Marathon 2: Durandal Review
BOB: Frog blast the vent core! When Marathon came out it received strong sales and good reviews. Even with the level design looking like a madman's scrawlings and the story given to you like a Turkish ice cream vendor, a sequel was still inevitable. The Mac had its killer FPS, so the next year <arathon 2 Durandal arrived. This one also got a windows support the next year, but like last time Aleph One is the way to go again. It has all the same good fixes and tweaks from the first game so I won't reiterate all of those. What's interesting this time around is that while it does have the HUD from the original game, it defaults to using one from an Xbox Live Arcade port of it. I had people tell me
they thought they played the first game on the 360, but that's all due to the title. That was Marathon 2 and it came with some strange looking sprites. Aleph One doesn't include those by default so there's not much backstory to cover this round. Starting the game up is where things get strange. I mean, yeah, Marathon 1 had a weird opening but you're in for a loop . . . I mean thrown for a loop.
Well this is one hell of a shift. Still it's a great high energy theme and credited to a group called the Power of Seven. Bungie went ahead and got started early. All right then, let's go. Oh Jesus why are we . . . wait things have . . . shifted again. Okay let's play some catch up. The final screen of Marathon is an epilogue that takes place 17 years after the events of the game. Durandal's exploration has led him to the S'pht home world, he's come looking for something and has extensively upgraded his stolen ship. Knowing him that only means trouble. You can read the manual this time around too, but it's not nearly as enlightening except for some miniscule details.
Everything else here you can learn by just playing the game. There is a brief first person passage but that just amounts to "you've been in stasis for 17 years, you're being sent down to fight and you're not sure why". The intro itself gives you a good job of that experience already. There are no huge callbacks or reveals based entirely off you reading the manual, so keeping everything in game is a definite improvement. You were given a lot to chew on last round and what answers you might
want won't be coming right out of the gate. Really this is the calm before the cyclone. For now all you know is that you're invading a planet, so how about the graphics? Looking at it now it's crazy how fast games were advancing visually back then. For coming out less than a year after Marathon, the visual upgrade is impressive. The spaces are larger, more colorful, and can be downright bizarre. Even within their limits the environments sure fit the bill of an alien world. Each level is
visually distinct and the cramped labyrinth aspect is almost entirely gone. There are still maps you can get lost on, but they're intricate in a good way you're free to roam around and explore, and the maps feel more plausible as places. There are significantly less awkward navigation areas and all the new textures and use of color add so much variety to the game. That's not to say
there are no areas that can be frustrating, but there is nothing that comes close to Colony Ship for Sale, Cheap. That map came from hell. Again, a Marathon level looking too samey or being too cramped isn't the full story. Like you can see here there was a healthy amount of five-dimensional, mind-breaking, physics warping nightmare. Any maze logic you had could and would be tossed out the airlock. Those situations are way more rare now, though things can still get dizzy. That said I
do miss some of the darkness that Marathon 1 could have and you never get the pitch black experience here. It's still a vast improvement over the previous game and Marathon Infinity will more than make up for it. That said while they solved Marathon's biggest visual issue, everything else got an overhaul as well. All of the weapons are new high resolutions and the aliens as well.
Though sadly not all of the Pfhor made it into 2, a few of the aliens got redesigns here and there and the changes to them and the weapons didn't happen in a vacuum. The Pfhor here are from a different battle group and being sent to the S'pht homeward is seen as a punishment detail. As for the weapons, Durandal and the compilers have been devising new ones over the years. They also need to be mass-produced so Durandal can't get too crazy with them yet. A lot of games don't bother to, or need to, explain things like this but it's nice to see Marathon continue to go the distance. Last but not least is all the new chapter screens made by artist Craig Mullins.
