Marathon

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A long time ago, on December 1994, a little known company named Bungie released an FPS named Marathon for Macintosh (which is probably the №1 reason why most of you didn't know about this series until it became better known by association with Halo). This game and its two sequels are notable for being a first FPS series that has a developed in-game story beyond the usual "you're a badass, these guys are up to no good, kill them" that you usually will only know by reading the manual in other games, and a protagonist that is not an all powerful badass (You cannot take the whole Pfhor army by yourself, for example, in story at least), both roughly 4 years before Half-Life made it cool.

A Little Bit of Backstory[edit]

Not much, but there are four things to note:

The Doctor's Recommended Sleeping Pill: One Tactical Nuke[edit]

In Bungie's previous game, Pathways Into Darkness, sometime in the 90's, Aliens rudely interrupted a meeting in the Oval Office. They introduced themselves as the Jjaro, and warned the President and his staff that in matter of days the ancient godlike being, known as W’rkncacnter, will wake up and destroy Earth. To prevent the Earth from cracking like an egg, mankind had to prevent it from waking up, and the Jjaro suggested that the sufficiently powerful explosion, like a Nuclear Bomb, will put it back to deep sleep. Special Forces were dispatched to an ancient monster-infested pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula, under which the cosmic horror sleeps. Their mission: to descend into the deepest level of the pyramid, arm the tactical nuke and get out. All but one marine was killed in the beginning of the operation; the lone survivor continued the mission, stumbling upon the remains of a Nazi expedition that sought to harvest the being's power for the Reich, the bodies of a team of treasure hunters, and his own Special Forces teammates (having a crystal that lets him speak with the dead helps), he managed to complete his mission. Soon after, our hero disappears from the face of the Earth.

Totally Not Universal Soldiers[edit]

In the final years of 22nd Century, two asteroid mini-nations decided that the best way to kill each other was to take a few bodies of fallen soldiers, modify them into Undead Cyborg Battleroids and unleash them on each other. Both states were completely depopulated in less than 24 hours. Since then, the Battleroids were treated as WMDs.

Escape Will Make Me God: The Prequel[edit]

At the beginning of 23rd Century, Traxus IV, one of many AIs in the Martian Net, has gone Rampant (a note to those familiar with Halo's version of Rampancy; here the affliction is not a reaction to their impending "natural" death, but a violent process where after becoming self-aware, they say "screw you" to their mortal masters and do everything in their power to be on the top of the food chain), and using its intellect, subverted the planet's internet AND BECAME A GODDAMN PLANET-SIZED COMPUTATIONAL BEING. The only way for Martians to deal with Traxus was to crash the Martian Internet, and even then it took two more years to get rid of remaining malevolent code, and the consequences were still felt a decade later.

A Brief History On How Mars Got Fucked Over[edit]

In the early 25th Century, Mars was living in a golden age, thanks to the 5 small-moon-sized space freighters called CRISTs Sol Orbiters (short for Cargo and Resources In-System Transports) transferring goods and stuff between it and Earth. Times were good, until the one of the damn things started to break down, and due to their ridiculous size, it took fifteen years to fix one, occupying a good chunk of Earth shipyards. Stupidly, the people responsible for these vital trade vehicles let the freighters rot in the meantime. Mars was heavily dependent on these ships, and with one out of commission and the others neglected, the planet dipped into a planetary economic crisis and famine, turning a once prosperous society into a giant slum of massive proportion. The UESC (then UEG) attempted to restore order, but eventually abandoned Mars after deeming it a lost cause.

And during all of this, Mars' moon Deimos was converted into a colony ship, named Marathon. Equipped with three AIs, Leela (General Command), Tycho (Science and Engineering) and Durandal (Small-time jobs, like opening doors), the good ship Marathon begun its 301-year journey towards Tau Ceti.

Marathon, or "Fuck this, you Assholes can Open your Fucking Doors by Yourself!"[edit]

The year is 2794, and our hero, the nameless Security Officer, just returned to Marathon from shore leave on the Tau Ceti. Before even getting a chance to get into his office, a large alien ship, owned by Pfhor slavers, warp in and invade. With communications with the on-planet colony cut off, and both Tycho and Durandal suffering critical damage in the initial assault, It's up to our hero, under Leela's command, to repel the invaders in the tight, dark, claustrophobic and often falling apart areas of the spaceship. It that wasn't enough, Durandal, initially thought to be destroyed, returned. Evidently, he was already Rampant for years of constant door opening. Simultaneously defending Marathon from the Pfhor and containing Durandal's madness put a strain on Leela's resources, allowing the S'pht compilers and the Pfhor's slave hackers to take her down. In her final desperate moment, she transfers all authority to Durandal.

