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22 Reviews

  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

An Impressive Campaign With a Few Serious Problems An AI Called Wanda

MurgenROoF on Jun 13th, 2024, Version 1.0

This is one of the first third-party campaigns made for Marathon Infinity, and it does some pretty ambitious things as far as architecture design is concerned. I was really amazed by the complexity of some of the maps, and certainly making those maps must have taken a lot of skill. In particular, I want to give the author props for making aesthetically good-looking maps, and for making maps that look architecturally functional (example: a water dam has a pumping station and other rooms you’d expect from such a structure).

Unfortunately, there are some pretty serious gameplay issues that prevent this from being one of the best Marathon single-player mapsets, but if you’re willing to look past some of the rough-around-the-edges parts this might be worth a try. Also, due to the complexity of some of the levels, and the prevalence of switch hunts, I strongly recommend using the Eat the Path plugin (also available from S7) so that you don’t get lost.

Now let’s take a look at the specific levels (minor spoilers ahead):

Revival: This is a short non-combat level in which you’re tasked with thawing out a BoB from cryo-sleep. It’s a pretty unique mission, and although it does require you to find an unmarked secret door, the terminal does tell you exactly where you need to go and what you need to do. It also includes some nice chapter art graphics.

Seeds of Destruction: Here the problems start. There is a graphical glitch with many of the textures on this level that causes on-screen blurring. Additionally, some textures are either misaligned or completely out of place (example: a bright stone step in otherwise dark metal maintenance tunnels). A part of the level requires you to navigate through a very dark and confusing underwater area, where you will be pitted against flickta with nothing but your fists. To make matters worse, there is no oxygen recharger, only a single one-shot O2 canister that’s in a semi-secret area and easy to miss. So you can get soft-locked if you take too much time in the underwater area.

But probably worst of all, there is a pervasive lack of shield rechargers and save terminals on this map. This might not be such a big deal except that the combat is quite difficult. Additionally, this level includes a crusher instant-death trap, and it is quite easy to blunder into this trap without even realizing the danger, and before you’ve encountered a save terminal, meaning that you’re going to get kicked all the way back to the start of the campaign (ouch!). Of course, one of the two save terminals in this level is in a difficult-to-find area that’s directly AFTER the crusher trap, so it’s mostly useless, and in any case a door closes that permanently locks you out of that part of the map so you can’t go back to the save terminal if you miss it the first time. The one good thing about this level is that, aesthetically, the temple area looks beautiful.

Pfhorget About It: The unfortunate pattern of lack of save terminals and health rechargers continues. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except the combat of this campaign is absolutely brutal. In this level you’re fighting in cramped corridors and there isn’t much room to dodge. There are several vicious ambushes in which the game waits until you’re involved in a major firefight, then has a bunch of enemies attack you from behind, and since you’re in tight hallways there’s no way to easily disengage. There’s also a part where you encounter some BoBs, some of which are simulacrums, and since health is so scarce a single simulacrum is likely enough to end you. After a while I just shot all green BoBs on sight, just to be sure.

There was an optional switch puzzle that can be solved with some basic trial-and-error; the reward is an ammo cache. There was also a neat multi-floor elevator which must have taken some work to construct.

The initial terminal for this level was unintentionally funny. It gives you some convoluted directions, then it shows you a map which is unintelligible because it has so many lines crisscrossing it. The gist of your briefing is, “What you need to do should be obvious,” which was a statement so patently absurd I had to laugh out loud at how wrong it was. At the technical level, as a Marathon mapmaker, I was amazed at how this level represents a Pfhor ship that has four separate decks. Piling on all those polygons on top of each other must have taken a lot of work, and pushed the Forge mapmaking tool to its limits. But the level was actually too complex. The auto-map quickly became useless because it was mapping at four different elevations. To make matters worse, much of the texturing of the level was bland, with several areas using the same texture for the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. This meant that there were few memorable landmarks for the player to get and keep their bearings.

Freudian Slip: This a non-combat level featuring an annoying lava bath puzzle. You need to take four lava baths in order to insert four chips, but it’s probably going to take more than that since any slip up on your part will definitely be lethal. And then I got soft-locked!!! After inserting the chips the terminal congratulated me and told me that my next task was to open the reactor door to fix the reactor. But the door refused to open. I had to cheat (level-skip) to the next level just to finish this review!!!

One Damn Mess: Finally, a level that isn’t stingy with the health rechargers! Plus you get some allies too. But on that count it was a bit confusing, since some of the cyborgs were friendly, while others were hostile, and it wasn’t easy to determine which was which until they started shooting! The level is architecturally impressive; it’s a water dam complex that looks functional. Somehow the level features two transparent textures back-to-back, which I thought was impossible in the game engine! Unfortunately, the level objectives devolve into a series of overly complicated switch hunts. There is also a pit that is easy to fall into, but that only be escaped from by using grenade jumping— hopefully you have lots of health and grenades, or you found the level’s only save terminal!

Napalm in the Morning: This is another level that is architecturally impressive. There are several multi-floor elevators, and several times that several floors were stacked on top of each in such a way that you might think you were playing in a true 3D game engine, rather than a 2.5D game engine. I was impressed with the multi-floor dynamics of this level, which I know must have been hard to pull off. Save terminals and shield rechargers were adequate; in fact it was kind of strange because this was one of the easiest levels in the campaign, but it is level 6!

At one point I got stuck, with seemingly no place to go. After wasting much time I located a switch that could be hit multiple times. It turns out this switch opens a door out of line of sight, but only for a brief time, so you have to run to it to get through. These sorts of counterintuitive switch hunts are not fun.

Hey, Whose Side Are You On?: This is a level based on a terrible premise, which is that some BoBs are hostile, and some are friendly, and it’s up to you to figure out which is which! You’re told “try not to kill the loyal BoBs,” but good luck with that! Even the normal precaution of just shooting the green BoBs no longer works, because BoBs of all different colors are now hostile. Much of the level consists of narrow corridors that friendly BoBs love to block, and such blockages are annoying and can often only be solved with lethal force. That, coupled with a lack of shield rechargers and save points, and very unforgiving combat, is going to push most players into a mentality of just killing everyone. There’s no punishment for such a strategy, despite the briefing terminal’s admonition, and from an ammo acquisition standpoint it’s clearly the better choice.

