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The Marathon Trilogy Box Set

by Bungie Software Products Corp.

Reviewed by Dale Smith

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

I'd been thinking of getting some more games for my Mac 6400 to play, when serendipity brought the Marathon Trilogy Box Set for review. This is the first game review I've attempted, but I thought, "Why not?" So I'll be winging it.

The Marathon games are first-person-perspective action science fiction games. Each game does unfold different views of a basic story line. The games ostensibly are chronological and this seems a reasonable presumption until the third game begins to make that a very dicey presumption. And then the publisher has given you the tools to carry the story on by creating your own additional scenarios. Many examples of such additions are included on the second CD in the box set.

Pfhor welcoming committee
Figure 1: The Pfhor welcoming committee.

In the first game, Marathon, you are a security officer sent to the spacecraft Marathon. The screen shot shows your welcoming committee up close and giving you their personal attention just after your arrival. They are the Pfhor, a race of slavers who have captured the Marathon. Your job, if you accept, is to clear the Marathon of them and their minions. The Marathon is equipped with 3 AI's (artificial intelligence computer systems), Leela, Durandal, and Tycho. During the game they will provide sometimes helpful and sometimes not so helpful information about the situation and they can operate some of the teleport terminals. But slowly during the game you will discover that all is not as it seems.

During the action you have to rely on finding stashed ammunition, computer terminals to access the AI's for info, other types of weapons, oxygen replenishers, and shield rechargers. Keep your eyes open and explore the areas thoroughly. Not infrequently, I've picked up ammo clips that I hadn't even seen as I walked over them - the field of view is much more restricted than your own eyes would have if you walked in the same rooms. So be sure you look up, down, left, and right checking out an area. When you seem to have one part of the ship figured out, you hit a teleport terminal and one of the AI's teleports you to a different part of the ship where the exploring and clearing the aliens continues in unfamiliar territory.

The games use a real physics model, complete with gravity and momentum. You can climb stairs, jump from ledges, dive into water, be killed by nearby explosions. Different weapons have different dynamics - don't use the rocket launcher on close combat - you could be killed in the explosion.

Pattern buffers are encountered at various places where you can save your state in the game. It is wise to save when you have the opportunity. Wiser yet, if you are able to "stock up" just before hitting the pattern buffer. If you get "killed", you will be restarted at the last saved position. If you haven't saved, you will be returned to the beginning of the game. You can also quit the game and return to pick the game up from a more advanced saved position by choosing to play a saved game instead of a new game. The down side of this is that you do not have the ability to save the game state from any point in the game. You must make it to a pattern buffer station to do a save.

In my game play, I have tended to start new games each time. This leads to increased familiarity with the early parts of the game map. I also have saved games from later stages, though some of them are not "stocked up" saves. Nevertheless, I've played from those positions too. And the play is quite good, interesting, and challenging.

Marathon provides 27 solo levels and 10 network levels. The ability to play the game over a network was a major innovation at the time of its release on December 14, 1994. I have not tried out the network features, but the enthusiasm that the game seems to have generated upon release suggests that it is quite good too.

Marathon 2: Durandal, released on November 24, 1995, improved on the original game with new graphics and sound capabilities, new weapons, monsters, and textures, and continued and expanded on the story line answering some questions raised in the first game and posing some new ones.

It takes place seventeen years later. Durandal releases the player on Lh'owon, the S'pht homeworld, which the Pfhor have conquered. Durandal wants to get a "space-folding" technology developed by a mysterious race, the Jjord (a race from another of Bungie's games), which Durandal believes is buried on Lh'owon. You have been sent to clear Lh'owon of the Pfhor.

This game puts you into different environments than the spaceship Marathon -- S'pht buildings, cities, country side -- but still with many of the same enimies to fight plus some new, more difficult foes. As in the earlier game, you find the supplies necessary to continue the fight as you explore. And once you think you have the area mapped out, you get teleported and suddenly you are in a totally new part of the map to explore and rid of the aliens and their servants.

I have not advanced as far in this game as I have in Marathon, because I haven't played it as much. The play remains interesting and provides some quite different challenges, while the action aspect remains much the same. One aspect is significantly different. The civilians, called Bobs, in Marathon 2 have had enough and they are packing guns now and have acquired the nerve to return fire and help in the Pfhor cleanup. But they are not enough to do it themselves. They need your help a lot.

Marathon 2: Durandal, features 28 solo levels and 13 network levels.

Marathon Infinity: Blood Tides of Lh'owon, released October 15, 1996, has a plot that defies description because it involves multiple realities and alternate timelines. It's action takes place on Lh'owon but follows a story that permits exploring much more of the Marathon universe than Lh'owon. It ended up as a 25 level solo adventure filled with vast, complex maps, mind-stumping puzzles, and unexpectedly great depth.

Marathon Infinity is open-ended. This game includes the Forge and Anvil editors that offer others the ability to create maps and other game objects to expand its scope. The original Marathon inspired many 3rd-party add-ons, such as: map editors; physics model editors; shape editors; saved-game editors and their by-products. Marathon Infinity, by including the game development tools used by Bungie, opened up future game development to the outside and some have developed games that use the Marathon engine. A second CD in the box set is filled with some 1200 third-party maps and related files for many additional missions in the Marathon universe. There are also some collectables, a set of decals, and a Marathon Scrapbook which describes the history of development of the trilogy.

All in all, knowing what I do now of the box set, I would still buy it. I don't consider myself dedicated to gaming, more a casual gamer. But this set would be worth having anyway.

Bungie Software Products Corporation
Customer Support
P.O. Box 7877
Chicago, Illinois 60680-7877
Phone: (312) 563-6200

System Requirements for all three Marathon games: a Mac or compatible; 68040 or better processor; 256-color 13-inch monitor; MacOS System 7 or higher; a CDROM drive; and at least 6 Megabytes of available RAM. Advanced features such as 16-bit sound and ambient sound require extra memory.

About the author: I have been a member of the Pi since about 1983 and have contributed several articles over the years for the Journal. I've been a beta tester for communications and archiving programs. My use of computers is primarily for the fun, interest, and learning, though I do make practical use of them at times ... like writing a review such as this, beta testing a program, or writing at work (though there it's usually done on a PC...)


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