Halo Player's Guide to Marathon

Some of us senior citizens are having a blast now that Marathon: Durandal is out for Xbox Live Arcade. I'll post later in greater length about how this adaptation is simultaneously absolutely faithful to the original while still timely and fun, and how its design teaches lessons still relevant a decade after its release.

However, many Halo fans have never played Marathon. Many may not have heard of it until now. Some, as ridiculous as this sounds, were not even born when it was released. Is Marathon still for them?

It sure is. But before playing, it's best just to do some fair warnings about some quirks in Marathon's design that might frustrate a player whose only exposure to Bungie so far is the Halo series.

Cyborgs Don't Need Health Packs

...but they do need recharge stations. You don't have shields in Marathon, and your health doesn't recharge itself. Instead, you have to locate recharge stations. Some of them can even give you an overshield-like effect, providing two or three times as much health as normal.

Bag Of Holding

Marathon doesn't have Halo's two-weapon restriction; don't forget what weapons you're carrying. Scroll through the list using the bumpers (in the default control scheme) to check on what weapons you're holding and how much ammo they have. Also, in the portion of the screen where ammunition is displayed is a sort of inventory; if you're holding anything important (like an uplink chip) a small icon will be shown there.

Save Early And Often

Perhaps the most practical difference is that Marathon lacks the checkpoint-style save system of Halo. Instead, there are special terminals called "pattern buffers" which you can use with the action button to save your game. Marathon: Durandal limits you to seven save slots, so use them wisely.

Marathon's design does allow you to paint yourself into a corner; it's possible, after several levels, to find yourself out of ammunition, out of health, out of oxygen, and trapped by an overwhelming number of enemies. Your only way out may be to restore a previous save and replay portions of the game. It makes sense, then, to make sure that when you save, your player is in the best possible condition. If you know where a recharge station is and can reach it, charge your health fully before saving. Find a sweet cache of ammunition? Go ahead and save the game before you run into a bunch of enemies that provoke you into wasting it. And instead of just using all seven save slots sequentially, reuse old slots on the same level, "upgrading" the save as you progress through the level and improve your health and weapons.

Another thing to remember is how Marathon treats you when you die. When you die, you respawn at the last pattern buffer you used, or at the beginning of the current level if you last used a pattern buffer in a previous level. However, if you have just started a new level and haven't used a pattern buffer, and you quit the game, when you restart you'll have to load your last save-- in other words, you'll lose your progress in a new level until you find a pattern buffer.

If you're having trouble locating saved terminals or recharge stations...

Don't Forget To Use The Map

Like Doom and other shooters of its day, Marathon has an auto-mapping feature. As you proceed through the levels, it records the structures you pass through and displays them to you. Switches, pattern buffers, recharge stations, and computer terminals are all visible on the map as indentations in the wall. Elevators are visible as red-filled polygons (although some red-filled polygons are lava... so watch out).

In the default control scheme, pressing left or right on the D-pad toggles the map; while in the map view, pressing up or down zooms the map in or out. In fact, once you've cleared an area of enemies, you can actually navigate while in map mode.

Summer Reading

Marathon's mission objectives are often more varied and complex than those of Halo. Sure, there's plenty of killing stuff, but you're never asked to rescue a captain once (let alone twice) or go to the Library.

That doesn't mean you don't have to do some reading. Marathon doesn't have any cutscenes; instead, it has computer terminals where the AI Durandal gives you story background as well as instructions. Pay attention to these-- often the information about the mission is critical, including accurate maps with specific locations labeled!

Terminals are also used to teleport you from place to place within a level, or to the next level. A terminal that's going to teleport you will warn you "teleport when ready". If you're not ready, don't press A to acknowledge, press B to cancel. That will close the terminal, but not teleport you.

Adult Swim

Another feature Marathon has that Halo lacks is underwater exploration and combat. Many of Marathon's levels were designed specifically as underwater puzzles, with various levels of fluid and flooring, to require you to hop from ledge to ledge. However, you can avoid all of those by depressing the left thumbstick (again in the default control scheme) which will cause the player to swim upwards towards the surface of the fluid. Some levels can't be solved without using this feature!

With A Little Help From Your Friends

Marathon: Durandal has now the feature that was cut from Halo 2 and just announced for Halo 3: online cooperative play. In fact, with Marathon, you can have double the players in a coop game, up to eight. Get a preview of the kind of cooperative fun we'll be having this September and do some cooperative play in Marathon. There's even a special leaderboard specifically for cooperative play.

Bunny Hoppers Need Not Apply

Here's another area where Marathon's old-school design is a breath of fresh air: there's no jumping.

That's right. No jumping. You can 'coast' in the air across gaps in many places, but there's no jump button. That means no bunny hopping. If you want to dodge incoming fire, you have to run away or find cover.



Great article narc, I'm itching to go purchase Marathon off XBLA now.

[quote=SG]Great article narc, I'm itching to go purchase Marathon off XBLA now.[/quote]

Then do it. Do It. DO IT!


Rampant for over se7en years.

Just use AlephOne and you don't have to buy anything.

Aleph One is great-- I have it and I've played it. But the experience of playing M:D-- especially online coop-- is well worth the 800 points.

Plus, achievements, if you're into that sort of thing.

Rampant for over se7en years.

How do they get away with charging for somehthing that open source??

[quote=Anonymous]How do they get away with charging for somehthing that open source??

They didn't. The Marathon:Durandal game that is for sale on XBLA is not the Aleph One implementation of the Marathon 2 engine.

Bungie released the Marathon 2 engine as open source to the community for them to maintain, and the Aleph One project for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux is that project.

However, as Bungie was the original owner of the code and the content, they were still free to release it in any other form, under any other license they chose. Freeverse was hired to take the original code (not the modified, open source Aleph One code) and rewrite the game for Xbox Live Arcade.

Rampant for over se7en years.