Personally I think the level would have been better if all the BoBs had been hostile, or if the friendly BoBs had something to do besides causing traffic jams. For example, in Bungie’s “God Will Sort the Dead” level there were hostile simulacrums, but the friendly BoBs were actually useful because they would fight the Pfhor as they teleported in, and thus the combat dynamics were fun.

At one point there’s an almost-certainly-lethal crusher trap. There’s no warning whatsoever given about this trap, which I disagree with. Players should never be instant-killed without warning, I think. At another point there’s a puzzle involving hitting switches in the right order, but it was pretty straightforward and a nice break from the BoB slaughter.

Into the Fire: There was a puzzle on this level that has echoes of the infamous puzzle on Bungie’s “Colony Ship For Sale, Cheap.” Why? Why would one want to replicate such an awful puzzle? It involves hitting switches, which raise platforms that are (mostly) far away, and which make a stairway to access the way forward. But you must get the platform elevations exactly right, or else you’ll need to do a lot of tedious backtracking. Ironically, the easiest solution to Bungie’s infamous puzzle, and this one, was to ignore the puzzle altogether and instead engage in grenade jumping. But grenade jumping is a difficult skill to master, so most players will be stuck doing the puzzle. On the upside, I did like the nice variety of enemies to fight, and the interesting combat scenarios — fighting yetis at different elevations, or fighting invisible compilers in the dark.

Near the end of the level I stepped on what turned out to be a telepad and was unceremoniously whisked to the next level. But there was still a terminal I didn’t read, and some rooms I never got to explore! Urgh! So I had to reload from my last save and do a bunch of tedious backtracking in order to fully explore the level. This is why level transitions based on terminals are better most of the time, because the player can press “esc” to abort the teleport if there’s still exploring to be done, and there will be no accidental inter-level teleports.

Station Alpha: This is a level based around a cool circular ring-design. Even just looking at the level on the auto-map you can tell that a lot of effort went into its design. The combat was fun, although not particularly difficult. Really, in terms of combat difficulty, this campaign is all over the place, with some of the early levels being brutally hard, and many of the later levels being fairly easy.

There was one part that required a grenade jump to progress, which I’m not sure I agree with, since many players don’t know about grenade jumping. Overall though, this was a really solid, entertaining level.

Station Alpha the Sequel: The circular ring design is back, but this part of the station has suffered heavy damage and been exposed to vacuum. I liked the dichotomy between the intact previous level and its smashed-up sequel. Despite coming into the level with full oxygen, I almost suffocated before I found an O2 recharger, and I was playing on Normal difficulty. Anyone playing on a higher difficulty level is going to have a lot of problems with this level simply due to O2 scarcity. This level has a lot of plot exposition given on terminals, but in a vacuum level with limited O2 access I’m not sure that’s a good idea; constant O2 concerns distracted me from any emotional plot revelations.

The basic goal of this level was to collect and insert four chips. Three of them were easy to find, but the fourth I just could not figure out how to get to. I could see the chip, but it was across a large chasm that was too big to leap across. I kept thinking I must have missed a switch or door that led to the last chip, as there were several non-functional doors in the area. But no, it turns out that those doors were never meant to open, they were just window dressing for a derelict space station. The actual solution was kind of ridiculous. After wasting much time, I finally turned to the internet for a solution, then realized that there was an official Wanda hint guide packaged with the campaign, and read that to discover that by blasting dual shotguns I could propel myself across the chasm. I have heard of rocket jumping and grenade jumping before, but shotgun jumping, really??? Did the author edit the physics file of the shotguns to make this possible, as I’ve never encountered it before…

All Pfhor One: Holy moly, it’s a whole new tileset, and it looks really badass! The alien ship graphics looked great; my only regret was that the new tileset was only seen in the final two levels of the campaign. I wish we had seen more of it! One thing that could be an issue is that this level has some mandatory swimming portions, but there are no oxygen rechargers anywhere, which could lead to a soft lock if you came into this level without much air (very possible since the last level was in vacuum). Overall, the combat on this level was fun; the fact that you had Pfhor allies was unusual but I felt it synced with the story and provided some nice variety.

Showdown: The final level involves finding four uplink chips so you can destroy Wanda’s core. The new tileset makes this level look really beautiful. The combat was intense, with many ambushes, but the presence of many shield rechargers and save terminals meant that this was one of the easiest levels of the campaign. There was a particularly mean ambush in one area, where the player will go to read a terminal only for the door the close behind them and indestructible turrets to pop out and start shooting. This is almost guaranteed death the first time you encounter it; hopefully you’ll have a recent save! Architecture was great as usual; the southern elevator room was particularly impressive with how it handled two rooms on top of each other. After destroying Wanda’s core you go to the bridge and pilot the ship into a nearby sun, but it all seemed so anti-climactic. The whole level Wanda is taunting/threatening you, but then we don’t even get a final terminal with her, or a big final battle, it all just abruptly ends. You do, however, get a nice endgame picture during the epilogue, along with just enough exposition to conclude the storyline.

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

A Phenomenal Total Conversion Apotheosis X

MurgenROoF on Sep 15th, 2023, Version 1.1

This is basically a whole new game, and it’s of professional quality. Everything has been changed; the graphics, weapons, monsters, sounds, everything.

The new graphics look great. There’s a new main menu screen, new chapter art, and interesting terminal art. There’s a lot of variety with the new textures; players will explore derelict human starships, bizarre alien worlds, and surreal underground ruins. Sparks will fly out of smashed computer consoles, burning embers will rise from magma lakes, and fog will blanket the horizon on a desolate planet. It’s breathtaking.

The player also gets an entirely new arsenal of weapons. All of the weapons serve a purpose; none of them are useless. For example, one new gun is a mining drill called the “Vel,” which has a high amount of accuracy and can shoot through multiple targets in a line. It’s great for taking out enemy snipers at long range, or putting the hurt down on a horde of monsters coming towards you in a narrow corridor. However, the Vel needs to be charged up before each shot, meaning that it’s a very poor choice for close range combat when the slow rate of fire can prove to be liability. All of the new guns look great and handle really well.

There’s a wide variety of enemies in Apotheosis X. Although you’re fighting the Pfhor, all of the Pfhor have a new look, and in some cases new combat capabilities as well. For example, the new Pfhor hunters not only look like total badasses, they now have a melee attack and make electronically distorted activation sounds reminiscent of the hunter howls from Marathon 1. There are also some completely new non-Pfhor enemies, such as a tough swamp-dwelling monster that can spit acid at the player. The quality of the sprite animations is high.