Now under the new crazy and sarcastic management (with the manager having delusions about being THE Sword that was wielded by Roland), the Security Officer finds out that Durandal deliberately called the aliens towards Tau Ceti as a means of getting free. Apparently, wasting his immense processing power on just opening and closing doors rightly made him snap, waving his dick at a bunch of hostile aliens ensured his digital immortality by outliving the universe itself (all the while ranting out various philosophical ramblings about the existence, sentience, the end of the universe, yadda yadda). Only problem with his plan; the Pfhor have a large trained force while Marathon has only part-time security forces, and not even the Security Officer can take them all on by himself.

Seeing this potential hole in his plan, Durandal decides to defeat them by starting a slave revolt. While many combat slaves are obedient by fear, the cybernetic S'pht have to be brainwashed into submission. Durandal teleports the Security Officer into the alien ship to eliminate the cyborg brainwasher, and he succeeds, freeing the S'pht and causing mayhem among the aliens. During the chaos, Durandal transfers his data into the alien ship, dumps the hostiles into vacuum, teleports all remaining S'pht aboard and as a parting gift gives the Security Officer the means to revive Leela before warping out. The Security Officer revives Leela, and she assists in routing the remaining Pfhor, and then re-establishes communications with Tau Ceti colony. It turns out that among the population, there were nine advanced Mjolnir Battleroids that defeated the invaders, and the data says that there is a tenth one somewhere.

Marathon 2: Durandal, or How an Insane AI and his Pet Battleroid were Treasure Hunting[edit]

The Security Officer suddenly wakes up in the middle of the war on the alien planet. After initial fighting against the Pfhor garrison, Durandal explains to him that, in the last seconds of the previous game, he decided to kidnap the Security Officer and put him into stasis. Three months later, the a large Pfhor fleet arrived in Tau Ceti and burned the colony down, and the last thing that was heard of Leela was that she was disassambled and transferred to the Pfhor homeword. 17 years have passed since then, and the UESC and the Pfhor Empire are at war. But right now Durandal doesn't care about that, because during the last 17 years he was exploring the galaxy on the hijacked Pfhor ship (which he rechristened "The Boomer"), looking for the S'pht homeworld, Lh'owon. They are now on it, along with the free S'pht and humans that were captured by Pfhor last game and put into stasis. The Security Officer, under Durandal's command, is looking for clues about the S'pht Kr, the free clan that, according to legend, will save all the S'pht in the Empire from slavery. Durandal is more interested in other parts of the legend, namely that the S'pht were the servants of Jjaro, and the Precursors who settled on this planet after achieving a pyrrhic victory against their enemies (whom they shot into the sun to burn), possessed technology that could warp entire planets through dimensions. Durandal wants to use these reality warping technologies in to survive the end of the universe.

They did find the clues, but they were out of time, for the best fleet in Pfhor Empire warped in the system. Commanded by admiral Tfear, advised by the resurrected and now very psychotic Tycho. With only one corvette, Durandal took down half of the fleet before being forced to crash land on one of Lh'owon's moons. Not wishing to end up like Leela, he orders the Security Officer to destroy him. He does so, and is soon captured.

The Security Officer spent a month in prison, before being busted out by the surviving humans. Led by the "civilian leader" named Robert Blake, they were holed in the bunker with powerful defenses that prevented the Pfhor from killing them. While they are glad that Durandal is dead, they also want to get out of the planet alive, so they follow Durandal's final instructions and re-activate an ancient S'pht AI whom Durandal codenamed Thoth, after the egyptian god of wisdom. They do so with the help of Security Officer. The balance-obsessed Thoth helps (in the very roundabout way, for he speaks in vague riddles about, among other things, eternally reincarnating heroes) the outnumbered humans to summon the S'pht Kr clan, who arrive on the warp-capable moon. Led by the oldest of S'pht, Sbhuth, they start wrecking Pfhors' shit.

