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Overview

Marathon 2 Title Screen

Released eleven months after Marathon, Marathon 2: Durandal is a sci-fi first-person shooter initially released for the Macintosh, a direct sequel to Marathon, both in narrative and gameplay terms, and the middle act of Bungie Software's Marathon Trilogy. It is a continuation of Marathon's story of a lone security officer who successfully defended the UESC Marathon against an attack by the Pfhor, and it also refines both the engine and objective-based gameplay introduced by its predecessor. The single-player is set largely around the planet Lh'owon, and features several new environments and enemy types, while the multiplayer component is revamped with a large number of new competitive modes as well as cooperative play.

Marathon 2 is the only iteration in the trilogy to receive an official Windows port, although this came some ten months after the Macintosh release. Additionally, it was released in 1996 along with the first Marathon on the Apple Pippin as Super Marathon. After Bungie released Marathon 2's source code in 1999, the Marathon fan community created an open source version of the engine, Aleph One, with more advanced features like hardware acceleration and native support for Linux, and more recently still, an upgraded version developed by Freeverse with a new engine and HD textures was released via Xbox Live as Marathon: Durandal.

Development

The development of Marathon 2 took place over a period of roughly nine months, and was started not long after the initial success of Marathon became apparent. As was advertised through a flyer in Marathon's packaging, Bungie had planned on creating an expansion to Marathon called the Marathon 20/10 Scenario Pack, and at first the two were not seen as mutually exclusive endeavors. For a time, the developers fully intended to release both the scenario pack and Marathon 2 in 1995, but eventually Bungie decided that releasing a separate expansion within the same year might lessen the sequel's impact, and that dividing their efforts furthermore might degrade the overall quality of their products. With Marathon 2 judged to be the more worthwhile of the two projects to pursue, Bungie shifted focus to devote the entirety of its development resources to it, and some of the prior work originally done for the expansion was folded into Marathon 2.

Plot

Prologue

Marthon 2 is set nearly two decades after the conclusion of Marathon, it is revealed early on that the nameless protagonist of the series and many of the human colonists from the Tau Ceti system have spent the last seventeen years in stasis aboard the Pfhor ship Sfiera, which was commandeered by the rampant A.I. Durandal. He is awakened at the behest of Durandal just as the crew of the Sfiera succeeds in finding the S'pht homeworld of Lh'owon, which they had sought since leaving the Tau Ceti system. After being informed by Durandal that he and his fellow humans were abducted and placed in stasis shortly after defeating the Pfhor aboard the UESC Marathon, the security officer is directed to lead a ground assault against the Pfhor's forces on Lh'owon. The A.I. is adamant that the planet is of strategic importance in the war against the Pfhor, and that it is therefor in the best interests of those he has abducted to do as he commands, as it will ultimately mean the annihilation of the Pfhor and the salvation of the Sol system.

Synopsis

Through communications with the security officer, Durandal insists that long ago the S'pht left knowledge on Lh'owon that could be used against the Pfhor, and that it ultimately falls to the officer himself to find its location. After several skirmishes with Pfhor ground forces, the player is transported to the Citadel of Antiquity, the site of the S'pht's last stand against the Pfhor before being enslaved. The Officer is instructed to investigate the site, as it is the most likely repository for the information Durandal seeks. After scouring the tower and chambers below for any information regarding the S'pht's final hours on Lh'owon and the missing eleventh clan that might hold the key to the Pfhor's defeat, the security officer is suddenly called back to the Sfiera to help deal with the arrival of the Pfhor's Battle Group Seven.

Durandal is not above humiliating his enemies even after death.

By the time the officer arrives on the Sfiera, Durandal has already destroyed half of Battle Group Seven due to upgrades made to the ship which the Pfhor did not anticipate, and the officer's initial efforts thereafter to subdue the invaders are promising. In spite of the early advantage, however, with the aid of Tycho, one of the A.I.s of the Marathon that was resurrected by the Pfhor, Battle Group Seven is able to gain the upper hand. In response, Durandal forces the officer to destroy his own core logic centers in an effort to prevent Tycho from capturing him. The security officer is successful in destroying the logic centers, but is himself captured by Tycho, spending nearly a month in Pfhor captivity. The remnants of the abducted humans, led by Robert Blake, eventually break the security officer free in an attack on his prison compound. Though there is no love lost for their former A.I. commander, the human remnants decide to continue in his plan to discover the secrets of the S'pht, as there is little chance that they will survive against the Pfhor otherwise.