The campaign also has its own unique music track. It mostly consists of unobtrusive ambience that helps to set the stage for what’s going on in the campaign. For example, when you first land on the alien planet Fenris you’re treated to a music track that includes gusts of wind, which syncs with a landscape of grasslands, and ephemera of dust being blown across Fenris’s windswept battlefields; it’s really quite a touching introduction to the planet. The music is also dynamic; sometimes when a major battle breaks out the unobtrusive ambience will be replaced with more fast-paced action-oriented tunes. My favorite music track was “Zero Point Ordinance.”

Level design is top notch. I very seldom got lost, and the terminals did a good job of keeping me informed about what I needed to be doing. Many terminals included useful maps. Many of the different levels had an architectural theme to them. For example, the Fenris wilderness levels had lots of hexagonal ledges that were evocative of real world salt flats. The underground alien ruins often had some crazy surreal designs that used the Aleph One game engine in ways that its makers never could have envisaged; it’s really amazing what the devs were able to accomplish using so-called “5D space,” and I’ll note some specific examples in my level-by-level analysis below. The human levels had a theme of functionality; just looking at the automap it was obvious that one area was a cargo bay, another area was a computer core, ect. The levels must have been meticulously planned; certainly looking at the automap after fully exploring a level will highlight some really impressive architectural designs.

Level notes: Cracks in the Pleasuredome: The part where the Pfhor boarding party blew open the ship’s hull was really cool! The Pfhor boarding craft had a neat design — basically you can see its exterior by looking out the nearby window, but you also get to see its interior next to the hull breach. The ominous music, ferocious firefights between humans and aliens, blaring alarms, and the destroyed state of the ship all lent itself to a sense of being part of the last line of defense; I loved it!

Upon reaching the Darya terminal I was unexpectedly teleported to the next level, which was mildly annoying, because I hadn’t fully finished exploring the current level. So I had to go back to a previous save and lost several minutes of progress. Yes, there was a pattern buffer literally on the opposite side of the Darya terminal that might have helped with that, but the player is invariably going to see the Darya terminal first, and thus won’t get a chance to save their game if they get unexpectedly pushed to the next level. My opinion is that terminals that are about to inter-level teleport the player should give forewarning. It should be a message like, “Prepare to teleport. Press ESC to abort.” Certainly all the Darya terminals should have this. The only exception might be the surreal Noah terminals, where such a lucid message might be immersion breaking. But even then, there could be some kind of signposting about imminent teleportation that might be given to the player.

Noise Flies High: The huge cannon looked really impressive! The gameplay idea of pressing a button to release friendly drones to attack the enemy was inspired. The exploding barrels added an additional dimension to the firefights; they are a danger to the player, but an opportunity when the bad guys walk next to them. One thing that was really neat was at the end, in the control room, when I looked out the window to a spectacular view. I could see outer space, the cannons, and two previous rooms that I had visited earlier in the level!

Lost Behind the Stars: As mentioned earlier, the alien planet showcases hexagon-based ridges. Imagine my surprise then, when, upon fully exploring the level, I realized the whole level basically encompasses one giant hexagon! I thought that was a nice touch. One other thing that I really liked, and which is a recurring event in Apotheosis X, is that the player is constantly revisiting places they have already been, but often from a different angle or elevation. Bringing the player back to familiar territory in this way helps to establish a sense of place, and is a hallmark of professional level design.

Ghost Hardware: The new swamp monsters were fun to fight.

One More Fluorescent Rush: This level is focused on a river, and the player will be fighting in the water, on the riverbanks, and on a series of escarpments next to the river. Again, there is a theme of doubling back, as the player crisscrosses the map to reach the end; it’s very well made. I liked the smoke rising from the fires; I understand that making such effects in the Aleph One engine is difficult and few people have even attempted it, but here the devs were able to make it work and look good.

Final Credits: The most combat intensive level yet, and the challenge was welcome! There were three arenas to fight in, and I liked that the player got to initiate the fights by hitting a switch; this allowed the player to reconnoiter the arenas first and plot their defense. The new Apotheosis juggernaut makes its appearance here and it doesn’t disappoint; it proves to be quite a threat! The terminal art picture of the hunters on the attack looked beautiful; it’s my favorite piece of art in the campaign. The aesthetics of this level were superb; shattered walls and piled up debris really lent themselves to the idea of a highly contested battlefield.

Don’t Step on the Mome Raths: After the hectic fighting of the previous level, this one starts out with no combat. Or music. Just a lot of ominous foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen. The player must explore a darkness-shrouded underground facility, and it seems every time the lights come on they reveal the grisly scene of dead humans, or perhaps a brief glimpse of a new type of enemy. I thought it was a great build up and introduction for the new enemy type! The final part of the level, where the player sees a bunch of bad guys in a non-combat situation, and behind them on the horizon a huge Pfhor battle fleet, well…let’s just say it was visually stunning.

All Things Uncertain: Normally I’m not a fan of Rebellion levels, but this one isn’t so bad, largely because you get your stuff back pretty quickly. We get to see some neat looking Pfhor textures, and the level itself definitely looks and feels like a Pfhor prison ought to.

After the Flood: This is another map which is based upon…you guessed it, a giant hexagon design! In this case it’s a deep hexagonal pit surrounded by ridges, and as a central hub it works well, with lots of opportunities for firefights against enemies at different elevations. When the player starts completing mission objectives they are rewarded with a visual treat in the form of giant beams of light. Telling players they are making a difference is all good and well, but it’s even better when the player can actually see that their actions are having an effect; basically, I loved the giant lightbeam graphics! I also liked the majestic view of the mountain vista.

Omega Devices for Dummies: This is a very short level, but notable for two visual effects. Firstly, the player actually starts on the opposite side of the giant chasm from the previous level, which I thought was neat. Secondly, the portal at the end of the level actually looks different when viewed from four different directions! This is a really innovative use of the Aleph One engine using 5D space; I’ve never seen anything like this before, and it does a good job of highlighting the narrative/idea that you’re messing with bizarre alien technology that’s literally and figuratively out of this world.

No Assembly Required: The fight on the huge bridge was intense and fun.