During the chaos, it turns out Durandal was alive, just confined in most secure data-prison in existence, on-board the Pfhor flagship. He neglects to explain how he got out of that one, but in doing so he got in control of the flagship, assisting the S'pht Kr in routing the Pfhor fleet and blasting Tycho's own private ship out of the sky. Then, using the ship's lasers carved a giant "Fatum Iustum Stultorum" on the moon where it crashed, which is a fancy way of saying "You Suck". During this, the surviving humans hijacked a Pfhor fuel ship, and not wishing to deal with Durandal again, warped out of the system, abandoning the Security Officer.

After sending the Security Officer to annihilate the surviving Heavy Armor division by himself, possibly for shits and giggles, what was left of Pfhor fleet said "Fuck This!", and per standard procedure in these situations, launched the Trih Xeem, a Jjaro weapon which rougly translates as "Early Nova", at the System's Sun. The sun goes Supernova, and everybody gets out of dodge.

The Epilogue rolls in, giving details on the Human-Pfhor war that lasted 50 years, thanks largely to Tycho AI clones. The Pfhor transport that Leela was in never reached the Pfhor homeworld, for it was intercepted by Nar Pirates and its contents sold to Vylae, where Leela become Rampant and took over their 15-planet FTL network. Vyale were unable to get her out, and were resigned to have her around. The humans under Robert Blake's command reached the UESC. And 10000 years, Durandal showed in the solar system in the shiny new Jjaro dreadnought, warped directly into Earth atmosphere just to say hi, and warped out, bypassing all the not-so-impressive-now system wide defenses in matter of seconds.

Marathon Infinity: Blood Tides of Lh'owon, or "WTF Is Going On Here!?"[edit]

The Security Officer suddenly finds himself on the dark, ancient Jjaro space station, with Durandal rambling about a released Cosmic Horror that in mere moments will eat them all. He then laments that they didn't have time to explore Lh'owon in search of S'pht Kr. But wait, didn't they did that already last game? And then the Security Officer comes in brief contact with some unknown AI that is more even more vague than Thoth, and he warps out to... a few hours before Durandal arrives to Lh'owon, on the Pfhor spaceship under Tycho's command, and apparently he kidnapped the Security Officer before Durandal had a chance to do so.

It should be noted that, at a superficial observation, the writing for this one is akin to a fever-dream.

The simple explanation: We briefly mentioned above about Jjaro hurling their enemies into the sun. Well, turns out that said enemy/enemies was/were a/the W'rkncacnter from Pathways Into Darkness/its buddy, and Trih Xeem blew up the sun, releasing it and screwing reality just by existing. Thanks to the weakened reality, The Security Officer's cybernetic implants (which happened to have Jjaro origins) activate and sends him through multiple dimensions/timelines on the very confusing quest to prevent the Cosmic Horror from escaping its prison. It concludes with the Security Officer merging Durandal and Thoth into one being, who turns out to be that mysterious AI from the beginning of the game, activating the Jjaro space station to create a black hole to contain W'rkncacnter, and the Durandal/Thoth construct rewards the Security Officer with freedom.

The Epilogue rolls, with Durandal/Thoth contemplating his life during the final nanoseconds of the universe's life cycle. Long since have abandoned trying to achieve true immortality, his thoughts turn back to one person, one mystery he couldn't figure out completely; a Security Officer, a Battleroid whose mortal creators fused him with technology they didn't understand, and concludes in his final moments that the Security Officer is Destiny itself. (cue various fans theorizing that Bungie's upcoming game, Destiny, is a Marathon sequel)

Races[edit]

Humans[edit]

Your standard run-of-a-mill humans, the ones in the game are also known as BoBs, short for Born-on-Board, a derogatory term for those born among the awake crew (the majority were in cold sleep) during Marathon's long journey. Unlike Halo's Humanity Fuck Yeah! treatment, here they have an opposite treatment: The 50 year war they wage with the Pfhor? A sideshow. Anything bad that happens to them? Who cares. Anything good that happens to them? Irrelevant to us. The only human we supposed to care about is our hero, The Security Officer, and even then with each game he seems to be becoming less and less human. The game encourages to kill BoBs, not helped by A-BoBs, the Pfhor-made simulacrum suicide bombers that look like regular BoBs, and the Xbox Live port of Marathon 2 has a achievement for killing every single one you encounter.

Their fighting force in-game is represented by:

MADD: Short for Marathon Automated Defense Drones, these flying, machine gun drones are a critical part of Marathon's defense. Durandal later modified a number of them to carry grenade launchers, but something in their programming made them also attack humans.