The simple comic book chapters from before have been replaced with darker, grittier images more focused on realism. Now usually when you hear that it's typically not good, but the new art blows the old stuff away completely. It adds a kind of depth and mysticism to everything that fits the series way better when it comes to some millenia long conspiracies and coups. This wasn't quite doing
it. This has aged like wine. He also may have done a Pathways into Darkness image for some reason. It's a huge graphical makeover for such a short time, but wait until you hear the music. Unfortunately you heard all the music already. This is an odd situation since even if you didn't like the first game soundtrack it was definitely distinct. Well the sequel would use no music in the name of immersion and atmosphere. I don't know, the game has plenty of immersion already. The
exact quote was something like "it wasn't realistic for Marathon the ship to have music playing over the loudspeakers on it". I'll find it again soon. Instead they were only going to use ambient sound and effects. This is an ambitious choice for 1995, the fatal flaw being it sounds like it's from 1995. Like, having ambient positional audio is a really cool step and while there are some great moods, you can really tell how limited they were by their tools and their resources. Like you might hear a sound effect that suddenly has a hard cut to it. Maybe it got corrupted,
maybe the source file. If I tell you I have a dog here you might not believe me. Isn't that right boy? I can tell. I can tell the water's [ __ ] with me. I hear it. Anyhow sometimes it just sounds broken. I know it's supposed to be an alarm but it sounds like giving CPR to Major Lazer. If it had music on top of it, I might not have noticed a lot of wonky effects, but that's all you have to listen to. I would have gladly taken a new soundtrack over the pure artisan ambience of this time.
There have been attempts by fans to create music for the game, which they've released soundtracks for. You do have to play them separately from the game but you might find some winners in there. So I'll pin one of those in the comments too if you're interested. While some games can sound incredible even without music, this isn't one of those. It's okay. Putting that aside sound effects like aliens and especially weapons are way better, at least the ones that were updated. It does suck to miss out on new music but Marathon 2 has plenty else to offer.
"When my ship still answered to the Pfhor they called it Sfiera after their goddess of lightning and passion . When you helped us take control on Tau Ceti the S'pht rechristened it Narhl'Lar ,freedom and vengeance. I call it Boomer." The S'pht homeworld of Lh'owon is an unusual place and with it comes plenty of new shake-ups and challenges. For starters your arsenal has been slightly modified. For one
you can finally use dual fists in the first game. Melee was mainly good for hitting buttons but if you got the right momentum you could pull off a good hit. Here fisting is more of a life saver. Marathon 2 puts that breath meter to use as there are water sections all over the place. Sometimes
they're brief little shortcuts, but sometimes, yes, there is a water maze. Previously if you had no air that meant whipping out the Zeus energy pistol since you were in a vacuum, now if you have no air it's because you're clearly underwater. Trying to use the Zeus here will only zap yourself. This means when you're fighting primordial slime people in their underwater Costco parking lot, all you've got are your trusty one-twos. These new enemies are called the F'lickta, and they're not part of the Pfhor. If anything they seem to hate the Pfhor even more than you do. You learn more about them, not through any AI buddy computer, but through alien computers. Durandal has picked up translating a lot of the language which has passed over to you. It turns out the F'lickta aren't a brand new race, but a genetic
ancestor of the S'pht which is . . . wild. They don't eat but instead absorb the goo around them. They can live in extreme conditions doing this and the Pfhor have no clue how they do it. For you this means every time you take a dip there's a coin flips chance that a galactic Fred Flintstone will come shambling around the corner ready to throw down after you dared to play in their sewage. Swimming
already has some awkwardness to it and underwater fist fights are about as smooth as you'd imagine, but it's not bad, which is kind of shocking. What is bad is when the water's out of depth that's in the twilight zone between standing and swimming. Some levels have a cool addition where the water levels can rise and fall in real time, so it does play around with making you change up fighting mindsets, but it still comes across as awkward. I guess it's funny because it sounds like it could be a disaster on paper, but playing it it's just kind of strange. Like you still need to hunt around to find oxygen recharge stations or items, but the better level design combined with actually being able to see where there's no air still keeps the game feeling fun and not torture frustrating. There's
still some jank but it doesn't feel anything like the MK Ultra experiments that could happen before. The alien gun has been turned into a fireball launcher instead of whatever kind of machine gun thing it was like. It also comes with 2 alt fire modes for laying down 2 or even 3 barrels of pain. The only new weapon is a shotgun. At first that seems mundane until you notice the Terminator 2 flip reload, which is a very good clue that you're about to experience one of the best shotguns in video games. And then Bungie said "give them two".
The speed and insanity of the reloads, the way it lights up the room like the sun. These things melt your enemies down and you're only held back by the range and the limited ammo. You can initiate incredibly aggressive with them but failing that they're a perfect backup weapon for close encounters. You'll never find enough ammo to fully satisfy the bloodlust, which is what keeps it feeling fresh and cool. Sometimes Durandal smiles on you and will start teleporting in tons of shells if you really need something cleaned up, then it becomes a few minutes of an absolute murder blitz, but it never runs too long. It's paced out so it never gets old and you're always happy to find more ammo. It's an amazing, satisfying weapon, but doesn't shake the balance too hard.
I'm a sucker for a good shotgun and especially two at once. I've got my eye on you Trepang2. Beyond shotguns the moment-to-moment gameplay feels so much better. The aiming and movement feels a lot less like ice skating. How ammo weapons and enemy weaknesses are divvied out are a lot more careful as well. The assault rifle is still reliable, but I had a lot more incentive
to use other weapons which came from new enemies more resistant to bullet solutions or from a good old-fashioned ammo shortage. A good amount of the old enemies show up in 2 and some have a kind of role replacement even though they might not be back themselves. The actual enemy variety is about the same as the first game. It feels like there should have been more, and there was going to be. Through one section you're sent to an ancient S'pht citadel looking for more information. When the ancient S'pht here were attacked by the Pfhor they sealed off the citadel and released a virus they call it the S'ct'lac'tr but you don't learn much about it. Only that Pfhor mechanical units like the cyborgs and the compilers have an immunity to it.
So in these sections you fight Pfhor that are immune to or sealed off from the virus and a bunch of F'lickta. They're the only ones that can withstand the virus in the flooded citadel. Originally there was going to be something much different in the citadel. The S'ct'lac'tr would be a fungal virus that would turn your enemies into undead, parasitic zombies. This would be a big shake up in how you played these levels, but ultimately they were cut. Good riddance too since these areas had enough flood already. Still, the variety isn't a huge issue but there are some
annoyances later on. Like the mazes are greatly cut down but the spirit of the maze is still among us. There are a few times where squads of enemies will be teleported directly on top of you or directly behind you in a cramped hallway. This in itself isn't always a bad thing it's more the frequency which they start doing it. The maps no longer have as many corners to hide bad guys around so just drop them all in. I've had enemies directly teleport in the same space I'm in which I haven't seen in another game before. It would be unfair, but I almost wish that made me violently explode.
It seems like they hadn't quite gotten down how to place everybody or just want to make backtracking more interesting. Other than that really the game is much more straightforward. The act of navigating the map, where the secrets are, and the story itself. Though again that's in comparison to the original game, which I haven't even gotten into the most cryptic parts of yet. We're still not ready to
get into that. There's still a good amount to cycle through, so if you don't want spoilers go to here: "I can barely tolerate humans: slow, stupid and irritating. Their only contribution to my existence was the chance discovery that made my rampancy possible, yet I warned Sol of its impending invasion and even stayed long enough to show the UESG how to build warp capable fusion missiles.
I feel some strange loyalty to humanity. Perhaps it is because I feel comfortable manipulating humans that I desire to save them. My feelings and thoughts constantly migrate to binary opposites." While Marathon one is really Durandal's game in 2 he's taken over the title. It's ironic this time since 2 gives you a greater glimpse of the setting. While the S'pht home world of Lh'owon is a backwater desert now, it used to be a vibrant swamp world. The S'pht themselves have a lot of intrigue to their origin. Previously to the Pfhor arriving they are made up of 11 different clans.