Saturn Devouring His Son: By this point in the story the player is getting a lot of mission objectives from an artificial intelligence that’s under alien influence, and what better way to show that than to have disjointed messages, with much of the information given in the form of poetry? I thought it was well done.

The Great Fen: The name of this level confused me at first, because it’s clearly not a fen (wetland), but rather a giant lava lake. All became clear upon reading the terminals however. As for the level itself, it’s a tall tower surrounded by a moat of lava. Just getting into the tower was difficult, because there were a ton of enemy fighters and enforcers sniping at me from higher elevations. Frustratingly, often the difference in elevation was so great that the enemy could shoot at me, but I couldn’t angle my gun up enough to return fire. Thus, the only thing to do was to run forward and hope for the best. I thought the battles inside the tower itself were much more fun, and the tower design was architecturally impressive. However, I did not realize the elevator at the top of the tower could stop at multiple floors, which caused me some confusion for a few minutes until I figured it out.

The Salt Pile: The plot revelations on this level were pretty much the climax of the Apotheosis storyline for me, and the music track that starts playing when you gain entrance to the central tower was appropriately poignant for the backstory that was being presented. For these reasons, this was my favorite level of Apotheosis X.

Ascension Day: It’s a short, combat heavy arena level. After all the exploration levels that came before this, it was a nice change of pace.

Sky Burial: Vacuum levels exist in Marathon, but they’re not generally fun because the player is not in any danger of death by suffocation as long as they make regular trips to the nearest oxygen recharge station. So, there’s no real threat, just a lot of tedious backtracking. Sky Burial mixes things up a bit because it includes a really cool innovation — you can “swim” through the low gravity environment to reach higher elevations, and in fact doing so is necessary to complete the level. The design of the ship is a mixed bag. Architecturally, it looks impressive, exactly as a gutted starship should look, with busted-up doors, floating debris, and malfunctioning equipment. But the ship was so dark I found it easy to get lost. Getting lost in a normal Marathon map is bad enough, but the fact that you have to float through the ship means now you can get lost at multiple elevations, which is even worse. Thankfully, the level was also short. I did like the part at the end where the player enters an airlock, and thus is no longer subject to vacuum conditions.

Calm Horizons: I thought the mission objective of activating an “umbilical” to gain access to a Pfhor starship was really cool. The starship itself looked amazing when viewed through the spaceport windows. Upon activating the umbilical I thought the level was over, but no, you actually get to travel up into the starship you saw earlier, which is the height of awesome level design.

Velvet Ashes of Dreams: The ambush in the cargo bay: Hells YES, it was executed so beautifully!

Dinosaur Adventure 3D: The level is notable for a lengthy elevator fight, in which the player will be attacked by multiple waves of baddies coming from multiple angles. I liked it. The player also finally acquires the last weapon of their by now considerable arsenal, but it is definitely worth the wait, due to how cool it is.

Wireless Messiah: This level is notable for its good aesthetics. There’s a great view to be had looking out the station’s window at the level start. The attention to detail, where even just eye candy is meticulously constructed, is all really impressive.

Beaver Skin & Fishing Line: Story-wise, the Darya terminal at the end hit pretty hard. The fight in the darkened shuttle bay was fun. The ending of the level, where reality itself seems torn asunder, was visually awesome.

Arch of Time: The combat of the final level was suitably intense, especially the ending battle when the player is basically on a timer and being attacked by enemy hordes coming from all directions. What a rush!

MINOR SECRET LEVEL SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Tony Hawk’s Moving Castle: It’s highly likely the player is going to get killed very soon after entering this secret level; so…a pattern buffer feels extremely warranted at the level start! As far as the level itself, the combat was by far the most difficult in the entire campaign. I liked the challenge, and there were several areas where I really needed to consider my tactics in order to persevere. There were three chips in this level. Only one needed to be found to open up the level exit, but if you find all three it will open up an optional extra hard area to play through.

Gravin Threndor: In this second secret level I was wowed by the pretty lighting effects. END MINOR SECRET LEVEL SPOILERS!!!

Overall, Apotheosis X is a great campaign and definitely worth your time. Thank you, devs, for taking me on a memorable adventure across strange, surreal, alien worlds!

  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

Worth Playing For theNovelty Factor Alone Los Disneys

MurgenROoF on Sep 7th, 2023, Version

I don’t even know how to begin reviewing this. It’s got to be the most bizarre Marathon scenario ever made, and that’s going up against some pretty stiff competition. In terms of story it’s unique and innovative; in terms of gameplay it has some pretty serious flaws. In terms of graphics it’s almost a total conversion, since almost everything has a new look except for your weapons, and even those have different functionality.

The scenario has its own website, which is worth checking out, since it showcases some of the zany graphics and dark humor the scenario has to offer:

Level 1: Los Disneys The story is that in the future (year 2015) the tyrannical Disney Corporation has bought the state of Florida and renamed it “Los Disneys.” From there they are plotting to conquer the world, and it’s your mission to infiltrate their theme park to stop them. One part of your initial briefing concerns collateral damage, where you’re told to “spare the tourists as you would any other civilians, but if you just can’t help it, (expletive) the tourists.” So yeah, there is a definite theme of dark humor for this scenario. It’s not for everyone but I liked it. The terminal art was notable for featuring a great dichotomy between wholesome family-friendly Disney characters and more ominous pictures of heavily armed totalitarian thugs with Disney flair as part of their uniforms.

Unfortunately, the initial terminal and a few other textures had a graphical glitch in which part of the texture was unfilled/blurry. I’m not sure if this was part of the original Los Disneys or a consequence of it being ported to a later version of Aleph One. Aside from that, however, the initial presentation of the theme park was impressive. There were tourists walking around and taking pictures, numerous famous attractions were depicted, and the ambient sound was appropriate for a crowded amusement park.

You start out with only a pistol and a small amount of ammo, so your first priority is to raid an ammo bunker used by corporate security. Unfortunately, the initial terminal actually gives you wrong directions for how to get there! You’re told to go down Main Street and turn left; actually you need to turn right. Going left will probably have fatal consequences, and be doubly frustrating because there are no save terminals until midway through the map, so you’ll likely be kicked back to the beginning after dying on the left-most route. In any case, there are a number of Disney characters (that are actually robots) that will turn hostile once you enter their area in the theme park. The graphics for these baddies depicts them as innocent-looking until they attack or take damage, at which point their true evil nature will become obvious. So I thought that was some pretty cool artistic license.