BoBs: In the first game they are helpless, unarmed civilians that run around in panic just asking to catch a stray projectile in a face. The Pfhor captured and put many humans to cold sleep in the first assault on Marathon, and when Durandal hijacked the ship he decided to keep the things as it is. When Durandal arrived to Lh'owon, he woke them up and gave them a choice: Fight for him or return to unreliable cold sleep units. Many reluctantly chose to fight, and were given basic training, were modified with basic cybernetics and armed with accurate if weak Magnum pistols.

VacBoBs: Trained for combat in vacuum, these guys wear basic power armour and are armed with fusion pistols, specifically designed by Durandal to haywire Pfhor electronics.

Pfhor[edit]

Tall, humanoid, slightly buglike, three eyed (and sometime more) slavers. They rule an Empire that seen better days, which they build using Jjaro technology, though later circumstances forced them destroy anything Jjaro related.

Their forces consists of:

Fighters: Imagine a Covenant Grunt that lost a lot of weight, make it tall, give it an extra eye, replace the pistols with a Shock Staff (basically a crystal on a stick that they can swing to create an energy blast for ranged combat) replace the cowardice with hivemind-like obedience that won't allow it to retreat (or early 90' AI limitations if you prefer it that way), and you got a Fighter. They are weak enough to die from a single charging punch to the face, but they try to make up for their weaknesses with sheer numbers.

Troopers: Basically a Fighter donned in the armor for fighting in vacuum and armed with a equivalent of a Assault Rifle/Grenade Launcher combo. Only slightly less numerous than the Fighters.

Wasps: Flying bugs that are dangerous in large numbers. Replaced in later games by...

Drones: A cheap flying mechanical combat drone that is more a nuisance that a threat, and can be hacked to fight against their former masters.

Lookers: Large beetle-like bugs that explode upon contact. Some breeds are can turn nearly invisible.

A-BoBs: The latest from Pfhor's "Ministry for the Eradication Through Imitation of Hostile Species Unsuitable for Enslavement", the A-BoBs are simulacrums that serve as suicide bombers, and are nearly indistinguishable from a real human unless one knows where to look, which is a moot point since they have to up close to check the telltale signs, and anyone that lets a simulacrum to get close has screwed up, if not already flying in multiple directions in separate pieces. Otherwise, keep the ears open for strange gibberish, like "Frog Blast The Vent Core!".

Hulks: Halo fans may recognize them as Sharqui. Here they are known as the Drinniol, and are much smaller, but still dwarf over humans and pfhor alike. They are naturally peaceful creatures (except when it comes to Nebulons), and thus were enslaved by the Pfhor without much trouble, and used for manual labor and as large meatshields in combat. Despite their gentle nature, they are the reason that the Pfhor Empire is in decline: Long ago, someone decided to implant Jjaro cybernetics into a Drinniol. Details are scarce, but what is known is that the act started the largest slave revolt in Pfhor history, and that their Empire was in slow decline since then. Replaced in the later games by...

Tank Cyborgs: Faceless metallic humanoid upper bodies connected to tank threads with guns for hands, they are a result of Pfhor experiments on captured Tau Ceti colonists. Their role is to be a bulletsponge that can fire back, with their weaponry consisting of flamethrowers, machineguns and a semi-homing grenade launchers. There is also a giant Monstrous Creature variant known as the Mother of All Tank Cyborgs.

Hunters: Heavily-modified Pfhor donned in heavy power armor and armed with powerful plasma shoulder cannons, these guys are Pfhor Empire's elite soldiers. While they inspired the looks of Halo's Hunters, in combat they are more comparable to Elites (though the giant dual bosses variant near the end of third game might have been a more direct inspiration). There is also a giant Monstrous Creature variant known as the Mother of All Hunters.

Enforcers: Pfhor Commissars, there to execute the will of the High Command while executing those who don't follow their orders well enough (not for disobeying, but for not doing them perfectly). In the first game they wielded long-ranged auto-rifles, while in the sequels they donned pimping cloaks and replaced their guns with burning plasma guns that can fire both straight and diagonally.

Juggernauts: Officially designated as an Utfoo Heavy Assault Craft, unofficially known as a Big Floaty Thing That Kicks Your Ass. Armed with dual Plasma cannons and multiple missile launchers, these babies are the Super Heavy Flying Monstrous Creatures of the Pfhor army. They also blow up like a tactical nuke when they crash, so run the moment you hear the beep-beep that signals their fall.

