A Look Back…
The year was 1994. Ace of Base dominated the music charts, while R. Kelly and Aaliyah were also in rotation, kicking off events that would ultimately make us wildly uncomfortable 25 years later. “Forrest Gump” had captured our hearts that year, and Keanu Reeves’ “Speed” hit theaters, the start of a career overhaul that would lead to his mega-stardom today. 1994 was the year “Seinfeld” rose to the top of the airwaves, and if memory serves, I was suffering from a repetitive stress injury brought about by a subscription to the “Victoria’s Secret” catalog that was being misdelivered to our mailbox. This was, after all, as good as it got for a 15-year-old boy back then.
1994 was also a great time to be a young gamer. Both the SNES and Genesis were still in full swing, with Mortal Kombat II making its way from the arcade to home console in September of that year. That game franchise was dominating conversations in an adult world that was starting to question if videogames caused violence, an argument that you may still hear going on today. PC gaming still felt somewhat niche at the time, with computer parts just starting to become readily available at local Wal-Mart stores across the U.S. What a time it was to be a PC gamer, though! The Warcraft franchise had just kicked off with its “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans” release, and the first-person shooter genre was rising to incredible heights with the release of Doom II.
Doom II. If you owned a computer in 1994, this was without a doubt the gaming experience that was to kick off your lifelong addiction. If you had to go back in time to prevent the PC Master Race from being born, you might just pick 1994 for this reason alone. “Stop Id Software, save the world!” Indeed, the PC was firmly establishing itself as THE platform for gaming.
You’d be forgiven, then, if you missed the wildly important thing going on in Apple’s Macintosh world. On December 21, 1994, developer and publisher Bungie released a lesser-known title called Marathon. Bungie is now much better known for other titles, you’ve probably played a “Halo” or “Destiny” game this week. And “Marathon” was the spiritual predecessor to them both.
The first-person shooters of the decade are incredibly fun, graphically intense, and offering little in the way of plot. Then suddenly, Bungie hits the market with a story-driven romp that also contained compelling multiplayer action. The game wins awards, spawns sequels, and redefines the genre for years to come. Is this the launch of “Destiny?” Nope. “Halo?” Surely, we’re talking about “Halo?” Nay-nay, good friend! This is, in fact, the story of “Marathon”.
In “Marathon,” you are a security officer on board a ship of the same name. The game has a compelling narrative, told predominantly via accessing artificial intelligence terminals on the ship. This feels like the egg of an idea later retooled as Cortana in “Halo” and Ghost in “Destiny 2.” The nameless player has 2 layers of health to maintain, shields and oxygen. Again, this feels very Bungie as both “Halo” and “Destiny” games have essentially the same convention. The story progression is linear, but there’s a lot to explore and resolution sometimes requires completing puzzles, not just defeating enemies.
If high-concept science fiction isn’t your bag, then hop over into “Marathon’s” fast-paced multiplayer. The game has deathmatch maps designed specifically for multiplayer combat and allows 8 players to duke it out over a local area network connection.
Even the name “Marathon,” or the “Halo” armor Spartan-II have the same historical feel as the look of the Guardians in “Destiny 2.” Bungie is like the all-time great bands of the world. There’s something at the core of a Bungie game that isn’t like anything else. It’s often imitated, sometimes out right copied, but never quite as good as the original product. And just like it’s fun to go back and listen to Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All” or Pearl Jam’s “Ten,” it’s definitely worth turning back the clock and reflecting back on “The Marathon Trilogy” of games.
“Marathon” ultimately won the Macworld Best Network Game in 1995. In 1996, Computer Gaming World rated it the 64th Best Game Ever. More recently, in 2012, Time named it one of the 100 Best Video Games Ever Released.
More Information For more information on these games, check out the following links…