Retro Game Review: Marathon (Trilogy)

The Marathon Trilogy consists of three games released from 1994-1996, by Bungie. Bungie would go on to make the incredibly successful ‘Halo’ series in 2001.  

Marathon, Marathon 2: Durandal, and Marathon: Infinity, are significant in that not only were they developed before Halo, along with Bungie’s other titles ‘Operation: Desert Storm,’ ‘Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete,’, ‘Pathways Into Darkness,’ ‘Oni,’ ‘Myth,’ and ‘Myth II,’ but the series was developed primarily and nearly exclusively for the Macintosh operating system. At the time, because of the Macintosh’s PPC CPU architecture and its lack of a ‘Direct3D’ equivalent, many games were not supported for the platform. When DOOM was released in late 1993 it created the First-Person Shooter genre. Eager to capitalize on this new territory, Marathon was developed and released the following year. Though, Marathon was not simply a DOOM clone. Marathon featured multi function weapons, ally NPCs, swimming, the ability to look up and down, and the ability to dual-wield weapons. The Marathon Trilogy is freely available to play via Aleph One. The graphics have been updated to support hi-res textures and OpenGL shaders, and the HUD (Heads Up Display) has been rearranged. Overall, the Aleph One release is more like modern shooters, but still reproduces Marathon faithfully.


Something that wasn’t always stressed in games was the story. It was typical that games would throw players into the action with nothing but a scrap of the game manual to guide them. Likewise, minimal updates throughout the game kept players on-track, but did little to explain events in the game. While Marathon suffers from immediate-action syndrome, it thankfully avoids keeping players in the dark (more than it needs to). Players today may be spoiled by constant voice comm updates and wrist-mounted objective readouts. If this is you, Marathon will kick you in the teeth! The story is told via computer terminals. Sometimes data is messed up and garbled, and other times, for the sake of story, it is an outright lie. Players will stumble upon terminals that have excerpts of futuristic texts yet to be written, logs from the Marathon crew, and debug data from one of the ship-board AIs. Information is passed to players only at the terminal; no waypoints, map-markers, or mission objectives are logged.

Here is the first terminal players interact with:
Players assume the role of a security officer (initially) stationed aboard the UESC Marathon, a large colony ship. Aliens attack, and it’s your job to take back the Marathon. I will not spoil the story, especially considering that the game is free for play now. I highly recommend everyone play through at least once to get the experience. If you would prefer to just read about it, Bungie has all of the terminal’s here. Though, not all gameplay is on the Marathon ship, despite the trilogy’s name.


Marathon is presented as a 2.5D shooter, meaning that while the levels are rendered in 3D, the enemies, ally NPCs, items, and weapons, are two-dimensional sprites. The walls, ceilings, and floors are textured and feature dynamic lighting. Typical of the time, there is no ‘vertical jump’ in Marathon, though players can hop across gaps by running. As stated above, Marathon was one of the first games to use the mouse to look around and fire weapons. Gameplay elements throughout the series such as low-gravity, zero-oxygen environments, liquids, and platforms (which may crush players) allowed developers to create incredibly detailed levels that varied in size and complexity.

What Does MG Think About Marathon? (Personal statement from MG)

Honestly, I hold Marathon very high on my list of games. It was one of the first non-console games I played, and one of the only games I could play for that matter. Gameplay-wise, Marathon can be difficult, but in a good way! It doesn’t give the player a lot of room for error, and punishes players who try and take the fast and easy routes. If anything, I believe that the current generation of gamers owe a lot to Marathon; without this trilogy, maybe Halo wouldn’t exist. And, no matter your thoughts on Halo, it is a series that changed gaming. Marathon was Halo before it’s time, before gaming was popular, and before enough people really had computers for gaming. Perhaps that doesn’t ‘make’ the Marathon Trilogy a ‘great’ series, but I think it does warrant a little respect. Play the trilogy and develop your own opinion. MG approved!