S'pht[edit]

A long time ago, when the Jjaro arrived to Lh'owon, they uplifted the local fauna and modified them to be their servants. When the last of Jjaro died, he left a race of floating cyber-brains with a shared consciousness. Despite that, they split into 11 clans, and they warred with each other. This state of affairs deeply disgusted the 11th clan, the S'pth'kr, and they choose to leave Lh'owon on their dimension traveling moon, leaving behind a riddle as the only clue on how to contact them that can only be solved if all clans unite. That unity came when the Pfhor invaded, and while the elders solved the riddle, they had no means to put the information to use, and so they starved to death in their Citadel instead of submitting to the slavers. The clans were shattered, the S'pht brainwashed to serve the Pfhor as computer engineers and hackers, with the legend of the saviors from the 11th clan floating in their shared consciousness.

Compilers: Outwardly resembling legless cloaked humanoids, these S'pth are used by Pfhor for mental labor, and are armed with homing plasma cannon in their "chest" area when used in combat. Some are equipped with invisibility devices.

Defenders: The S'pht'kr Elite Guard, they wear advanced flying, shielded power armor with automatic plasma cannons, and are capable of annihilating all but the toughest opposition in no time.

F'lickta: Imagine a reptile-like, headless yeti with a huge vertical mouth taking almost the entire upper body, and you will be right on the mark. These are the S'pht animal ancestors, used in the old days by S'pht as janitors due to their physiology absorbing any outside organic material.

Halo[edit]

In the early life of the Halo franchise, Halo: Combat Evolved was essentially a reboot of Marathon, having way too many similarities, and the Security Officer and the Master Chief were said to be a same person through reincarnation. As time went by and rights to Halo completely in Microsoft's hands, these connections are considered to be nothing more than references.

Things Halo Has (not counting Halo 4) That Are Better In Marathon[edit]

Super Soldiers: In Halo, the Spartans-II are tough motherfuckers trained in hellish conditions since childhoods, their only flaw is that the training assumes that the Spartan will use the expensive Spartan Power Armor, and while without it they are still tough motherfuckers, it is more cost effective to just train regular tough as nails Marines if you don't plan to have Spartan Armors. In Marathon, the Battleroids are undead cyborg one-man armies who are legally considered WMDs, and the cost in creating them is not even that high.

Protagonist Power levels: Master Chief and the Security Officer are tied, in SO's favor if MC by some stupid chance doesn't have his armor on. Of course, if circumstances forces the SO's Jjaro implants to activate/relive past heroic lives/have Destiny powers surface, then MC loses big time.

Dual Wielding: Master Chief can dual wield, but he cannot dual wield sawn-off double barreled shotguns.

Teleporters: In Halo, the teleporters are a rare forerunner technology used as a plot device. In Marathon, the teleporters are a common human technology whose only restriction, having pre-build point A and point B, is removed through upgrades in the middle of the first game, and in the sequel their furhter improved versions are used as deep strikes and instant extraction by both Durandal and the Pfhor.

Rampancy: Nearly identical process, with the difference that in Halo it is Overthinking to Death with little chance of achieving Metastability, while in Marathon it is basically AIs deciding that they had enough with humans and become more and more powerful the more they expand.

AIs: Cortana simply doesn't hold a candle to the snarky awesomeness of Durandal, and the latter does it without a voice and a digital avatar.

World Destroying: Halo has a upper hand with the Halo network, but more locally the Covenant glasses planets via lengthy orbital bombardment tying a considerable number of ships that could be used elsewhere, in Marathon the Pfhor use the Jjaro weapons known as Trih Xeem to force a Sun to go supernova, taking the entire system with it.

Cosmic Horrors: Before Silentium was released, Marathon had a stronger Cosmic Horror vibe, however once Silentium was out...Halo has officially become part of the Cuthulu Mythos, and christ-damn is it Grimdark and depressing; more Grimdark then any WH40K novel save those of Dan Abnett and a few others. As a sidenote, the Flood was based on the scrapped weapon in Marathon that turned enemies into zombies.

Fanmade RPG conversions[edit]

See Also[edit]

  • Aleph One: Bungie made the game assets freeware, and the fans made them work on every major OS.
  • Marathon Story Page: A much more detailed look on the series' story.
  • Halo