As the humans slowly lose ground against the Pfhor, the security officer is successful in activating an ancient S'pht A.I. known as Thoth. Quickly assessing the situation, Thoth helps the security officer defend Blake and his men while also contacting the lost eleventh tribe of the S'pht, the S'pht'Kr, who with their highly advanced technology begin to decimate the Pfhor around Lh'own. Around this time Durandal reemerges, revealing that he has triumphed over Tycho through a clever ruse and taken control of the battleship Khfiva. Realizing that their cruel taskmaster was never truly dead, Blake and his men abscond to Earth in the Pfhor refueling ship Hfarl, while the security officer, now aided by Durandal and the S'pht'Kr, makes short work of the remaining Pfhor around Lh'owon. Angered by their loss, the Pfhor launch an ancient device known as trih xeem at Lh'owon's star, causing it to grow in intensity. With nothing left for either of them, both parties leave the system.

Epilogue

Durandal informs the security officer that their actions have directly prevented the invasion of the Sol system, and furthermore that they have handed the Pfhor a defeat which will not soon be forgotten. By 2881 AD, the Pfhor are completely subdued after their system is assaulted by a coalition of the S'pht'Kr and human fleets. Durandal disappears into the unknown, and after an absence of ten thousand years suddenly reappears in the Sol system at the helm of an ancient Jjaro ship christened the Manus Celer Dei. Durandal is characteristically evasive about his motivation in showing himself after so long, and is even less forthcoming about his knowledge of the Jjaro, stating before he departs only that he wished to ensure that he was not forgotten.

Gameplay

See also: Marathon

The characteristic gameplay elements of Marathon are for the most part intact in Marathon 2. The game is, at its heart, an action-oriented first-person shooter in the vein of Doom and its contemporaries, although with a more pronounced focus on objective-based missions and story progression than was common in the genre at the time. Players are typically informed via computer terminals in the game world of important tasks within their current environment, which they are expected to complete before progressing to the next map. These terminals are also the primary means of exposition within Marathon 2, and the means of leaving a level once the time comes to do so. When all major objectives within a given map have been completed, the player can be teleported to the next map in the campaign's 28-level sequence. The process begins anew in the next map, and action proceeds in this fashion until the game's conclusion.

Outdoor environs and large pools of water (or sewage) are far more common in Marathon 2.

Although the general gameplay has remained the same, many of the specifics surrounding it have changed or been augmented in Marathon 2. One of the most prominent new additions is the inclusion liquid substances that the player can be fully submersed in. These vary in type from harmless pools of water to highly dangerous pits of magma, with varying degrees of current, density, and in some cases variable tide levels. The player's oxygen gauge gradually decreases while submerged in a substance, movement speed is negatively affected, and many of the game's weapons are unusable. At any point the player can use the run key to swim upwards in order to exit a liquid, provided there is no ceiling preventing them from doing so.

Another newly added play mechanic in Marathon 2 is the introduction of health packs and oxygen tanks. Previously, restoring health and oxygen was only possible through the use of fixed oxygen and health stations which the player was required to interact with, and while these still remain, and are in fact the primary means of restoring health and oxygen, certain levels also utilize one-time use restorative items that are automatically used when picked up. Health packs are divided into three varieties, which denotes how much of the player's potential health will be restored. Red health packs grant one bar, yellow health packs restore two, and finally purple health packs max out the player's health at three bars.

The S'pht'Kr step in to aid the player later on in the game's campaign.

Additional variety was introduced to Marathon's gameplay by way of additional enemy types and an altered weapon loadout. A smattering of new foes are in evidence in the sequel, and some of the returning ones are bolstered with new variants or differences in behavior. Only one truly new weapon, the WSTE-M5 Combat Shotgun, was created for Marathon 2, although not all of the returning weapons function exactly as they did in the previous game, and their sprites have also been redrawn, giving them a cosmetic update. The levels themselves also differ somewhat in structure from the previous game. Whereas Marathon was set primarily within the confines of two space ships orbiting Tau Ceti IV, the larger part of Marathon 2 takes place on the planet Lh'owon, and as a result many of its levels have a more open and less confined feel more fitting to the locale.

Marthon 2 also features a more streamlined HUD system, which allows for a much larger viewable area than before, and adopts a more unorthadox approach to its audio presentation than was used in its predecessor. While Marathon featured musical accompaniment during gameplay, the sound design of Marathon 2 is far more ambient in nature, with environmental sounds like rushing wind and running water being the only background audio in most levels. Items and creatures are also warped into levels with a fair amount of frequency in the sequel, whereas in Marathon entities within the game were for the most part situated at static locations, and did not appear suddenly within the level when triggered by the player.

