Archive for the ‘ Marathon ’ Category

Impressions: Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary: Colon

I walk through the ancient, alien halls, mesmerized by glowing symbols I can’t even begin to fathom.

My health is low–fortunately, my shield’s recharged, but still, I’ll need to find health soon. Emerging out of the alien hallways and onto a bridge, a chilly wind blasts my suit. I don’t know how the marines can stand it. The next thing that blasts me is a plasma charge. Shit. Hunters. I could handle them on their own, but they’ve got a dozen grunts, an elite, and three or four jackals backing them up… AND they’re on another bridge.

I die a good ten times or so, trying various tactics that don’t involve engaging the hunters directly, but they (or errant grenades and a hellstorm of needles take me down every time). I just haven’t got the health to survive this alone.

…and then I remember I’ve got a rocket launcher.

The first one goes down on the first hit. The second one, though, manages to take one hit to the face and keep firing. I mop up the grunts and jackals with a few well-placed plasma grenades, and I think I’ve taken out the Elite with one too, so I spin around, fire another rocket into the hunter, reload my rocket launcher–and something hits my shield.

Oh shit.

The Elite charges me, and I empty my remaining twenty-eight rounds into his face. A few melee hits and it’s over–I’ve got just one bar of health and no shield left. I take his plasma rifle and enter the room at the other end of the bridge. In the ensuing firefight, I manage to take out another dozen grunts and several jackals by doing a lot of strafing and weaving, but fail to find any health or ammo. Looks like I’m stuck with plasma for now.

An inviting light grabs my attention. I turn into a small hallway where I notice a shimmer and glow. It’s an invisible elite, but it must have its back turned. Slowly, I creep up on it and punch the creature in the back of the skull, killing it. A second Elite, which I hadn’t noticed (on account of it being invisible) begins firing on me, but a second or two of concentrated fire and he goes down. At the end of the hallway is another big room. I either smile or sneer–I’m not sure which; the onslaught of nostalgia, delight, and the “COME AT ME BRO!” feeling

I know this room.

It’s got Hunters in it.

The first one doesn’t even see me–probably for the best. I choose the overkill option and fire a rocket into his red spot. Thinking I spot the second one out of the corner of my right eye, I dodge to the left–and right into him. The ensuing “OHSHIT! RUUUUUUUUN!” feeling leaves me joyfully giddy. I dash back the way I came and flank the Hunter, but he spins and takes my second rocket in the face. He lumbers after me, but I flank again and go caveman style, using my rocket launcher as a club and bashing him in the weak spot for massive damage.

A few marine corpses–I pause to honor them–provide me with a new MA5B Assault Rifle, just over five hundred rounds of ammo, some grenades, and some new rockets. Then all at once I’m overwhelmed by a wave of jackals, but they’re stuck in the hallway with me blocking the entrance. I hem them in with my assault rifle and toss a grenade. They’re so busy taking cover that they don’t react until it’s too late.

The smell of burnt chicken fills the air, but I don’t have any time to take it all in. Assuming that the explosion killed me as well, a grunt rounds the corner to investigate.

He discovers a few bullets just as they enter his face.

Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary is a game that reminds me what fun is all about.

Because of the variation found in guns, AI, and the level design, the gameplay is almost never the same. “Play how you want!” the game seems to say, “we respect you for it!” You also get a great health system that doesn’t push you into cover right away, like most games these days, and you have these enemies with projectiles that are slow enough to dodge. Right now, I’m playing 343 Guilty Spark, and The Flood feel superb. I don’t actually know why anyone hates them. Just sidestep them like they’re projectiles, and suddenly they become super fun! I could swear the combat’s been tweaked. Some bits are harder than I remember them, while The Flood seem a tad bit easier–you can kill Flood combat forms with greater ease than even a blue Elite.

Gripes right now… well, look at that first picture! It’s so… busy. Sometimes, the graphics feel too busy, basically. Also, the people seem proportioned a bit weird, and I can’t even LOOK at Johnson, while Keyes’ lip sizes jump all over the place, and Cortana twitches around a bit.

