Jeremy Jastrzab
28 Aug, 2007

XBLA Marathon: Durandal Review

360 Review | Run like it's 1995.
A lot of the new fans that were brought on board by Metal Gear Solid, were completely ignorant of the fact that a series called Metal Gear existed beforehand. Similarly, a lot of the current Halo fans are mostly likely unaware that before Halo, there was Marathon. Marathon was a science fiction trilogy of first-person shooters for the Mac from 1994 to 1996 - essentially the Mac's answer to Doom. All three games were developed by Bungie, who eventually went on to make Halo. For whatever reason, the second game in the trilogy, Marathon 2: Durandal has now been ported over to the Xbox Live Arcade download service.

Originally released in 1995, Marathon: Durandal as it is now known, was also the only game in the series to have been released on Windows as well. We suggest that this may have played a part (albeit a small one) in the second game of a trilogy coming before (or possibly instead) of the first to XBLA. The game is set seventeen years after the first title but can be played without knowledge of what happened before. Essentially, you play a security officer that has been sent to an alien planet to help stave off an alien attack, though in reality, the story is much more complex.

Never underestimate the old school.

Never underestimate the old school.
It’s the story that makes not only Marathon: Durandal, but the whole Marathon series. The second title in particular, has an AI character named Durandal calling the shots. While you never hear him, the well written dialogue is able to paint a somewhat deep yet disturbing character. Furthermore, the story is conveyed through your interactions with Durandal and through a series of computer terminals. It’s really fascinating, and once you start getting into the mysterious themes that are hidden in this 12-year-old package you'll find it is worth the time that it takes to explore. While the same idea may have been done a few times since, Marathon: Durandal still does it pretty well.

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s a little different to room clearers of the past. Progression is driven by the need to find the computer terminal, be given an objective, complete it and then return. These objectives range from exploring the whole map to eliminating all enemies, all the way through to more complex objectives such as infiltrating closed off temples. Split up into nine chapters and nearly thirty levels, the game is very lengthy for an XBLA arcade title. However, it’s pretty much an untouched port of the original. In fact, the Arcade restrictions mean that some of the customisation options from the original game aren't present.

Yeah baby!

Yeah baby!
The controls have been well adapted to a game pad over a keyboard, while the rest of the game is a throwback to early FPS conventions. These include the story telling (as mentioned above), free looking (unlike in Doom, where you couldn’t look up or down) and arguably the best one, duel wielding. It hasn’t been done much since, but after playing Marathon: Durandal, it makes us really wish that more games would allow us to duel-wield shotguns. These elements all come together extremely well and even after 12 years, the game is an enjoyable one. The combat can get quite intense and there are a heap of secrets to be discovered.

There is one inherent issue with the gameplay. That is that it is very easy to get lost, and the game does very little to help you out in these cases. Obviously, this is symptomatic of games from that era, when there wasn't as much variety in the graphics, but it can get quite frustrating when you’ve missed out on a solitary switch and you’re left to wander around almost aimlessly until you’ve found what you’re meant to do. If you’re willing to spend the time, it’s probably not an issue. However, for those after a quick romp, Marathon: Durandal probably isn’t too suitable.

Marathon: Durandal was one of the pioneering multiplayer FPS titles, both on a competitive and co-operative front, and was one of the first games to allow online voice chat. While it will be nowhere near as endearing as modern multiplayer and it looks a tad stiff in this day and age, it provides some interesting insights into the origins of many FPS conventions. You can play with up to eight players and Durandal has a few still unique conventions and modes. Unfortunately, we had a bit of trouble finding games, as it seems that there aren’t a lot of people playing right now.

That could be dangerous.

That could be dangerous.
Graphically, the game has been re-jigged for HD sets and had the framerate cranked up. The environments are in full 3D but models are sprite based, and backgrounds are pre-rendered. Still, the game manages to retain a unique style among the simple geometry and sometimes repetitive landscapes. There have been reports of players having motion sickness while playing. This has been attributed by many to the rapid framerate, and we found that in confined spaces, the blur of the textures could be disconcerting, but we also found that it was less bothersome the more that we played. The game has an excellent opening theme, but not much music otherwise, which was disappointing. The sound effects were ahead of their time, and are still great all-round and provide a wonderful atmosphere, particularly as an enemy hits you or flowing water is nearby, but there are also lot of sparse moments.

Marathon: Durandal is one of the best value games on the XBLA. You could spend more time playing through this than Halo, and at a fraction of the cost. There are aspects of the game that are archaic and it’s not a good game in short bursts, however, it provides a mysterious and lengthy experience for anyone who is willing to immerse themselves (and get around the weird pronunciations). It’s a shame that the multiplayer isn’t very populated as it can be good for some old school fun. You may want to download the demo first though, just to see how you are affected by the game’s framerate.
The Score
If you can get past the potential motion sickness, you've got a simple but lengthy and engrossing adventure with Marathon: Durandal. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 years ago
It is hard to justify the purchase though, with Bungie releasing the games for free and all.
6 years ago
Not really - the XBLA package is a much, much MUCH nicer front end than A1. Well worth the asking price.
6 years ago
drinniol wrote
Not really - the XBLA package is a much, much MUCH nicer front end than A1. Well worth the asking price.
Really? Hmm, I was slightly tempted by the four player split screen, but other than the game being freely available legally, the review says its hard to find players, which of course would suck icon_sad.gif

But damnnn those new sprites are sexy..
6 years ago
Unfortunately I'm one of those people who actually gets sick from playing this game.. Actually this is the only game that has ever gave me a headache and feel dizzy just from the visuals. I knew I should have tried the demo before buying the full thing.. Oh well at least I got to play a few levels, maybe I could do like 10 mins at a time or something..
6 years ago
The default sensitivity is way higher than it was in the original game, and they turned off the view bob. If you drop the sensitivity a couple of notches and turn on the bobbing, you'll find it makes you feel a lot less sick.

I find the most frustrating thing is that they've modified the drone's hitbox slightly. My shots often pass through the bottom tip of them. Other than that, great game, though admittedly I was a fan of this back when it was new.
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