Once you have guns and ammo, your next objective is to explore the two “ears” of the park, which is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head on your auto-map. The eastern ear has a neat part entitled “Leap of Faith,” in which you have to find a way to get across a seemingly uncrossable pit. I thought that was clever. You’ll also start coming up against Disney corporate security and explosive Michael Eisner clones. The combat in Los Disneys is actually pretty difficult; security guards can shoot highly damaging homing rockets, and most of the other enemies are quite dangerous as well. I played on Normal difficulty and died quite a few times. However, some difficult fights were made easy because bad guys often killed themselves or their allies with their own explosive attacks. Also, sometimes the enemies did not trigger correctly or got stuck on the terrain, allowing the player to mow them down with impunity. Overall, I thought the combat was fun, and there was a large variety of enemies to fight.

The tougher combat is somewhat mitigated by the fact that some of your weapons have been improved. For example, your SMG now carries a lot more ammo per magazine, and your fusion pistol also gets a lot more shots per battery. But be warned that the alternate fire for the fusion pistol is broken, and it will break your game if you try to use it, requiring you to restart from your last save!

The western “ear” of the park was the most frustrating part of the entire scenario for me. Basically, you need to find a switch to move forward, but it’s hidden behind a secret door that’s really hard to find. Yes, there is a hint in the initial terminal that you should keep an eye out for secret doors, and yes I did look for secret doors (but found nothing). Eventually I had to quit out of the game and open the level editor to look at the map to see what I was missing.

Level 2: Los Apocalypse This level is basically the first level, except it’s now in a state of ruin because of your actions. The ground will be shaking, lava flows will suddenly emerge to engulf the unwary, and the ambient sounds are simply superb, as you hear the panicked cries of tourists and as well as loudspeaker announcements depicting Disney trying to restore order as an apocalypse unfolds. I loved it!

However, the difficult firefights and constant lava baths necessitated many visits to the level’s only shield recharger, which became a bit tedious since it was in an out of the way location.

Level 3: Epilogue This was a very short level designed to wrap up the story. I won’t spoil anything here, except to say that the ending was both zany and unexpected. I loved the terminal art. Overall, Los Disneys was a fun scenario worth playing for the novelty factor alone. It does have some rough edges, but the humor, ambient sounds, and cool graphics make it stand out.

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

New Gameplay and Magic Spells = Fun! Marathon: Istoria

MurgenROoF on Aug 24th, 2023, Version 1.0

This is an amazing single player campaign that includes a number of fun innovations that are really groundbreaking. Istoria almost feels like a whole new game, and I mean that in the best possible way, since the innovations are not only really neat ideas, but their execution is nearly flawless.

Before playing the campaign I downloaded the 8k landscapes off the Istoria website, and I also in-game enabled “HD Monsters” under Preferences->Plugins. If you have a modern computer I strongly suggest you do the same to get the best visual experience.

Upon starting a new game you’ll be prompted to choose one of seven classes. Each class has a unique active and passive ability that lends itself to a different playstyle; I’m sure every sort of Marathon player will find at least one class that they like. This class system is really great because it increases replayability. Initially, I chose to play as the Timekeeper class, because it had an active ability that actually freezes time for a few seconds, and that sounded really cool to me. Later, after beating the game as a Timekeeper, I went back and replayed Istoria, this time using the Pyrotechnic class, which is focused on fire-based attacks. There was a significant difference between my two playthroughs, because the classes play so differently.

Also, there is a “Hard” and “Extreme” mode that can be activated in addition to the normal difficulty settings. These modes make your health replenishment less efficient if you’re looking for a bigger challenge. For my first Istoria playthrough I was on Normal difficulty, but for my second playthrough I played on Normal difficulty with Hard mode enabled. Because of the large amount of customization possible, I would say that Istoria has more replayability than any other Marathon scenario.

In Istoria the player gains magic spells! Now, you might be wondering how magic can exist in the Marathon sci-fi universe. Without being too spoilerish, I’ll just say that there is a good explanation given that syncs with existing Marathon lore. Magic isn’t just a huge part of Istoria’s plot, it also is very useful in combat. For example, one spell is called “Reflect” and it causes enemy projectiles to be pushed back onto the bad guy that fired them. This is very useful when fighting enemies like enforcers that tend to have a large number of projectiles in the air at any given time. There are many spells, each of which is useful in a different kind of combat situation.

There are also non-combat utility spells. One spell lets you speak with the dead. This hearkens back to the days of Bungie’s game “Pathways Into Darkness” and it allows for some really interactive storytelling. By interrogating the deceased and asking the right questions, the player can discover useful information. That is so cool!

There is also a weapon expertise system. The more you use a weapon, the higher your skill level will get with that weapon, which gives damage bonuses. Now here I messed up the metagame without really realizing it until the late game. My initial feeling was that I should be trying to level up my weapons as much as possible, because if I didn’t it would come back to haunt me in the late game. As a result, I wasn’t making use of spells in combat very often because I was focused on dealing damage with weapons to buff up my expertise level. Well, it turns out that it’s very easy to level up weapons in the late game because tougher enemy types give more expertise credit. But not having a good appreciation of how to utilize spells effectively actually can be a liability in the late game, so really I was hurting myself by not making more use of magic in the early game. Perhaps it could be better telegraphed to the player in terminal text that using magic early and often is encouraged? Or perhaps the player could get some kind of tangible reward for using magic similar to how using weapons awards expertise?

I was also a little bit concerned about gameplay balance and the “Ammo Selector” utility spell. Using this spell awards the player ammo for the weapon of their choice. My fear was that some classes, such as the Pyrotechnic, are just focused on only one or two weapons. I thought that the combination of weapon-focused class abilities+weapon expertise+Ammo Selector spells would mean that the player would spend the whole game using just one or two super-buffed up weapons with a huge ammo stockpile, and that would be boring and imbalanced. However, my fears were misplaced. The addition of magic spells vastly increases the choice of offensive options open to the player, and the enemies of Istoria are varied enough that there is no one weapon or spell that can dominate everything; the player must adapt their arsenal and tactics to a variety of different situations.