…but you know what? Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary is great so far. I’m having a blast. I’m able to tell STORIES about my gameplay experience. The AI, the guns, the levels… even the controls make everything feel perfect!

This is, quite possibly, the best game purchase I’ve made all year. I haven’t had this much fun with a game in so long–possibly since Marathon! I’ve plunged through SHODAN’s corridors again this gen, I’ve re-beat Half-Life 2, I’ve played Tropico 4, Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Arkham Asylum (finally!), and Gears of War 3 but I haven’t played a single game as fun as Combat Evolved in a long, long time.

It feels great.

Apologies for the poor writing. I’m ultra-sleepy.

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The Most Important Games I Have Ever Played, Part I

I’m not sure when I “got” it.

You have to understand: it wasn’t like most games. It wasn’t that simple. It did not make itself readily available to the player, but, at the same time, it never went out of its way to obfuscate anything either. I don’t think there are any other games I’ve played that have done this; generally, when I play a game, everything is quite easy to understand, and there’s no need to go through it a second time. It’s all up-front and obvious. On the off-chance that I do replay the game, I almost never pick up anything new–I got it all the first time. Honestly, playing video games is the same experience you’re likely to have when watching a simple adventure movie. They’re not deep or anything, just fun.

Oh sure, if you play an RPG, maybe your choices will effect what you learn throughout the course of the game, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I speak of the deeper details, of going back and thinking about the game and spotting all the references, messages, hints, and clues that it has to offer. Generally, games don’t do this that much. If they do, it’s usually pretty blatant. Portal and Bioshock, both released within a few weeks of each other in late 2007, made some attempts towards metatextuality, and everyone and their grandmother latched onto those two, believing themselves so clever for having noticed.

This game isn’t like that–not exactly.

I’m talking about Marathon: Infinity, and if you’re scratching your head right now in befuddlement, don’t worry, because most people haven’t heard of it. Perhaps you’ve heard of Halo: Combat Evolved? Maybe you heard that when Halo was announced for the Xbox, Steve Jobs was very angry. Ever wondered why?

Gaming was never quite popular on Macs. Even with all the love the iDevices are getting, Macs still don’t have that many games, and it’s quite possible that they never will. That said, once upon a time, there was a little developer called Bungie, and before Halo, they developed one of the most important titles in video game history: Marathon. Among other things, Marathon has been credited with the introduction of the vertical rocket jump, vertical look in first person shooters (adding verticality to FPS gameplay, which is one of the most important elements), and, apparently, the popularization of LAN gameplay. You don’t hear about it that much because, hey, it was on a Mac, and id was making bigger contributions with Quake and Doom, but it definitely influenced video gaming for the better.

It’s unfortunate, then, that one thing Marathon did extremely well, few game developers (even Bungie itself) have managed to match, much less exceed. I am talking, of course, about storytelling.

As I’ve said before, people seem to prefer that FPSes be the dumbest games out there. Marathon, particularly the final installment, is direct proof that FPSes aren’t just smart, but some of the smartest games ever produced. Sure, you can get into deathmatching, and yeah, that can appeal to anybody, from the lowest common denominator on up, but if you want, there’s a great story to be found. You’re a super-soldier in hiding, playing the part of a guard on board the Marathon, a colony ship that was once Deimos, one of the two Martian moons. After an attack on the Marathon by a collective of alien slavers (with histories that are interesting stories in and of themselves) in a universe thought populated only by humanity, you’re tasked by one of the Marathon’s three artificial intelligences to rid the colony of the alien infestation.

What follows is a plot of intrigue, betrayal, and madness. Your only “friends,” the AIs, are either going rampant (a sort of insanity unique to artificial intelligences), or, in Durandal’s case, have been rampant the whole time*. If we were to compare the three most famous AI villains in video gaming to states of mental compromise, GLaDOS would be very drunk, SHODAN should be locked up for her own good, and Durandal is the Joker at the height of his game.