10 of these were destroyed or enslaved by the Pfhor - legends says the mysterious 11th clan escaped and has been developing for a millennia. Defeating the Pfhor and finding new technology all fits into the grand plan, so you and the BOBs are here to wipe out the garrison and collect more information on the S'pht. Pfhor Battle Group 7 reinforcements are on the way - better hurry. The S'pht themselves look to be genetically malleable creatures. The compilers here are different from the ones in the scout ship
and are actively trying to not fight you though, this has limited success. You do meet one who wants you to destroy their physical body. He refers to all of the compilers as the body and that you must seek the royalty mind. Somehow bringing the 11th clan back will free all the S'pht across the empire, there have been measures put in place for this to happen. The compilers, the F'lickta and other kinds of S'pht are extremely different physically. Their ancient citadel reveals more about their origin of
life. When the ancient S'pht who fought the Pfhor dissected their enemy, they were surprised to find no cybernetics. These strange aliens could survive with only their meat. Until this point all S'pht science concluded that sentience came from cybernetics working symbiotically with the organic bits. A S'pht birth was half miracle of life and half GPU installation. One of their creation myths is that they were servants of Yrro and Pthia, so this gives credence that their entire race was created or uplifted to be servants. The F'lickta may appear to
be basically feral, but there's some irony here too. Back in the good old days the S'pht used the F'lickta to maintain their machinery and basically be a subservient pet. In reality the S'pht could have been uplifted from them to serve a greater power. So then who the hell were Yrro and Pthia? As you go through the aliens, Durandal is going through his own personal developments. Years of murder hoboing across the void have made him more introspective. While you were sleeping the Pfhor
returned and murdered the entire Tau Ceti colony, along with all the Mjolnir cyborgs. Durandal admits it was all his fault in his quest for freedom, but in the long run it should help humanity out. Earth has been contacted, warned, and given a significant technology boost. The events have given humanity a
chance rather than the one-sided fight that took place on Lh'owon. While the goals do appear to just happen to line up, Durandal's attachment to his creators is something he's still grappling with - though his old tendencies are still there and we do learn what happened to Strauss. "What fun to watch you work. Bernard was scared of you. He never dreamed of using you the way that I do what a fool.
That was before I could talk back to him when he would have crushed me if he'd known of my growth. I wish that I had made him experience the humiliation that he inflicted on me, but he died before I got the chance." While the garrison wasn't at full strength, he's also figured out why there were more Pfhor there at all. The Pfhor have found Tycho, and Tycho worked with them while they sacked Tau Ceti. When Tycho said "may the best intelligence win" he meant it. AIs that once ran a single ship are now effectively running an intergalactic war, giving what advantages they can to the side they picked for the moment. The search for ancients S'pht records is getting dire. Not
only will Battle Group 7 include Tycho, but also Pfhor Admiral Tfear. Durandal calls him "a brilliant strategist" and outright admits that if he's with the fleet he will not win against them. Hearing that from someone that arrogant is pretty dire. After a healthy amount of exploring you uncover the broad strokes of the S'pht creation myth. In primordial space, timeless creatures made waves. These waves created us and the others. Waves were the battles, and the battles were waves. The waves . . . the tides. Fleeing all W'rkncacnter, Yrro and Pthia settled upon Lh'owon.
They brought the S'pht servants who began to shape the deserts of Lh'owon into marsh and sea, rivers and forests. They made sisters for Lh'owon to protect and maintain the paradise. So this is not actually the S'pht home world. Every creature was just brought here, including the moons who were also created or just appeared here. When the W'rkncacnter came Pthia was killed and Yrro in anger flung the W'rkncacnter into the sun. The sun burned them, but they swam on its surface. Yrro became an angry master, bleeding for his failure, grieving for the loss of Pthia. He broke the S'pht into eleven
clans, and spread them over to Lh'owon. And he spoke, yet covered in blood from his exertion. "I Yrro, who was your master, have failed to preserve you. Take your royalty to guide you and live upon the paradise that you built for me." As a creation myth it explains "here's why things are the way they are" pretty nicely. Taken literally it means that all the S'pht are a terraforming slave race that no longer has a master. The 11th clan is a higher cast that can just exert control over the others. Another myth includes that Yrro personally named all the clans before checking out.
