Bungie Software might have become a household name thanks to Microsoft and the Halo franchise, but they started off as a small and innovative design studio for the Mac back in olden times. In the early days of the first-person shooter, all the focus was on the PC and iD Software, but Bungie gave Mac owners something to gloat about with Marathon. Like most classic games, it stuck with a few fans over the years– one of whom has taken it upon himself to port the series to the iPad.
Marathon 1 is the first part of the trilogy and done by one Daniel Blezek with Bungie’s blessing. Released as a free download, it’s an interesting and worthwhile trip down memory lane for fans of the series and gamers who appreciate a little history in their entertainment diet. This is, first and foremost, an excellent port of the original game, so fans can rest easy knowing they are getting the real deal.
Guns trump spears.
That said, opinions of Marathon have always been divided. Many loved the moody, sci-fi atmosphere, high difficulty level, and then-innovative story-telling method. Others found the game too slow and repetitive, with bland environments. No matter which camp you might fall into, it’s impossible to deny the game had a profound effect on the future of shooters. It’s also easy to see these are the same guys who would one day create Halo.
Marathon tells the story of a lone soldier who must battle a mysterious and sudden alien invasion aboard the starship, the Marathon. The storyline is told through text messages found at computer terminals through the 27 levels, and mixes in malfunctioning AIs, alien predators, and other staples of modern sci-fi shooters. The game’s seven weapons were fairly innovative for the time, and include a flamethrower, assault rifle with a grenade launcher, and a fusion pistol.
The gameplay in Marathon is heavily focused on navigation puzzles– mostly simple switch puzzles, which require you to activate a switch in one location, then rush to a temporarily opened path. Controls feel slippery by today’s standards, which can lead to frustration when navigating narrow paths. There’s also no ability to jump or duck, so many passageways feel artificially blocked off. You’ll frequently encounter areas that should be easily accessible with a small jump, but instead the game forces you to go through hoops to reach a slightly higher ledge.
You’ve been riddled.
The aiming controls are strangely hampered as well, since the maximum angle for looking up and down is far more restrictive than modern shooters. Finally, the graphics are definitely old school. Even with the $4 HD Mode add-on, which smoothes out the textures, the creatures in the game are remarkably unrefined and the environments are blocky and repetitive. The audio work is still impressive though.
All these flaws might seem damning, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t a new game. Marathon 1 is essentially an exact replica of the original release, and while the state of shooters has moved on, the game is still worth checking out and enjoying. The only thing missing from the original game is the multiplayer. The frequently frustrating difficulty level can be largely mitigated with the .99 cent Master Chief Mode. This add-on is a full-on cheat suite that allows you to not just become invulnerable and access all weapons, but save at any time (instead of at specific save points) and start at any level.
As odd as it sounds, even though both of the add-ons aren’t necessary, fans might find them worthy purchases just to show support for the effort a lone developer put into this labor of love. Marathon might not hold up in a direct comparison with most modern shooters, but it’s still an historical artifact worth downloading.