The campaign also features some impressive RPG elements. The player gains experience points for defeating enemies. Once enough points are gained, the player levels up, which increases the potency of class abilities and the maximum health pool. This level-up system leads to one of Istoria’s greatest strengths, which is that combat is dynamic, and gradually but persistently escalates in intensity. Basically, in the early game you are weak but so are your enemies. By the mid game you’ve got more health, more spells, and probably some good weapon skill levels — but your opponents are much tougher to compensate. By the endgame the player is in a truly unique situation; you’ll have godlike spells and abilities allowing you to decimate entire armies, but there will be times that even this isn’t enough because the bad guys are throwing everything they have at you. What an adrenaline rush!!!

There are no shield rechargers in this campaign, which is a good thing because constant backtracking to rechargers is boring and can be abused to make difficult fights easy. Instead, Istoria features health canisters that you carry with you, and which can be used on demand. In this way, combat has consequences, because you only have a finite supply of canisters and can’t afford to waste them. I suppose it might be possible for a player to completely run out of canisters and then have a hard time completing the game, but for my two playthroughs on Normal difficulty I felt that combat was well-balanced and health canister acquisition was reasonable.

There is a custom HUD which shows all of the new class and experience information in an unobtrusive and organized way. The auto-map has a useful elevation filter which can help rationalize the display of levels which have large numbers of overlapping polygons. Corpses show up on the auto-map, and can be searched for loot.

In Istoria the player can go back to previously visited levels, and their state will be saved. At first I felt that this would be a bad thing, because the biggest, most common problem in all Marathon campaigns is getting lost with no idea of where to go or what to do. I knew that Istoria’s maps were complex, and I figured that the only thing worse than a complex map is several complex maps linked together, creating some sort of super complex mega-map that would be a recipe for getting totally lost. And…thankfully that just didn’t happen. Istoria was actually really good with telegraphing to the player where they need to go and what they need to do. Terminals provide maps, pictures, and useful information. Levels may be complex, but they feature routine use of prominent landmarks so the player doesn’t get lost. Hitting switches or wires will usually have a visual cue as to what just got triggered. Furthermore, many levels feature non-linear gameplay so it doesn’t matter in what direction the player goes, they will eventually end up at their objective. The only improvement that could be made here is that maybe some of the locked doors could show up on the auto-map? For example, maybe a door that requires a red keycard could be labelled “red door” on the auto-map? But, in any case, Istoria’s levels were easily navigable; there were no hellmazes or obnoxious puzzles to mess with the player.

It should also be noted that traveling between levels isn’t just a neat gimmick that the devs added for the novelty factor. There is a point in the campaign when, for both plot and gameplay reasons, the ability to travel to previous levels becomes incredibly important. I’m hesitant to say more due to the spoilers involved, but basically the ability to travel between levels allows for some amazingly intense gameplay/firefights that would not have otherwise been possible. Even better, the devs essentially “coach” the player on how level transit will become important later, by assigning a few minor missions that require getting a keycard from another map to open a door on the current map. This is really solid level design.

A common mistake in many Marathon scenarios is to have monsters that don’t activate correctly for some reason or other. However, despite the massive number of enemies in Istoria, incorrect monster triggers were never an issue. This appears to be due to a new innovation that the player will never see unless they open up the Weland mapmaking tool. Basically, the devs have figured out a new way to have monster triggers using goal objects. This makes sure that firefights trigger correctly no matter what direction the player is coming from, and allows for some pretty impressive set-piece battles. Furthermore, enemy AI has been improved; for example, Pfhor drones are now capable of taking evasive action to avoid the player’s attacks.

Istoria features a new soundtrack which can change based on what is happening in-game. For example, when the player enters a new area, or a major ambush triggers, that can be reflected in the soundtrack.

There is also a Survival mode that is completely separate from the main campaign. There are a large number of maps to choose from and your goal is to survive as long as possible while getting the highest score possible. It’s pretty hard to survive longer than ten minutes!

Istoria features lots of new graphics. There is some great terminal art, new in-game textures, a new main menu screen, and some beautiful landscapes that change according to the time of day. For example, if you spend a lot of time on one map that has a daytime landscape, if you return to that same map later it might have a sunset texture instead. This is the first campaign that I have ever seen do something like this, and it’s really cool.

Level notes:

Escape From the Sky: I had to spend a few minutes to familiarize myself with the new controls and magic system. I did appreciate that the player got some magic spells right off the bat. The dichotomy between the player’s human dropship and the surface of the alien planet was a nice touch, and the massive battle that breaks out after leaving the dropship was great fun. I also appreciate that the player will get weapons in the initial armory that are appropriate for their chosen class. For example, when I played as the fire-based Pyrotechnic I got a TOZT flamethrower in the starting armory, rather than having to wait to find it in the mid-game.

Upstream: These levels have great architecture that’s aesthetically pleasing and includes good use of lighting. I like that Istoria’s elevators are fast and usually have an option to drop off them; this may seem like a small thing but you’d be surprised how many scenarios have long, tedious elevator wait times.

Lockdown: The architecture looks like it serves a purpose. There are roads, a canal, and other identifiable features. Even better, the devs were able to show how the recent fighting has changed Istoria; for example, one part of the road is shattered.

Trimmed and Burning: The part in which the player must hug the cliff face was scary but I never fell off. Some of the secrets on this level were quite difficult to find. The combat also ramps up; I suffered my first deaths on the northern cliff area. At least I got to die with a spectacular sunset view on the horizon.

Central Command: This was my favorite level. It featured my favorite Istoria soundtrack, “Map All Arrivals,” which I thought synced well with the story of the level. That is because on this level the player is trying to salvage an increasingly desperate situation by breaking into what was once a major human strongpoint on Istoria; the music features some distorted radio broadcasts that sort of lend themselves to the narrative of a chaotic battlefield and a faltering human resistance.

No pun intended, but this level is the pinnacle of Marathon mapmaking. The tower the player must climb is the most impressive I’ve ever seen in the Marathon engine; it is a work of art. It even has an elevator in it! But then, after climbing really high to the top, you eventually get a key to the basement, and discover huge underground lava caverns beneath. Aesthetically, it was incredibly impressive.

Snake River: Architecture looks good and demonstrates functionality; there is a river bed, a warehouse, and a circular water sieve that looks very cool.

The Hot Gates: This is Istoria’s version of the Bungie level “What about Bob?” The lava escape is difficult but satisfying. The pitched battles against hordes of blue troopers in the streets really drive home the utility of certain magic spells.

