bshirk's Marathon: Durandal (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

A Sci-Fi Predecessor To Halo

Ah...Marathon.  This series holds a special place in my heart, because an old friend of mine introduced me to several great obscure games like this at a young age.  He was one of the few people I knew that had a Mac (or computer for that matter), and he loved Bungie games like Myth (a strategy game) and Marathon.  For those of you who don't know, the Marathon series is basically a predecessor to Halo.  It's the first FPS series that Bungie produced, and it was quite impressive when it was initially released.  My favorite thing about the Marathon series was the incredible multiplayer.  The friend who introduced me to Marathon managed to set it up on several computers in a middle school computer lab, and some of us snuck in a few rounds when the teacher was gone.  What we experienced, was quite similar to Halo LAN parties.  As you can imagine, we had a blast.

Fast-forward several years, and Bungie's Halo series had become a megaton hit that propelled the Xbox to success.  Halo 3 had nearly arrived, and Bungie wanted to whet our appetite with a classic FPS--Marathon: Durandal (aka Marathon II).  Marathon II was initially released on the Mac, but it was soon ported to PC, so it eventually grew to become the most popular game of the Marathon trilogy.  Several years later, after the release of Halo, Marathon had become forgotten, much like road kill.  I realized that Marathon II had probably become archaic, but I decided to put it to the test anyway. 

When I booted up Marathon II, memories of its classic, but cheesy theme song resurfaced.  After I'd grown tired of hearing the word Marathon repeated numerous times, I decided to load up the single- player campaign.  Marathon II appeared to be visually dated, but there were some notable differences from other XBLA First-Person Shooters.  For one, the game wasn't in a tiny computer monitor format; rather, it filled up a whole widescreen display with no sidebars.  Besides having updated visuals, Marathon also ran at a brisk 60fps.  This framerate was so smooth, that some reviewers actually complained that the fluidity of Marathon's visuals made them sick.  In Marathon II, you aim in all directions, unlike Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, so you can quickly become disoriented or made to hurl if you have a weak stomach.  Being a superhero in disguise, it didn't faze my washboard abs, so I pressed on.

The smooth animation and updated visuals impressed me, but how was the gameplay?  Well, I actually ended up as disappointed as Al Gore after he lost the presidential race.  The main reason for this is the incredibly convoluted level design.  Marathon II has you hitting all sorts of random switches, and oftentimes they affect a far away object, so you rarely have any idea of what's going on.  Sometimes, I felt more lost than Kevin McAllister in Home Alone 2.  I played several campaign missions in co-op with my brother, and eventually, we had enough.  He just couldn't take it anymore, and I felt like I was on the brink of insanity, so I had to give up.  I played through several levels however, and I have to say that not everything reeked of un-emptied garbage.

Fighting enemies was pretty fun with a somewhat standard arsenal.  You get several weapons that are similar to what you'd find in Doom, but this time, you can actually aim them in any direction.  As a result, players will feel like they have a greater degree of control.  Unfortunately, you still can't jump, so you'll have to dash if you want the game to make your character auto-jump over a gaping chasm.

Besides being able to aim vertically, Marathon: Durandal is also unique in that it has a sci-fi aesthetic.  You could argue that Doom has one as well, but Marathon feels like even more of a futuristic title.  Your weapons are complex; they have primary and secondary fire modes; and you're often fighting aliens on distant planets.  Marathon ties everything together with a complex storyline, but most of it is optional.  Unlike Doom and Wolfenstein, the story isn't told to you after each episode; instead, it's delivered to you by computer monitors scattered throughout Marathon's numerous levels.  Unfortunately, the small, bright-green text makes reading a hassle, so it's unlikely that you'll want to put up with it unless you're a hardcore sci-fi geek.  There are no cutscenes here Halo fans, so you'll have to read again for the first time since high school (sorry, there aren't any CliffNotes).

Even though Marathon has a heavy sci-fi tone, the worlds aren't all that convincing.  Part of this is due to early 3D graphics technology, but the backgrounds just look drab and unoriginal.  Besides having mediocre (albeit updated) visuals, the music doesn't really manage to impress.  Much of the game is silent, so you'll have to suck it up and be satisfied with the sound of bullets spraying into alien scum.

The single-player experience is dated, but how does the multiplayer fair?  Well, it's a mixed bag.  It's nice that you're able to take eight other players into co-op (if you can find them), and getting your frag on in death match is amusing, but only for a brief period of time.  Running around in circles killing each other is fun for a bit, but with no vehicles and bland maps, death match quickly becomes a bore.  This type of gameplay was still fresh back in 1995 when the game was originally released, but we've moved on since then.  Try popping in Goldeneye (which used to be my favorite FPS before Halo) if you need any more proof.

Marathon II was a fun game during the era in which it was released, but unfortunately, it hasn't aged gracefully.  The level design is some of the most convoluted you'll find in an FPS, the guns aren't very original, and the way in which the story is told is archaic.  It doesn't help that the game's biggest draw--multiplayer, just isn't very fun anymore.  As much as I love Bungie games, I have to argue against downloading Marathon, especially for ten dollars.  You might miss out on one of their classic games, but who cares really, when you could be spending that time pwning n00bs in Halo.

Pros:

  • Updated visuals that fill a widescreen monitor
  • You can aim vertically
  • Finally you can experience the predecessor to Halo on console
  • The theme song is memorable for those who played it back in the day
  • A wealth of multiplayer options


Cons:

  • Almost non-existent music
  • Convoluted level design
  • Bland multiplayer arenas and single-player levels
  • It's difficult to find other players online
  • The map and radar are terrible
  • Most weapons feel uninspired
  • It's ten bucks

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1 Comments
Edited by TychoX

I'm going to be honest...one of the most BRAIN NUMBING reviews I have EVER read in the history of reading reviews. I...I...cannot describe how furious this review has made me. Let me do you a favor and pick at least one part of each of your paragraphs to analyze and tell you where you're wrong.

First off:

"I realized that Marathon II had probably become archaic, but I decided to put it to the test anyway."

So, because a game is old, it makes it "archaic", thus making you have to decide whether to play a game or not? I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't like any "older" games, but if you did, take Super Mario 64 for example. Technically, it's archaic. What you don't know is that with SM64 alike, they both set standards for their respective genres. For example, correct me if I'm wrong (even then it was perfected in Marathon), the first motion sensor for an FPS. Soon popularized in Bungie's following game, Halo, and then imitated by several ever since.

" I decided to load up the single- player campaign. Marathon II appeared to be visually dated, but there were some notable differences from other XBLA First-Person Shooters."

Firstly, what other XBLA First-Person Shooter games are we talking about? Seeing how this game was released in 2007 I don't see there being a whole lot of comparisons to be made. I mean, you have DOOM which was released in 2006 and obviously did not get updated graphics, so that crosses that out. Um, I really can't think of any before that. And I realize this review was posted in 2009 and more FPS games have come out on the Marketplace then...but, you're breaking a rule when you don't respect the year the game was released. Do we really want to compare older games with new games? It makes absolutely no sense and makes you look stupid in the process, really. BUT, I will admit I am not a huge fan of the updated visuals. It just takes away that feeling of the original game, that appreciation for old-school sprite work.

" Well, I actually ended up as disappointed as Al Gore after he lost the presidential race. The main reason for this is the incredibly convoluted level design. Marathon II has you hitting all sorts of random switches, and oftentimes they affect a far away object, so you rarely have any idea of what's going on."

Oh boy. This is an issue that is common with beginner Marathon players. Is that the level design is too complex, you get lost, and have no idea where to go or what to do. The thing is, YOU HAVE TO READ THE FUCKING TERMINALS. Pardon me, but, you're kinda obligated to be a "sci-fi geek" to advance through the levels. It's a shame there's not a lot of sci-fi geeks playing this SCI-FUCKING-FI VIDEO GAME. Enough. On to this so called complex level design:

Here is a map of a DOOM and Marathon level:

I guess that solves the case of complex level design leads to a bad game. Unless you want to argue that DOOM is a bad game...just don't.

But since you make a lot of comparisons with DOOM lets stay with that subject. DOOM ALSO has a lot of hitting random switches and not know what's going on. You see, the whole point is for you to get lost in the levels, that's the fun of it and I'm sorry you don't understand that. Durandal even instructs you (if you actually read the terminals) to go EXPLORE, a.k.a. check out the level and get lost. AND YES, you do have an idea what's going on if YOU READ THE TERMINALS. I JUST got finished playing this game for the billionth time today and I can tell you that it explains to you what to do, even including pictures many times:

"Fighting enemies was pretty fun with a somewhat standard arsenal. You get several weapons that are similar to what you'd find in Doom, but this time, you can actually aim them in any direction. As a result, players will feel like they have a greater degree of control. Unfortunately, you still can't jump, so you'll have to dash if you want the game to make your character auto-jump over a gaping chasm."

You get several weapons that are similar to what you'd find in Doom, eh? So, a pistol, a shotgun, a machine gun, a rocket launcher...so basically IT'S A FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER. Although, this was probably the one opportunity where you can make a case that DOOM has better weapons such as the Super Shotgun, the BFG, and the plasma rifle, and the chainsaw! Also...why are you making this review seem like it's only made for people who have only played DOOM? "You still can't jump" What does this have to do with anybody that has never played DOOM? That's beside the point though because the ENTIRE game is designed around the fact you cannot jump, just like DOOM. Not one point during DOOM or Marathon have I thought to myself "Well I sure wish I could jump up there!" And in honesty, it's not a problem whatsoever since the floaty-spacey gravity allows you to glide across gaps to where you want to get to.

