For some time Bungie Software has been the dominant producer of 3D first-person shooters for the Macintosh computer, which due to its rapidly declining market share in recent years has had few major game companies target it as their primary release platform. First Bungie developed Marathon, then Marathon 2, and finally Marathon Infinity with its totally customizable level designer. This Christmas season Bungie entered the already-crowded PC market with a Windows 95 DirectX release of Marathon 2. It should be no surprise to the avid legions of Macintosh fans that Marathon 2 more than holds its own against the leading PC games in this category, despite a basic game engine that is not as advanced in some ways as that in Quake or Duke Nukem.
The storyline for this game is actually quite complex, far more so than the rather simple and often superfluous storylines embedded in most 3D first-person shooters. To provide a very brief summary, you are a security officer who has previously (during the original Marathon) defeated the Alien Pfhor on the planet Tau Deti. The rogue artificially-intelligent computer Durandal brought you to the Galactic Core to fight more aliens. A generation of civilians born and raised on the ship Marathon, called "Bobs" (for Born on Board), help you to fight the swarm of diverse adversaries.
Marathon 2 has a slick interface (even the control menus are nicely designed), flexible game controls and exciting gameplay. During the game, one can check a nicely-done motion sensor to spot enemies approaching, or check shield energy levels, oxygen levels and a weapons manifest. You can access computer terminals with vital information, display maps of an area and move while viewing maps, throw switches, recharge your energy and oxygen levels, pick up power cells and acquire major "biobus chip enhancements" for your suit and helmet. The weapon selection is more diverse than in most games of this type, including a standard pistol, a battle rifle with grenade launcher, a fusion pistol, a rocket launcher, a combat shotgun and napalm flame-thrower. The aliens one encounters are not just stupid behemoths; they often run for cover quickly in the face of danger and use cooperative tactics in attacking you. The game is quite challenging, with a wide range of difficulty levels provided.
The one deficiency here is the scope of the joystick/game pad support. This was clearly added as an afterthought, as it does not appear in the manual (though it is in the "readme" file). There is no ability to calibrate these control devices from within the game, and as a result I found that my Microsoft SideWinder Game Pad rotated in too large increments (the sensitivity was too high) for many of the predicaments encountered in the game. Even with this limitation, it is clear that a joystick or game pad is preferable to the mouse/keyboard combination and to the keyboard alone as a method of game control.
Marathon 2 does more than its share to support multiplayer as well as single-player modes. For network play it offers Every Man for Himself (the conventional multiplayer mode), Kill the Guy with the Ball, King of the Hill, and Tag, as well as Team Play and Cooperative modes. This variety leads to a nearly endless array of means of escaping any sense of repetitive boredom during the game.
The graphics in this game are consistently superb, and in my view a notch above those in any other existing 3D first-person shooter on the market today. It was, after all, only recently that these games graduated from chunky 320x200 pixels, and Marathon 2 outdistances its competition by going not only to 640x480 resolution but also to 16-bit (rather than the more conventional 8-bit) color. Even without the availability of thousands more than the usual 256 colors, this game is much brighter and more colorful than the drab, dingy, almost mono-hued environments of dark and satanic games like Quake. Marathon 2's graphics are exquisitely textured and detailed, incorporating neat dynamic lighting effects. The aliens in the game are cutely grotesque and quite creatively drawn.
Perhaps the greatest distinguishing feature of Marathon 2 is its truly incredible ambient stereo digital sound effects. These help to provide astonishing depth to the game environment (the water-related effects are particularly good), drawing you into the otherworldly atmosphere in much the same way as do the sound effects in Myst. Unfortunately, because of the special attention the game designers paid to these sound effects, which are of higher audio quality than in most comparable games, there is very little music in the game except behind the opening screen.
Windows: 486-66 CPU, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, mouse, Windows 95. A Pentium 90 with 16 MB RAM is highly recommended
A nicely-written, organized, and illustrated manual accompanies the game, outlining in concise form all that is needed to play it successfully. For those who want hints and extra help, a comprehensive "Marathon Spoiler Guide" is available on the Web.
In the end, I highly recommend Marathon 2 as a fun and engrossing game that engages your wits and strategy skills as well your hand-eye coordination and your ability to destroy mindlessly everything in sight. One has a real sense of fulfillment after completing a level, and sometimes you just want to pause and take in the stunning backdrops during gameplay. It is certainly a pleasure to have a thoughtful and innovative player in the PC 3D first-person shooter market, rather than another company pandering cheap rapidly-thrown-together imitative clones hoping to make a fast buck before unsuspecting customers discover they have indeed wasted their money.
Download Marathon 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP