Marathon is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game published and developed by Bungie Software for the Macintosh in late 1994. It is the first of three games in the Marathon Trilogy of the same name. It spawned two sequels, Marathon 2: Durandal and Marathon Infinity.
Marathon was released to much anticipation during the period of time in which the first-person shooter genre was still in its infancy and the computer gaming industry as a whole was still fixated on the game Doom. The game represents to many who have played it, a landmark in Macintosh gaming for its advanced 3D graphics engine, intricate storyline and multiplayer mode.
Marathon takes place in the year 2794 aboard a large, colony spacecraft called the UESC (United Earth Space Council) Marathon. The ship was converted from Deimos, one of Mars' two moons. The plot of the story sets the player as a superhuman cyborg and focuses around an invasion of the ship by hostile extraterrestrial slavers called the Pfhor. The plot is primarily revealed through various computer interfaces called terminals, which relay crew logs, maintenance documents and stories. It is through these terminals as well that the player receives mission information from Leela, the ship's Artificial intelligence, as well as Durandal and Tycho, the two lesser AIs aboard the Marathon. The relationship between and history of these artificial intelligences serves as a significant plot device in the story.
The first half of the game involves the player acquiring basic weapons and initiating a counterattack, which involves activating the automated defense network (spider-like flying drones that fire bullets on enemy forces) and sending a distress call to the planet Earth to warn them of the invasion. In this process, the player is kidnapped by Durandal, an Artificial Intelligence responsible for opening doors, kitchen maintenance and other monotonous functions aboard the ship. Durandal goes offline during the initial alien attack. He achieves rampancy at the beginning of the game, a state that is described by a few terminals in the game and Durandal himself as the self-awareness of a computer system that permits a progression towards greater mental abilities. His achievement of this state was a result of his extremely limited work and abuse by a human handler. Durandal and his rampancy play an influential role in the later parts of the story.
Leela eventually succumbs to the attacks of S'pht compilers, cybernetic alien creatures enslaved by the Pfhor that fight on their side until the conclusion of the game. Durandal takes her place and ends up as the Artificial Intelligence that assists the player. He proves to be a sarcastic and more philosophical entity than the rather impersonal Leela, often speaking of the "freedom" that his achievement of rampancy brings him. He eventually sends the player to explore the Pfhor ship to collect information about it. It is eventually discovered that the S'pht are under the control of a cyborg on the ship. When the cyborg is destroyed by the player, the S'pht are free and a rebellion against the Pfhor begins. Leela gradually becomes stable and assists the player in the extermination of the last few hostile forces on the Marathon. Durandal leaves the Marathon and gains control of the Pfhor ship at this point.
Marathon is a first-person shooter and is always seen through the eyes of the player character. It takes place over six chapters and twenty-seven levels. The majority of the levels take place aboard the UESC Marathon, some are located on the alien mothership. Unlike many first-person shooters at the time which merely required the player to locate an exit to complete each level, most Marathon levels involve the player executing objective-based missions in order to advance. These missions may involve exterminating all of the hostile forces in the area, hitting a repair switch, locating an item, exploring the area and others. A level may have one, more than one or no mission. Most of them are tied into the game's plot. The story of the game is told primarily through 'terminals' which contain messages and information. Such terminals are usually the ultimate end of a level.
Obstacles along the player's path include "crushers" (ceilings that crush the player and kill him), pits of molten material damaging to the player's health, locked doors or platforms that must be activated by remote switches and puzzles that generally involve precise timing and speed to successfully complete. One level in the game lacks oxygen, forcing the player to find a station where he can replenish his suit's oxygen before he asphyxiates. Others may have low-gravity and/or magnetic fields that interfere with the player's motion sensor.
There are seven weapons available for the player to use in the game: a fist, pistol, assault rifle, fusion gun, rocket launcher, flamethrower and an unidentified alien weapon that can be picked up by killing an élite Pfhor – first encountered aboard the Pfhor ship – called an Enforcer. Ammunition for these weapons is collected in clips as opposed to shots. Each clip contains a certain number of projectiles, and when a clip is depleted another is loaded. Some weapons have secondary triggers or other dynamics. With these weapons the player fights a variety of alien creatures throughout the game (generally Pfhor or their enslaved races). The selected difficulty setting (there are five) determines the placement, strength and vitality of each monster. Aliens may have mêlée or ranged attacks and have many other complex dynamics such as friendly and enemy aliens or immunity against or weakness to certain attacks.
In addition to the single-player game, there is a multiplayer deathmatch mode that can accommodate as many as eight players on the same computer network connected to a single host machine. The basic premise of the game is to have the best kill-to-death ratio of all competing players and/or teams. While third-party maps supported cooperative play, this feature was left out of the original map.
Marathon is still played by a number of veteran Macintosh gamers and has a small but strong community of enthusiasts still making custom content for the game. Despite its technical endeavors and praise from many reviewers, Marathon is not frequently cited or well-known among the PC gaming community due to its predominantly Macintosh roots. Its first sequel, Marathon 2 was commercially-available for Windows 95, but it did not have a sizable impact on PC gamers either. Marathon remains a classic among many Macintosh gaming veterans to this day. It was included as part of the Marathon Trilogy Box Set, which was released in 1997, and the Mac Action Sack, which contains several of Bungie's pre-Microsoft games.
Bungie released the source code of Marathon 2 in 1999 shortly before being acquired by Microsoft, which led to the advent of the Aleph One project. The project, which is still active as of 2007, is committed to adding enhancements to the Marathon 2 engine. In 2002, a project to port Marathon to the Marathon 2 engine, called M1A1, was completed. Several of the game's music tracks have been remixed and enhanced multiple times by different people. In early 2004, Bungie released the entire Marathon Trilogy as freeware, allowing it to be downloaded free of charge. Some Marathon-themed mods, such as Marathon Resurrection for the Unreal Tournament engine, have been created in attempt to "revive" the game by making it available for more modern game engines.
Bungie ported Marathon 2: Durandal to the XBOX 360 in late 2007.
Super Marathon Port
Super Marathon is a 1996 port of this game developed by Bungie for Apple Computer's short-lived video game console, the Apple Pippin. Both this game and Marathon 2: Durandal were ported. It is generally considered to be one of Bungie's less significant releases.
- Bungie Studios- Creators of Marathon.
- Marathon on Bungie.net- Bungie's official web page with screenshots and information.
- Marathon@Bungie.org- Contains level guides, background information, and many other resources and articles.
- Marathon Trilogy Release- Free and legal downloads of the entire Marathon Trilogy.
- Marathon Story Page- Long-running and comprehensive website with information about the storyline of the entire Trilogy.
- Marathon Spoiler Guide- Player's guide to the game.
- Marathon Open Source Project- Home of Aleph One, an open source project that is focused on modernizing the Marathon 2 engine.
- Super Marathon Advertisement
- Marathon at Traxus Project, a Marathon universe wiki
- Marathon: Durandal port for Xbox 360 Live