Multiplayer

Bungie saw fit to greatly expand on Marathon's multiplayer package with the release of Marathon 2, adding several new maps and four new modes to the standard deathmatch and team deathmach options presented in the original. Five competitive modes of play were included in total, and many of these new additions would go on to be used in Bungie's later Myth and Halo franchises. Marathon 2's "Kill the Man with the Ball" game type, for instance, in which the player in possession of the "ball" must fend off all other players, is remarkably similar to Myth's "Steal the Bacon" and Halo's "Oddball" modes, while "King of the Hill" persists more or less intact throughout all three franchises. In addition to the five competitive modes, a new cooperative multiplayer mode was added which allows a group of players to fight through the game's single-player campaign together.

Weapons

The arsenal of Marathon 2 is composed primarily of the same seven weapons that were introduced in the first game. While, for the most part, they function in a similar fashion to their earlier incarnations, the returning weapons are all composed of different art assets that were created specifically for the new game. The altered appearances of these weapons is justified fictionally by variations in model number. The game's rocket launcher, for instance, is identified as the SPNKR-XP, as opposed to the the SPNKR-X17 which appeared in Marathon, and the MA-75 Assault Rifle of Marathon becomes Marathon 2's MA-75B. In addition, one entirely new weapon is introduced, the WSTE-M5 Combat Shotgun, which is a snub-nosed shotgun capable of being dual-wielded.

AppearancePickup IconDescription
Fist
  • N/A (Starting Weapon)

Fist

While it possesses fairly weak damage output under normal circumstances, the fist maintains it special property from the first game of doing considerably greater damage when initiated from a run, making it something of a finesse weapon for players of higher skill levels. As of Marthon 2, it is also possible to dual-wield fists, so to speak. By pressing the secondary fire button, the player will raise their other fist, and from then on each fire button controls one of the fists.
.44 Magnum Mega Class A1
Magnum Pickup

.44 Magnum Mega Class A1

One of the game's starting weapons, the highly accurate .44 Magnum Mega Class A1 is a reliable sidearm that is limited slightly by its relatively small clip size and somewhat sluggish rate of fire. Acquiring a second Magnum allows the player to remedy both issues to an extent, as it allows for dual-wielding, and its only other weakness is that it cannot be discharged underwater. Despite having a rather prominent scope attached to its barrel in both Marathon and Marathon 2, the Magnum has no zoom functionality.
MA-75B Assault Rifle
Assault Rifle Pickup

MA-75B Assualt Rifle with 40mm Grenade Launcher

The successor to the MA-75, the MA-75B features both a 52-bullet clip capacity and a seven-round attached grenade launcher. Both types of ammunition can be dispensed simultaneously, and given that it is essentially two weapons in one it is one of Marathon 2's more versatile arms. The biggest drawback to be aware of when using it is that its bullet spread is extremely wide, and furthermore its grenade launcher has a natural arc which must be properly compensated for at long ranges.
Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol
Fusion Pistol Pickup

Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol

The trusty Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol remains fairly useful throughout the game, as there are a number of mechanoid foes who are specifically vulnerable to its energy-based projectile. In addition to standard rapid-fire shots, the Zeus-Class can also be charge by holding down the secondary fire button, which releases a much more powerful shot when the button is released. The projectiles it fires are fairly slow-moving, however, so it is best fired from a shorter distance to minimize the chance of avoidance.
WSTE-M5 Combat Shotgun
Combat Shotgun Pickup

WSTE-M5 Combat Shotgun

Marathon 2's only new weapon is a decidedly powerful one, capable of leveling many of the game's baddies with a single well-timed pull of the trigger. This lethality is only further augmented if the player possesses two, which allows one shotgun to be fired as the other is reloading. As with most shotguns, though, the punch of the WSTE-M5 is severely diminished over long ranges, and due to the fact that it expends two shell with each firing, it is also incredibly easy to burn through ammo at a rapid rate.
SPNKR-XP SSM Launcher
SSM Launcher Pickup

SPNKR-XP SSM Launcher

One of Marathon 2's heavy damage dealers, the SPNKR-XP SSM Launcher is a fairly standard rocket-propelled grenade launcher, emitting its payload in a straight line and causing massive damage in a large radius around its impact point. It can fire off two warheads before a reload as in the first game, and ironically the only major difference in its use comes as a result of its new sprite, which occludes less of the player's field of view than did the original SPNKR-X17.
TOZT-7 Backpack Napalm Unit
TOZT-7 Pickup

