Your actions at Tau Ceti in defeating the alien Pfhor have branded you a living legend, a hero. But, past actions mean nothing in the face of new dangers and challenges awaiting you in yet another alien land, the planet Lh'owon, far from Tau Ceti and Earth. Seventeen years have passed since your last triumph -- years spent in stasis, unconscious and dreamless. And, now awakened, the rogue AI Durandal, gives you 15 minutes to prepare for transport to the planet's surface.
Durandal, in the stolen Pfhor attack ship, has maneuvered you to the very core of the galaxy, above a planet once teeming with highly intelligent creatures who had been on the verge of evolving to other stars. The marsh world, inhabited nearly a thousand years before, is now a waterless desert as war destroyed this once noble civilization. Your mission is to battle the ancient and warlike creatures now on the planet and uncover the remnants of a lost clan and ferret out their long-lost secrets.
Marathon 2: Durandal, a first-person 3D shooter, is the sequel to Marathon. In addition to solo play, multi-player action is supported over a LAN with game modes such as King of the Hill, Tag, Cooperative, Team Play and Kill the Guy with the Ball. The game offers customization options including alien opponents, live carnage reporting, dead players dropping items, disabling motion sensor, penalties for dying and suicide and time limits.
Gameplay features Biobus Chip Enhancements, or temporary power ups, such as transparency, extravision, hypervision and super shields, along with a half-dozen weapons with varying degrees of destruction and effectiveness. Included is a .44 Magnum Mega Class A1 sidearm, the MA-75B Battle Rifle (with grenade launcher), a Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol, the SPNKR-XP SSM Launcher, a WSTE-M5 combat shotgun and the TOZT-7 Backpack Napalm Unit.
The Marathon trilogy, made by the now famous Bungie, was a unique series of games for multiple reasons. One of the most obvious reasons was that the only Marathon game released for Windows was Marathon 2, with Marathon 1 and Marathon Infinity being made only for the Apple Macintosh. Despite mostly only being available to a small section of the computer gaming market, the series spawned a cult following that is still upheld today.
The gameplay is similar to Doom in that you kill everything that moves and hit some switches, although in Marathon, you do have other humans helping you (but you can just kil them and steal their ammo). In Marathon 2, however, you can't always rely on brute firepower, because there is always an enemy bigger and stronger than you who, if you get annoying, can swat you down with some rockets or other forms of large weaponry. However, as opposed to Doom, where there are relatively small numbers of enemies, Marathon 2 is filled with weedy cannon fodder and those who consider you cannon fodder alike, and opening a door to find an empty room is a rare occurence, even on the lowest difficulty levels. The weapons themselves are a mixed bag, with most of them being quite typical to most FPSes, but all of them having a well-defined purpose in the game (and some humourous names, such as the SPNKR rocket launcher). Dare I say it, the gameplay is better and faster than Doom. This was one of the first games to force you to reload your weapons, and probably also one of the first to have multiple firing modes for some weapons and dual-wieldable weapons. The multiplayer gameplay is also very frenetic, with the arenas being small, ammo-filled and, if you can find a well-used server, packed with players.
The graphics, while not quite up to the standards of the time due to a lack of model use, are quite good, and the art style of the game suits both the setting and pace of the game. The engine itself runs quite fast (probably due to said lack of models) and is well suited to the large numbers of Pfhor that swarm you. The lighting in the engine, which is based on sectors like the Build engine, is excellent, with some lights flickering as they turn on and malfunction.
The only trace of music in the game is the title music. The game itself has no music, and as such, it can get a little quiet from time to time, although this is fixed through the use of ambient sounds. The sound effects are otherwise very good, with the aliens babbling away to each other while you sneak around and run-punch them in the back of the head, the humans shouting taunts at their kills or need backup, and the fusion pistol emitting an electrical hum while you have an overloaded shot charged.
But the real high point of this game is the storyline. Marathon 2 takes place 17 years after the events of the first Marathon game. You play a cyborg security guard who fought the Pfhor aliens who attacked the UESC Marathon colony ship in the first game who has just been reawakened from stasis and, under the control of a rampant AI named 'Durandal', sent to help some of the former Marathon crew liberate the home planet of one of the Pfhor's slave races. Told via computer terminals displaying messages from various sources, the story is the most in-depth story I have ever seen in a first-person shooter. It is not simply a 'you are here, go shoot some stuff' storyline (with one or two notable exceptions in certain levels). The objectives of each level are quantified with a tactical reasoning from Durandal, and the effects of your actions affect the objectives on following levels (although you don't really have a choice in the matter). Even the use of saved games is explained by the use of 'Pattern Buffers'. I'm not going to give away anything other than the introduction here, because that would ruin the best aspect of this game. There are still forums dedicated to finding out and deciphering aspects of the storyline to this day, it is that deep (see how many references to the number 7 you can find).
In a way, Marathon was a spritual predecessor to Halo, and it has often been reasoned amongst the Marathon community that Marathon is actually a part of the Halo universe, although Bungie have denied it. Either way, graphics aside, the Marathon trilogy, and Marathon 2 especially, is easily up to the quality of Halo. The gameplay is fast, explosive and offers a challenge, the sound is good quality despite the lack of in-game music and the storyline is amazing. This game easily deserves a 5.
In order for Marathon 2 to work under Vista, grab dplay.dll from the link above the review and put it in the game directory. Thanks to zirkoni for this.
You will require a CD key to run this. Grab one from here. The key you want is the one labelled 'M2 Full'.
Sometimes it will refuse to play sound, suggesting that you give it _less_ memory. The only fix I have found for this is to restart your computer and try again.
Occasionally the game will quit with a DirectX 2 error. Just restart the game.
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