whole time.
Playing the game is basically just you bungling around, killing anything that looks hostile, accidentally killing friendly aliens because you didn't realize they were friendly, killing friendly NPC's because you'd rather take their ammo and use it yourself rather then watch them bungle around, and then wandering around the entire map over and over as your AI buddy chimes in occasionally "telling you waht to do" in a way that makes no sense ("go in here and activate the hyper-conduit core drive via the advanced accelerator"... wuh?) until "something" happens and you can progress the game.
If you're absolutely an FPS completionist, and you'd like to see what Bungie was up to before Halo.. they by all means try out Marathon. But, don't expect the next best thing since Doom.
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Marathon 2: Durandal is a good PC conversion of the Macintosh FPS blockbuster of the same name.
Although the game looks out of date and old-fashioned compared to other FPS'es on the PC during that time (Quake 2, for example), Marathon 2 more than holds its own with excellent gameplay and a good sci-fi plot to boot.
The game starts off where the original Marathon (which was never released for the PC, unfortunately) left off. In Marathon, you defeated the aliens called Pfhor who invaded Marathon, a colony ship from Earth en route to Tau Ceti. Similar to System Shock's Shodan, Marathon's AI called Durandal was instrumental in your success. By defeating the Pfhor, you inadvertantly freed Durandal from his confinement within the Marathon, where he promptly took over the Pfhor ship and escape into hyperspace. As Marathon 2 begins, it's been 17 years, and you woke up from cryosleep to discover that Durandal has dragged you along for the ride - as a slave in his private army. Durandal has taken you and a group of the original Tau Ceti colonists to the homeworld of the S'pht, a Pfhor slave race who Durandal liberated and who now loyally serve him as their Messiah. Durandal is searching for the location of a legendary lost tribe of S'pht who may hold the key to his quest for something - and it is your job to find out what Durandal is looking for while you do his bidding.
Although the engine is similar to id's DOOM in most respects (2.5D maps, bitmap sprites instead of polygons), Marathon 2 is much deeper than your average DOOM clone. The game has an inventory system, multiple fire modes for each weapon, allies who help you fight, and different factions of enemies who attack each other. Similar to e-mail transmissions in System Shock, the interesting plot of Marathon 2 unfolds via various computer terminals scattered throughout the levels. At these terminals, you either receive a message from Durandal, or read about the history of the Pfhor and S'pht. There are many alien weapons to find and use, most of which are appropriately strange and interesting.
In addition to fun solo play, Marathon 2 also has interesting multiplayer options, although you must buy serial numbers separately from Bungie (no longer available). In multiplayer, up to 8 players can play Tag, King of the Hill, or Kill the guy with the Skull. You can even play the actual campaign game cooperatively with other human players.
With an in-depth and evolving plot, involved gameplay, and excellent play balance, Marathon 2 is a worthy addition to every FPS gamer's collection. Bungie has released the source code into the public domain, so keep an eye out for a new version that will finally give the game detailed graphics to rival its PC cousins - as well as new games and levels based on Bungie's powerful engine.
Two thumbs up, way up!
Review By HOTUD