Born Under Punches: As the player descends under the Central Command a theme starts to show, which is that you need to keep going lower to make progress. This becomes incredibly important both for traversing the current map, and for the campaign’s conclusion, as the theme of “go down” suddenly gets turned on its head. The Flame IADD mini-boss was hard, but the challenge was appreciated.

Don’t Sweat It: The player has now got some really powerful magic, but the opposition is so fierce it’s needed. The transition to the Jjaro structure, complete with music cue, was very nice.

Armageddon Games: So there is a branching endgame to reward players that paid attention to the plot; I approve! As far as the climactic ending sequence, it was exhilarating! It is definitely the most intense combat I’ve seen in any Marathon scenario. The final battles were one crowning moment of awesome after another.

In conclusion, this campaign is very professional and very fun. It does a lot of new things that have never been attempted before, and the execution is superb. All Marathon players owe it to themselves to give Istoria a try.

  • Currently 4/5 Stars.

It’s A Short Unconventional Scavenger Hunt Susannah Windows

MurgenROoF on Aug 4th, 2023, Version 1.0

Firstly, I should like to say that I played this on a Mac, but the launcher app that comes with the Mac download is an ancient 32 bit thing, meaning it will not run on modern Mac OS!!! Therefore, if you want to play on a modern Mac, you’re going to need to (counterintuitively) download the Susannah Windows version, then drag a copy of Aleph One into the Susannah Windows folder, and then launch that copy of Aleph One.

I suppose Susannah could be called a “Total Conversion” since basically nothing from the original Marathon game is kept. There’s a new menu screen with some rather cryptic options. For example, the begin “Begin New Game” option has been replaced with “Begin Life,” whilst the “Continue Saved Game” option has been replaced with “Restore Life.” And actually, I’m not sure how you could actually continue a saved game in this campaign, since there were no pattern buffers of any kind that I could see. Not that you really need them; it took me exactly twenty minutes to complete the entire campaign.

Anyways, starting the first level introduces you to this campaign’s striking aesthetic choices. The world of Susannah is a pure white world, with a few shades of gray to provide some sense of location. All of the graphics are new and simple. There is ambient music that sounds vaguely ominous and lends itself to the surreal setting. Movement speed has been reduced and there is no HUD. The automap is disabled. I found myself looking for my trusty pistol but…no! There are no weapons of any kind in Susannah because there is no combat.

Exploring for a bit, I discovered a blue data stream. Now, unlike many people, I actually read “Read Me” files, and one of the few things the Susannah “Read Me” stated was that to interact with the blue data steams you need to walk up to them and press the spacebar. So basically the blue data streams are like the terminals of this campaign. I do have to wonder how many people are going to be tripped up by this however, since the blue data streams look nothing like the typical Marathon terminals that players are used to (in fact, you can actually walk through the data streams, they are not solid!). So, I figure a few people will get frustrated and quit because they won’t understand what the blue data streams are. Should we have sympathy for such people? I kind of feel that they should have read the Read Me file, or heck even looked at the description given on Simplic7y, because the info is there as well. On the other hand, a dev should try and idiot-proof their campaign by making the gameplay as intuitive as possible, and I do feel the blue data streams were lacking in that regard. Perhaps they could have been more terminal-like in their appearance, or have some other way to telegraph to the player what they are.

In any case, interacting with the blue data stream led to some strange poetry and a teleport to a new level. There are four levels in Susannah, and the levels do have names if you look in the mapmaking tools, but you’ll never see them in-game (remember, there’s no auto-map!).

The new level featured new data streams with more bizarre poetry. Exploring some more yielded a floating black sphere. Walking up to it temporarily changed the lighting and caused the ball to disappear. So, pretty quickly it became obvious that the level was a scavenger hunt and the goal was to collect eight black spheres. There was even a sphere counter on the edge of the screen, showing that X of 8 spheres had been collected. Once all spheres were collected the blue data streams take the player to the next level.

This pattern of sphere-hunting was followed for the remaining two levels. Once the final black sphere is collected a huge blue data stream emerges and, with nowhere else to go the player has to jump into it. This triggers a teleport, successfully ending the campaign. But, what exactly did we succeed in accomplishing? The poetry in the data streams is so surrealist and obtuse that there could be many different interpretations. My own personal interpretation is that “Susannah” was an artificial intelligence that wanted to merge with the player for some undefined reason. The architecture of the final level even kind of resembled a computer’s circuit board, or perhaps some sort of cyberspace version of the interior of a computer. My one criticism of this campaign, which is actually quite minor, is that the ending was abrupt and didn’t really give a sense of closure, or even an understanding of what the plot was about.

Now for the most important question: Was it fun? Yes, I enjoyed myself for the twenty minutes of playtime. Unlike many Marathon scenarios, in Susannah I never got lost, frustrated, or stuck for any significant length of time. For the novelty factor alone, I rate this 4 out of 5 stars.

  • Currently 4/5 Stars.

It’s A Short Unconventional Scavenger Hunt Susannah OSX

MurgenROoF on Aug 4th, 2023, Version 1.0

Firstly, I should like to say that I played this on a Mac, but the launcher app that comes with the Mac download is an ancient 32 bit thing, meaning it will not run on modern Mac OS!!! Therefore, as of 8/4/2023, if you want to play on a modern Mac, you’re going to need to (counterintuitively) download the Susannah Windows version, then drag a copy of Aleph One into the Susannah Windows folder, and then launch that copy of Aleph One.

I suppose Susannah could be called a “Total Conversion” since basically nothing from the original Marathon game is kept. There’s a new menu screen with some rather cryptic options. For example, the begin “Begin New Game” option has been replaced with “Begin Life,” whilst the “Continue Saved Game” option has been replaced with “Restore Life.” And actually, I’m not sure how you could actually continue a saved game in this campaign, since there were no pattern buffers of any kind that I could see. Not that you really need them; it took me exactly twenty minutes to complete the entire campaign.

Anyways, starting the first level introduces you to this campaign’s striking aesthetic choices. The world of Susannah is a pure white world, with a few shades of gray to provide some sense of location. All of the graphics are new and simple. There is ambient music that sounds vaguely ominous and lends itself to the surreal setting. Movement speed has been reduced and there is no HUD. The automap is disabled. I found myself looking for my trusty pistol but…no! There are no weapons of any kind in Susannah because there is no combat.