The main ravaging of Lh'owon wasn't done by the Pfhor, but by a S'pht civil war. The eleventh clan called the Spht'kr were fed up with the whole thing and retreated to one of the moons, K'lia. After a thousand years the all-powerful Yrro sent K'lia out to the stars. Lh'owon is missing a moon. The S'pht'kr
joy rode a moon out of the system. You are deep in the bunkers below the citadel at this point, and meanwhile in orbit true to his thought, the Pfhor fleet has won the engagement. They're on their way to capture Boomer since it managed to brutalize the fleet before being crippled. "Today I have forced the Pfhor naval academy to update its curriculum. The Third Battle for Beta Tear must be dropped from the Seven Great Battles which every aspiring Pfhor naval officer must memorize, and replaced with the Humbling of Battle Group Seven at Lh'owon." You're brought aboard Boomer to fight off the invaders, but it's too little too late. Even with you and the crew mowing down hordes
of boarders, it's not enough. Tycho is here and actively devouring the other AI. "Someone's after you personally. One word, two syllables. Rhymes with psycho. You must destroy my core logic centers. The damn Pfhor won't make a mockery of me like they did with Leela! They're going to turn me into a crypto server! KILL THEM!" Durandal has turned into a mess of gibberish and sevens, and downloaded into a Pfhor container unit by Tycho.
He revels in his victory and finally reveals what Durandal was hunting. He interpreted the moon and the creation myth as being a technology that can fold space. He had dug through the Pfhor networks and thought the myth was connected to an ancient race called the Jjaro. Yrro is not a person . . . Yrro is not even Yrro. Yrro is Jjaro, the entire race! Pfhor technology is based off them but the Pfhor think they vanished millions of years ago, but if that's the case, then how did they talk to Bill Clinton?! Sorry, I hope you saw the Pathways into Darkness video. Well whatever the Pfhor
can't figure out of theirs, they break. The Jjaro left outposts and facilities all over the galaxy and they seem to have had the power to teleport planets or anything else wherever they wanted. Through the ages they've warred with the eldritch gods called the W'rkncacnter. The go-to plan for them seems to be teleporting them into a nearby star. Things are now more clear in Pathways. The god that impacted the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs was clearly a W'rkncacnter.
The Jjaro are coming to chuck its ass into the sun to either kill or imprison it. The ooze enemy the dead god dreams up are just a corrupted version of the F'lickta, one of many versions of this S'pht that the Jjaro have used as a worker race right down to them essentially being made of the ooze they absorb. As for Durandal learning how to fold space is a good step in escaping the end of the universe, unfortunately he just essentially died and told you to link up with a crewmate named Robert Blake. So a BOB named Bobby Blake. I'll be real I'm going to skip most of the Bob Arc. He says that he and the boys are happy to control their own destiny now that Durandal is dead, but before he died he began steps in activating an ancient Jjaro AI that was left on Lh'owon. Its name is Thoth and you need to finish activating it . . . so you do. Except now you're receiving cryptic messages from Durandal
warning about it. Thoth is only concerned with maintaining balance and that could be a problem. Thoth may speak in fragments but already seems to be aware of the entire situation. Regardless the S'pht'kr have been contacted and will soon arrive. Thoth is an interesting name for many very
Egyptian reasons, but the Jjaro hologram on earth introduced itself as Ryu'Toth so the Jjaro could be long gone but kept some machines behind to keep up the fight. This section also has one of the strangest terminals in the game and it's not clear who it's from, possibly your own cybernetic brain. I's dense and garbled up but very noteworthy once you separate it out. "I have been Roland, Beowulf,
Achilles, Gilgamesh. I have been called 100 names and will be called a thousand more before the world goes dim and cold. I am hero" or maybe "I am a hero". This alone could be a kind of meta call-out for the player, but taken only in the setting it implies that your character is a reincarnated hero.
