Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Snickers

I finally finished Marathon 2 over the weekend, so it's time for a few thoughts on the series so far. Generally, I'm a little in two minds about Marathon. I think I prefer my shooters a bit more visceral. I like the straightforward blasting of Doom over Marathon's slightly slower paced, and a little more cerebral side. In Marathon, it really feels like the levels are the stars of the show, not the enemies or the weapons. There's a lot more back story (which, to be honest, I didn't find that interesting), and it feels like you're progressing through something more epic rather than just mindlessly romping from one level to the next. In some ways, it's even the complete opposite of Bungie's later opus, Halo. Halo is more about the enemies, and wide open levels are built to exploit their AI, allowing them to flank you, etc. In Marathon there is no enemy AI (obviously there is, but it's basically just run towards the player and shoot), and the levels are much more confined with twisting corridors that loop around and over each other. In some ways this was necessitated by the technology of the time, but it's really interesting to compare the two games. All that sounds good, and there's no denying that Marathon is a good, solid game. There are things I don't like about it, though. I found it very easy to get lost in the levels, and the automap is next to useless. It's great that it's there, but a 2D map of a 3D level where higher paths almost always run over the top of lower ones was never going to be easy to read. This is made worse by the fact that there is a lot of backtracking. It doesn't have Doom's keycards, but it has switches, which are essentially the same thing - you still have to travel to point A to be able to open the door at point B. It's an obvious mechanic to push a character around a level in FPS games, but it's almost a little frustrating - it just feels like busy work. I know these games aren't supposed to be anything like real life, and this is just a snide remark, but come on, why would you have a switch on one side of a level that opens the door on the other side of the level? Anyway, the level design was one frustration. The other was the save system. Every level has save terminals where you can save your game as many times as you like - so far, so good. The problem is that you have to find these terminals, and they're not always in an obvious place. This leads to problems where, say, you have a terminal half way through level 1 where you last saved, you then make it to level 2 and spend half an hour wandering around before you die from falling into some lava. You then have to go all the way back to that previous save half way through level 1 and play through maybe an hour of content before you get back to where you were. I don't really mind the terminal system at all, but the one thing I really did want was an autosave at the beginning of each level. I don't think this would have harmed the difficulty balance of the game, but it would have eased my frustrations with it a lot. One of the main reasons why the Marathon games are taking me so long is because whenever I die, I really can't face going back and redoing everything that I've just done. Oh, and jumping, that's something that I know will annoy one of my readers. You can't jump in this game, you just automatically walk up small steps and your momentum will carry you across short gaps. The level designers will use this a lot, having chasms that you have to cross by criss-crossing between gaps, but it's really hard to judge how far you can actually 'jump', and it never feels satisfying. So that's Marathon. I've still got one more game in the series to go - Marathon Infinity (the name does not make it sound enticing to me). I think it's in pretty much the same engine as the other two - the first two games were also very similar (maybe because I'm playing remakes) with the second game bringing underwater travel into the mix...not something that I enjoyed at all! I've no idea what newness the third game will bring, but it'll be good to play it out and see where the story goes. I'll probably start it and pick up a level here and there, but I want to hit Prophecy of the Shadow next.

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