#312 Marathon Infinity

Posted: 11th January 2015 by Jeroen in Games
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394th played so farMarathon_Infinity_game_boxGenre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Mac
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Bungie Software
Publisher: Bungie Software

Some games on the list draw our eye simply because of its lineage. Before they became famous from the Halo series (and before they were bought by Microsoft), they worked on two series. The strategy series Myth feels less relevant to their later games, and will be coming back later, but the Marathon series seem more important.

An initially Apple Macintosh-only series (we played on Windows thanks to a later fan port of the engine, while the game is available for free now), this FPS should hopefully show part of the development of the original system seller Halo.

Our Thoughts

Recently, when discussing Aliens vs Predator, we talked about storytelling in FPS games. Marathon Infinity here feels like it has some links to the Marine campaign in that campaign, although (if possible) using even more inference and smaller clues. It starts off with you arriving on a space station or space ship (it’s unclear which – and the System Shock reference almost feels deliberate, considering how up to a point, the settings feel the same in this prologue).

The game is, of course, quite tricky, with a few non-standard behaviours for its genre (as it is still early) and some odd choices for mechanics. As odd as it sounds, at this point jumping in FPS games hasn’t been “invented” and the fix to allow for it here is to allow you to walk on air – run and the game just lets you bridge gaps in the air to an unrealistic-seeming extent, as long as they’re on the same level. Although there may have been an explanation (the game itself doesn’t really do them), but here is just seems like a bad way to handle an annoying problem.

On the other hand, the documentation mentions some levels have different physics, so they may change this. Here, though, it would be badly communicated, as there seems no in-game reason for this facility.

With a general lack of text or long exposition, the jumping between game levels is somewhat disorienting – the first two levels move you from a spaceship to a cave system. While there’s probably a reason explained in the manual – apparently there’s time travel involved – at this point it felt rather arbitrary.

What it comes down to – with the graphics still being relatively simple compared to what we’re used to – is that the game has an interesting setting and sets a step forward in storytelling, but it seems like Bungie is still taking its time figuring out how an FPS should work, what you can do and how you set a story in this world. Its branching paths and indirect story are commendable, but it still feels like it’s missing something.

Final Thoughts

An absolute oddity, Marathon Infinity is an interesting experiment in world building and story telling using the limited means the design affords it. While it makes for an occasionally impenetrable game – finding my way took quite a while from early on – the wonder and mystery work incredibly well.

As a shooter, it’s an early enough example that it feels like it has its flaws. There’s a general lack of vertical movement – sure, you go up and down, but rarely it matters going over, and shooting up and down is tricky. The jumping is especially weird. Playing the game, then, is worth it mostly because of the experience its world provides, less so its mechanics.