TOZT-7 Backpack Napalm Unit

The TOZT-7 is a canister-fed flamethrower perfect for antipersonnel situations, where it can burn through alien flesh at an alarmingly fast rate. In particular, crowded hallways or otherwise clustered groups of enemies are prime targets for the TOZT-7, since the player can burn through multiple victims with as little wasted ammo as possible. The Achilles' heel of the Napalm Unit, as before, is armored targets such as Hunters, who are completely unaffected by it.
Alien Weapon
Alien Weapon Pickup

Alien Weapon

While the Alien Weapon is still only obtainable after killing Pfhor Enforcers as was the case in Marthon, the actual utility of it has been completely altered. Rather than the previous version's hitscan attack, it has been updated to unleash a stream of fiery projectiles in front of the player that have the ability to immolate enemies. The secondary firing option releases two streams at 45° angles to the left and right of the player's facing. In the event that both attack buttons are depressed at once, all three streams are fired.

Enemies

Representing a mixture of old and new, Marathon 2 brings back a number of the previous game's enemies (albeit with new sprites) while also adding a handful of new foes into the mix. Once again, the player is mainly fighting the Pfhor and their allies, though a few of the game's foes are not aligned with them. Three of Marathon's enemies, specifically, the Wasp, Looker, and the Hulk, do not make the jump to Marathon 2, but when factoring for new additions the total number of creatures on display exceeds that of the original game. Both new and old foes typically feature multiple variants that may differentiate them from the basic unit in terms of appearance, behavior, and means of attack, and in addition to the game's enemies a few classes of friendly creatures, such as the player's human allies and the highly advanced S'pht'Kr, will from time to time aid the player in combat.

AppearanceDescription
Pfhor Fighter

Fighter

As in the first game, the basic Pfhor infantry fighter is divided into two types, melee and ranged, which are each further divided into weaker and stronger varieties. In the case of melee Fighters, the weaker and stronger versions are identified by green and purple garb, respectively, while ranged Fighters, in order of strength, are denoted by either orange or blue. Existing as the basic fodder enemy of the Marathon series, Fighters are not the most threatening of Marathon 2's opponents even when encountered in groups, although they can be significantly more troublesome when in the presence of other tougher enemies.
Cyborg

Cyborg

Perhaps the most prevalent of the new enemies types in the game, the Cyborg is a Pfhor weapon consisting of a faceless humanoid torso grafted to a tank-like lower body. Its cybernetic arms are capable of launching bouncing spherical grenades that explode after hitting an entity or an obstruction. Some Cyborgs are capable of firing heat-seeking grenades, which can be visually recognized by green coloration in place of the usual red, and tougher Cyborgs also come standard with flamethrowers to use against close-range enemies. Regardless of type, Cyborgs will explode when killed, potentially damaging nearby targets.
S'pht Compiler

Compiler

The visual design of the Compiler in Marathon 2 differs significantly from its Marathon incarnation, with its head becoming much more dome-like and the color of its robe changing from red to orange. In behavioral terms, it is mostly identical, being able to levitate above the ground and fire concentrated gouts of an unknown energy. Stronger versions, identifiable by their purple robes, are possessed of the ability to shoot homing projectiles, while ethereal Compilers behave as do the previous types, with the added wrinkle that they are somewhat harder to see, particularly in dark areas.
Pfhor Trooper

Trooper

Being more heavily armed and armored than a Fighter, the Pfhor Trooper represents a fairly significant increase in threat level. All Troopers are equipped with a weapon that is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the player's MA-75B Assault Rifle, meaning that they have both a hitscan weapon and a grenade launcher at their disposal. Other than hit points, the main difference between the standard green Trooper and the hardier purple Trooper is the latter's propensity to use grenades with far greater frequency. The Trooper's suit also allows it to function comfortably even in a vacuum environment, although this does not come into play during the campaign as it did in Marathon.
Pfhor Hunter

Hunter

The infantry elite of the Pfhor, Hunters are coated from head to toe in thick plates of durable armor, and project balls of deadly plasma at their foes from emplacements mounted just above their shoulders. The standard brown and enhanced green Hunters return, with the latter being tougher to kill and also prone to firing in much longer volleys. A third blue variant is newly introduced in Marathon 2, which is noticeably taller than the others. This Hunter is even deadlier than its predecessors, requiring a much larger amount of firepower to kill and having a larger blast radius when it explodes.
F'lickta

F'lickta

Revealed to be the distant ancestors of the S'pht, the F'lickta populate the S'pht homeworld of Lh'owon, and are not aligned with the Pfhor. In fact, they will in many instances attack the Pfhor first before going after the player, so they can conceivably be beneficial. A total of three F'lickta variants (green, blue, and red) appear throughout the game, and their colors correspond with the environments they occupy (sewers, water, and lava). Green F'lickta are considered the standard variety, with both a melee attack and a projectile. Blue F'lickta, on the other hand, focus on melee attacks, while red F'lickta have stronger projectiles.
Tick