Allegiances shift more fluidly than blood spilled into a river. Deaths are faked. Cultures are freed. Impostors are revealed. Time is traveled. Pandora’s box is opened.

Marathon is everything.

It’s got drama (Tycho’s rivalry with Durandal), adventure (escaping a structure as it floods with lava), humor (BOBs stripping naked to avoid detection by the simulacrums), action (the entirety of all three games is basically nonstop action) and, to top it off, metatextual criticism. The game’s smart–while it isn’t on par with, say, Finnegan’s Wake or The Wasteland in terms of its ability to take culture and remix it, Marathon, particularly Infinity, makes every other video game ever made look like See Spot Run in comparison. There is so much you can discover while playing Marathon; each word seems carefully considered, each message is layered with multiple meanings and hidden references. From obscure scientific papers and Greek myth (to the not-so-obscure, like the title) to tons of science fiction and horror books and authors, Marathon covers so many topics it would be impossible for me to cover them all.

I suppose it’s a good thing that the Marathon Story Page exists, then? Here, have a taste of Marathon.

When I began, I mentioned something it took me a while to get. Beware, MASSVE spoilers follow (but first, a picture!):

“[He/she/it] was far ahead of [his/her/its] time” is a fairly trite phrase these day, but it’s true of Marathon: Infinity. If you remember, I mentioned that a bunch of people felt they were very clever for spotting the rather obvious messages (this is not to disparage them in any way; Valve and Irrational did a great job with those games, and everyone ought to play them) of the games. Well… Marathon Infinity did it eleven years earlier.

The premise of Marathon Infinity is that a dreadful monster, a Lovecraftian embodiment of chaos itself, was imprisoned in the heart of a star millions of years ago and is about to be released by an insane Pfhor general. Throughout the course of the game, you fail many times to prevent this from happening. After each failure, you are sent back in time to prevent this from happening. Your oneiric journey takes you to many strange places, including Durandal’s (or perhaps your own) memories. All the while, Durandal is trying to escape the inevitable collapse of the universe and escape, because “escape would make us god” (this is a nod to Marvel’s Galactus character and his origins).

Only… there’s a bit more to it than that.

Durandal sees it at the end. It’s the final screen–the game’s over and you’ve saved the universe. He reaches out to you–and by you, I don’t mean the character you play, I mean you, the player. You can read his final words here.

You see, he wanted to escape his reality–that of the game. This could all be hogwash, I’ll freely admit, but I don’t believe it is. You, the player, are the game’s destiny. You are the one who brings about the Marathon universe’s final moments. Throughout the game, Durandal belittles you, telling you how worthless you are, but by the end, he comes to understand the nature of your relationship. He held no power over you, and, in the final moments of the game, he realizes that he could never escape the game, unleashing his considerable powers on a universe greater than his own.

I don’t think a single game has done metatextuality better than Marathon did. You owe it to yourself to play this trilogy.

It saddens me to know that Greg Kirkpatrick, apparently the lead writer for Marathon: Infinity, isn’t still out there writing games. Looking at the few scraps of information we have about his next project, Duality, which, sadly, never came to fruition, I can’t help but think that it would have transformed video games to the same degree that Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Unreal, and Half-Life did, all around the same time. If it were possible, I’d gladly trade half a dozen members of the industry’s top talent to have him back. But, hey, maybe he’s happy not making video gams; last I heard, he was a high school teacher or something.

Oh well.

Well, that’s it for today. But before I finish, I leave you with this: Marathon’s source code was released by Bungie some time ago. Enterprising enthuisiasts have developed Aleph One, a way of running the Marathon games on modern PCs. If you want to play the Marathon games, you can, completely free of charge. Have fun learning why id’s shotguns mean absolutely nothing (dual wielding shotguns that reload in a manner your mind cannot begin to comprehend). You’re welcome.

*(i did it i did it i brought all this here all them here.  our friends with three eyes and their toys and their cyborg pets and their computers.  i did it i did it.  i saw them i saw them far away not looking our way and i called them here i called them here)