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Marathon Trilogy

Entry updated 8 May 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1994). Bungie Studios (BS).

The Marathon Trilogy is a series of First Person Shooters with a common player character, a twenty-eighth-century Cyborg security officer. The first game, Marathon (1994 BS, Mac; 2011 iOS) designed by Alex Seropian, Jason Jones, begins with an attack by the alien Pfhor on the Marathon, a gigantic interstellar colony ship, constructed from the Martian moon of Deimos. The player must attempt to defeat the Pfhor, alternately aided and opposed by the ship's three AIs, some of which have been coopted by the aliens. Eventually, it is possible to kill the Pfhor responsible for controlling a slave race, who then revolt, ending the game. Marathon is most interesting for its depiction of the amusingly sarcastic and partially insane AI Durandal, who ultimately proves to be the player's only reliable ally. Marathon 2: Durandal (1995 BS, Mac; 1996 Win; rev vt Marathon: Durandal, 2007, XB360) designed by Jason Jones is set 17 years later. It begins with the revelation that Durandal captured the Pfhor ship after the end of the first game and escaped, having forced the player character into a form of Suspended Animation. Durandal has now awakened the player to help it search the ruins of a war-ravaged world originally inhabited by a race known as the S'pht. The AI proves to be a menacing and somewhat unhinged master, forever unwilling to reveal what it knows or plans. Eventually it emerges that Durandal intends to prevent a Pfhor invasion of Earth, a goal achieved by the player's activation of another AI belonging to a Forerunner race. However, the Pfhor trigger a nova, finally destroying the S'pht homeworld. Super Marathon (1996 BS, Pippin) is a combined version of Marathon and Marathon 2.

Marathon: Infinity (1996 BS, Mac) is perhaps the most interesting game in the trilogy. Its somewhat cryptic plot revolves around an apparent Changewar between Durandal and an immensely powerful entity released when the S'pht's sun went nova. The player is catapulted into at least three alternate timelines, including one in which their character was not captured by Durandal, but is instead controlled by another AI from the Marathon, which is itself enslaved by the Pfhor. Ultimately, the player can restore the reality that existed at the end of Marathon 2.

Gameplay in the Marathon Trilogy focuses on well crafted combat mechanics and a wide variety of mission objectives; the series has also been popular for player versus player combat in temporary Online Worlds. However, the Marathon games are significantly more concerned with story than their better-known contemporary, Doom (1993), a trait they share with the first System Shock (1994). A great deal of embedded narrative material (see Interactive Narrative) is presented in various journals and logs which the player can find, adding an additional layer of gameplay.

Related works: Marathon 2 was made open source in 2000, and became the freely available Aleph One (2000, Lin, Mac, Win). The Mac versions of the entire trilogy were released into the public domain in 2004, meaning that Aleph One can now be used to run any of the Marathon games. [NT]


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