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. Durandal 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 (640×480), 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
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