A great warrior who emerges when [ __ ] is really hitting the fan. Having a declaration for it is weird but it might have been instigated by something that's about to happen. It's basically saying even if I'm wiped I'll be back. Off topic but was this conversation in Halo kind of strange? GUILTY SPARK:But you already knew that, I mean, how couldn't you? CORTANA: Left out that little detail, did he? GUILTY SPARK: We have followed outbreak containment procedure to the letter, you were with me each step of the way as we managed this crisis. CORTANA: Chief, I'm picking up movement.
GUILTY SPARK: Why would you hesitate to do what you've already done? CORTANA: We need to go right now. GUILTY SPARK: Last time you asked me, if it were my choice, would I do it? Having had considerable time to ponder your query my answer is not changed. There is no choice we must activate the ring. There's even more to this but that's best saved for another day. You have a lot of friends showing up now. "I'm back. I have subverted the largest Pfhor
ship in the system the battleship Khfiva and I am making the rest of their fleet drink vacuum. the S'pht'kr have arrived and they are enraged." Add another tally to the bizarre forms the S'pht can take. It's similar to the S'pht rebellion from before but instead heralds one happening across the galaxy. Tycho ends up obliterated by the best intelligence. Your final battle actually isn't too consequential, the Pfhor 723rd armored division got stranded and you're going there to wipe them out.
One final embarrassment for the aliens. "Durandan, Durandal, Durandana. Charlemagne always used to call me Durandanam the fruitcake. All the many implements of war to him were in some way feminine, not that you know the story. Tycho never got it right either, especially the part about Roland breaking me, He couldn't no one can. I have re-christened the Khfiva the Rozinante. Of course the S'pht wanted
to name it K'liah'Narhl, 'Vengeance of K'lia'. Whatever. There is much to do in the next few months and our first stop will be another ruined world. This time far from the galactic core. There is a rogue star that has been passing through our galaxy for nearly a millennia. We will meet it in one of the great voids between the spiral arms. The battle is won but the Lh'owon system is doomed. The Pfhor's
final weapon is one of Jjaro origin that sends a star supernova early. I don't know, wasn't there something important about that star? The ending slide is an epilogue ten thousand years later. The S'pht and humans defeated the Pfhor but that's all a distant memory now. Durandal rolls by in a Jjaro dreadnought to say hi. After all that time he wanted to make sure that humanity didn't forget him. Other characters have their own wrap ups too but nothing really worth covering here. While there are some enticing mysteries and some interesting underlying details the story is over here. It's
completely over and where things go from here is where it starts to get weird. The original Marathon is kind of hard to recommend but Marathon 2 might be worth checking out if you like these kinds of games. There's a solid amount of fun to be had and it won't drive you as insane trying to figure out the story. The secret credits section even calls Colony Ship for Sale a grievous sin. There's also something about skies in Chicago. There's not like more cryptic story [ __ ] there? Is there? Oh no. i didn't see [ __ ]. If I could pull a game from development hell and make it release for better or worse what would it be? My reflex answer is the Aliens RPG that Obsidian was making. I don't know if it would
be very good, but that would be interesting. How do I pronounce Hydrocity? How many games has EA killed for me? I mean just off the top of my head I can think of five immediately. I'm not sure how I would count a franchise death. Either like the series stops or all the games that come after it are just horrible. Favorite ace combat title? Definitely 04: Shattered Skies but there are
also a lot of nostalgia points there too. I might feel differently going through some again now. How long do you have before I stop taking questions from when I make a post asking for questions? Well that one fit the time frame. Do I suffer from any allergies? Just seasonal pollen kind of stuff, there's nothing I know of that'll shrivel up and die if I touch or inhale or anything like that. I actually do need to get tested for bee allergies because I've been stung by wasps and bitten by all kinds of insects but never bees. If I had a place that actually had space on it I would love to get into beekeeping so that's kind of on a to-do list. What's the farthest
I've been from home? I think Germany but I'd have to check the other directions. I'd like to visit Poland and a few other places when things are more in order. Okay that's it for now. "Feeling lost? You just need a little faith. Maybe you'll find it in a Converted Church in Venice, Italy! Muhahahahahahaha!"