Tick

While it shares some commonalities with Marathon's Looker, the seemingly benign Tick has no actual attack, instead spending its time bobbing harmlessly through the air until such time as the player decides to kill it. On the game's standard difficulty setting, it will flop unceremoniously to the ground when fired upon, however at higher settings it will actually explode, causing significant damage to the player if they happen to be close to it. In addition, they show up as additional targets on the motion sensor and have a tendency to block passageways much like Bobs, causing further annoyance.
Pfhor Enforcer

Enforcer

The Pfhor Enforcer changes considerably in Marathon 2 as a direct result of alterations made to the Alien Weapon it carries. Rather than a continuous stream of hitscan bullets, the Enforcer's attack unleashes a torrent of flaming projectiles. The player can still pick up and use the Enforcer's weapon after death provided that the creature was not killed in a manner that prevents the weapon from dropping (i.e., by explosion or immolation). From a visual standpoint, the Enforcer is also quite different. Its head has been completely redesigned, and it now wears an additional cloak over its robe.
Pfhor Juggernaut

Juggernaut

The signature flying Pfhor tank known as the Juggernaut returns in Marathon 2 with a new look but mostly similar behavior. It possesses four weapons in total: two large miniguns (or N-Cannons, as they are called in-game), and a pair of missile launchers that fire heat-seaking "warpeados." Like the Hunter, they also receive an additional variant, a brownish hued Juggernaut that is a great deal more resilient. When defeated, a klaxon begins to sound, warning the player that the Juggernaut is about to self-destruct. After a few moments, the Juggernaut explodes, taking anything nearby down with it.
Simulacrum

Simulacrum

The Simulacrums are byproduct of the normal Pfhor process for subduing hostile species they see as suitable for enslavement. They are rough android approximations of humans who exist in order to fool true humans long enough to insinuate themselves into their ranks. At this point, their duty is to self-destruct, taking as many humans with them as possible. Although they use the same sprite given to friendly Bobs, it is possible to identify Simulacrums more easily than one might expect due to the fact that they are always dressed in green jumpsuits, and frequently spout nonsensical phrases such as "Frog blast the vent core!"
Drone

Drone

Taking the place of the first game's Marathon Automated Defense Drone (or M.A.D.D), the Pfhor Drone is a mechanized aerial attacker that often appears in numbers. There are blue and green versions of the Drone, with the latter being slightly tougher, and like most inorganic enemies they are fairly vulnerable to the Fusion Pistol. Several missions into the game, the player is tasked by Durandal with uploading a virus which will allow control of the Drones to be subverted, and after this is accomplished Drones controlled by Durandal can be distinguished from hostile ones by their yellow optical receptors.

Xbox Live Arcade Release

Cover Art for the Xbox Live release

Developed by Freeverse and released on August 1, 2007 (the month prior to the release of Halo 3), the Xbox Live Arcade port of Marthon 2, named simply Marathon: Durandal, includes several features specific to that version of the game, such as HD textures, 720p widescreen support, more reliable network play by way of ReplicaNet code, and a brand new single-player Survival mode. The engine used for this version of the game is also entirely new, and was capable of running at sixty frames per second (the original game was locked at thirty). Other additions include the ability to restart from the beginning of a level after dying, a new HUD interface, and full French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portugese, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean translations. Up to four players can play simultaneously via split-screen, and up to eight players can connect via Xbox Live for both competitive and cooperative modes, which are supported by leaderboards. Noticeably absent from this version of the game is the ability to save films, which was attributed to the new engine, which is not capable of recording keystrokes like the original. Furthermore, it was cited that the expense necessary to maintain film servers à la Halo 3 simply could not be supported by an 800 point XBLA game.

The release of Marathon: Durandal was met with a tepid reaction at best, with several reviewers finding that the gameplay had not aged particularly well. Often critics found it hard to recommend even to Halo fans who might be interested in exploring Bungie's back catalogue. Further marring the game's release was widespread reporting of motion sickness induced by the game's high frame rate. Occurrences of this were so numerous in fact that Freeverse later released an update that enabled players to restrict the game's field of view to that of the original game, which was intended to fix the problem. Down the road, Freeverse released two additional pieces of DLC for Marathon: Durandal, the Total Carnage Netmap Pack, and the Jjaro Netmap Pack, which both consisted of additional multiplayer maps.

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