"Unfortunately, the small, bright-green text makes reading a hassle, so it's unlikely that you'll want to put up with it unless you're a hardcore sci-fi geek. There are no cutscenes here Halo fans, so you'll have to read again for the first time since high school"

I already dug into this one a lot but let me touch up on it. "Unfortunately" is easily the worst word you could have possibly used in this bit. The terminal reading is what makes Marathon MARATHON. You don't find storytelling like that in any other FPS games even today. Yes, it was probably used because of limited technology back then but it makes the game so much more unique and allows for TONS of story to be dug up considering these little bits of fiction are spread all throughout each level letting you know what happened at that very spot you're standing in. The terminals are not just lousily thrown in there in an excuse to tell a story. The terminals are the fiction, the way the main characters communicate seeing how they are A.I. constructs and so on and so forth.

"Even though Marathon has a heavy sci-fi tone, the worlds aren't all that convincing. Part of this is due to early 3D graphics technology, but the backgrounds just look drab and unoriginal. Besides having mediocre (albeit updated) visuals, the music doesn't really manage to impress. Much of the game is silent, so you'll have to suck it up and be satisfied with the sound of bullets spraying into alien scum."

Although you are correct about there being no music, I honestly don't feel like it's a problem. If you had music you'd probably miss all the neat little atmospheric sounds Bungie added in in order to make the experience more immersing. Which may sound a little pretentious, but knowing Bungie games they certainly care about their worlds a lot. I think that with the limited technology they had they made a fine effort in attempting to make you believe you were on these alien planets with simply just noises. In my opinion, it was for the better.

" Running around in circles killing each other is fun for a bit, but with no vehicles and bland maps, death match quickly becomes a bore. This type of gameplay was still fresh back in 1995 when the game was originally released, but we've moved on since then. Try popping in Goldeneye (which used to be my favorite FPS before Halo) if you need any more proof."

OH BOY. No vehicles, you say. Bland maps, you say. More evidence you did not do your homework. This just upsets me of how little credit you give this game. Yeah, you know that favorite FPS of yours, "Halo", none of it would be possible without Marathon, obviously. Like, I still do not know WHY THE FUCK you are comparing older games with newer ones. Halo was two generation of consoles later to truly perfect vehicles in an FPS...I...I just don't see your logic here, at all.

"Marathon II was a fun game during the era in which it was released, but unfortunately, it hasn't aged gracefully. The level design is some of the most convoluted you'll find in an FPS, the guns aren't very original, and the way in which the story is told is archaic. It doesn't help that the game's biggest draw--multiplayer, just isn't very fun anymore. As much as I love Bungie games, I have to argue against downloading Marathon, especially for ten dollars. You might miss out on one of their classic games, but who cares really, when you could be spending that time pwning n00bs in Halo."

Once again, breaking the damn rules of reviewing. You do NOT be nostalgic in a review, it's the most arrogant and idiotic thing one can possibly do. How am I suppose to possibly relate to your own personal feelings you had for this game over a decade ago and have it influence my view on this game. It's just stupid. Anyway, once again you're bringing up past vs. present which is the most generic way you can compare games nowadays. I already went over the level design, the guns, and the story etc etc why you're stupid. I don't understand how ten dollars is an awful price. It's not a lazy port at all. Freeverse went ahead and updated the visuals, added leaderboards, a new mode SURVIVAL which you didn't even talk about, multiplayer with a heap of game modes, maps, weapon options, 8 player co-op, a Vidmaster achievement, list goes on, you get my point.

Pros:

  • Updated visuals that fill a widescreen monitor
  • You can aim vertically
  • Finally you can experience the predecessor to Halo on console
  • The theme song is memorable for those who played it back in the day
  • A wealth of multiplayer options"

  • Absolutely
  • Not sure how this is a shocker, it's pretty standard for an FPS game.
  • Absolutely, great for those people
  • I honestly hope that's a fucking joke. Please let it be.
  • Precisely, yet at the same time you dislike the multiplayer, So?

Cons:

  • It's difficult to find other players online
  • The map and radar are terrible
  • Most weapons feel uninspired
  • It's ten bucks

  • Unfortunately, this is true. But like all old school franchises they live off hardcore fanbases so if you are really dedicated to playing multiplayer online look on the leaderboards or the internet for people to play it. But this has nothing to do with the game itself so I feel like it's somewhat pointless to mention it.
  • I have no idea where the fuck you come up with these things. The map is pretty much perfect as it's like DOOM where you can bring up the map in-game without having to pause. And the radar...what the hell is wrong with radar. It shows your allies and it shows your enemies...how can it possibly be terrible? It's extremely impressive for one of the first or THE first FPS game to have a radar.
  • You clearly have not played with the dual shotties a lot, easily the best weapon in the game, also if I'm not mistaken also the first FPS game to include dual wielding.
  • Once again, a very reasonable price.

--

Well bshirk, I had a blast with this one. I'm not sure if you actually PLAYED the game "back in the day" or you simply turned it on and turned it right back off because it seems you have no knowledge of the game at all. I want to say this game isn't for you, and be that guy...but honestly, I think you're just stupid. Like I said, this was easily the worst review I have ever read and I'm surprised you even gave it three stars after you had to "press on" and "suck it up" because of the graphics and sound. To anyone that reads this, please ignore this man's review and try out the game, it truly is a unknown gem and important to FPS history among the likes of Wolfenstein and DOOM.

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