Exploring for a bit, I discovered a blue data stream. Now, unlike many people, I actually read “Read Me” files, and one of the few things the Susannah “Read Me” stated was that to interact with the blue data steams you need to walk up to them and press the spacebar. So basically the blue data streams are like the terminals of this campaign. I do have to wonder how many people are going to be tripped up by this however, since the blue data streams look nothing like the typical Marathon terminals that players are used to (in fact, you can actually walk through the data streams, they are not solid!). So, I figure a few people will get frustrated and quit because they won’t understand what the blue data streams are. Should we have sympathy for such people? I kind of feel that they should have read the Read Me file, or heck even looked at the description given on Simplic7y, because the info is there as well. On the other hand, a dev should try and idiot-proof their campaign by making the gameplay as intuitive as possible, and I do feel the blue data streams were lacking in that regard. Perhaps they could have been more terminal-like in their appearance, or have some other way to telegraph to the player what they are.

In any case, interacting with the blue data stream led to some strange poetry and a teleport to a new level. There are four levels in Susannah, and the levels do have names if you look in the mapmaking tools, but you’ll never see them in-game (remember, there’s no auto-map!).

The new level featured new data streams with more bizarre poetry. Exploring some more yielded a floating black sphere. Walking up to it temporarily changed the lighting and caused the ball to disappear. So, pretty quickly it became obvious that the level was a scavenger hunt and the goal was to collect eight black spheres. There was even a sphere counter on the edge of the screen, showing that X of 8 spheres had been collected. Once all spheres were collected the blue data streams take the player to the next level.

This pattern of sphere-hunting was followed for the remaining two levels. Once the final black sphere is collected a huge blue data stream emerges and, with nowhere else to go the player has to jump into it. This triggers a teleport, successfully ending the campaign. But, what exactly did we succeed in accomplishing? The poetry in the data streams is so surrealist and obtuse that there could be many different interpretations. My own personal interpretation is that “Susannah” was an artificial intelligence that wanted to merge with the player for some undefined reason. The architecture of the final level even kind of resembled a computer’s circuit board, or perhaps some sort of cyberspace version of the interior of a computer. My one criticism of this campaign, which is actually quite minor, is that the ending was abrupt and didn’t really give a sense of closure, or even an understanding of what the plot was about.

Now for the most important question: Was it fun? Yes, I enjoyed myself for the twenty minutes of playtime. Unlike many Marathon scenarios, in Susannah I never got lost, frustrated, or stuck for any significant length of time. For the novelty factor alone, I rate this 4 out of 5 stars.

  • Currently 2/5 Stars.

A Level By Level Analysis Fart Or Die!

MurgenROoF on Jul 27th, 2023, Version 1.3.5

The author specifically asked for reviews, but only two people have obliged him, so here goes review #3!

This is a short campaign by a novice mapmaker and, as such, it contains a lot of novice mistakes. However, it does have some redeeming features, and, if you’re in the mood for some simple carnage, it might be worth half an hour of your time. Now let’s take a look at the levels:

GASMINE You start by a terminal with some new terminal art. So far so good. But most of what the terminal tells you is either useless or irrelevant. You’re told to “make your way through this map quickly” but how are you supposed to do that? You have no idea where the exit teleporter is, and even if you did, it starts out as inactive until you’ve thoroughly explored the map!

The starting terminal also gives the (un)helpful advice that you should “avoid the Pfhor at all costs…until you can build your weapons inventory.” Too bad both hallways leading out of the starting room are completely clogged with enemies, so avoiding the Pfhor at all costs immediately becomes impossible. Aren’t you lucky though, that right next to your starting location are two of the most powerful weapons in the game, the flamethrower and rocket launcher! So building your weapons inventory to a satisfactory level takes all of three seconds.

It’s an unusual gameplay decision to give the player two late-game weapons right off the bat, but I was cool with it. I figure most Marathon players spend most of the time with their trusty assault rifle equipped — it’s very good but too much of a good thing can become boring. I liked that for this campaign I got to utilize some of the less-used niche weapons like the TOZT and SPNKR, and there was plenty of ammo available so I could keep on using them.

This campaign used a unique sound file. The sole purpose of this file seemed to be to give the bobs and player a different voice. How strange.

This level had some architectural issues. There was a window that was lacking a windowsill, so it looked bad. There was no sense of place; the window in the starting room faced east and displayed a mountainous landscape. But you know what was also directly east? A room! So how can these two things occupy the same place? In a surreal map not grounded in reality it might be fine, but the starting terminal doesn’t really set up any kind of surreal backstory.

COLON CLEANSE The starting terminal continued the trend of giving me bad information by warning me that the bobs on this level were not friendly. Except that a lot of them were, in fact, friendly. Strangely, these allied bobs were all of the miniature variety.

This level (and several others) had a problem with teleporting in enemies right next to the player’s location; this is both cheap and unfair. It becomes even worse when some of those enemies are suicide bombers (simulacrums) that deal massive damage if they can get within melee range and, with teleport-in abuse they’re basically getting deposited directly within their optimal combat range. Strangely, invisibility power-ups also teleported in at close range. These power-ups are fairly useless, but even so, it would be nice to allow the player to decide when to activate them, rather than just teleport-dumping them into auto-activation range.

Towards the end of the level are some doors that use transparent textures. In the Marathon game engine doors are not actually capable of reliably using these textures, resulting in a blurry graphical glitch that looks bad.

BREACH I have noticed that at the start of every level the player starts out right next to a terminal that provides the player with mission objectives and (usually) a map. This is a very good thing!

Use of sounds throughout the campaign could use some tweaking. For example, there is an alien ambiance sound in the starting room, but if the player moves just a few feet away towards the window that sound suddenly disappears, which is jarring. Sounds can be placed on polygons or as sound objects, and this would be one instance in which a sound object should have been used instead of polygon-based sounds.

Why are F’lickta fighting with the Pfhor on this level? Why are two door switches being used in lieu of a perfectly good uplink slot texture, which is in fact used for the third uplink chip?

The landscape texture used for the ceiling at the end of the level should not have height variations; this leads to strange-looking ceiling graphics.

At the end of the level the player is forced to backtrack to the terminal at the start of the level in order to be teleported out. But there’s a perfectly good terminal right there at the end of the level that should have also been able to serve as an exit terminal.

STINKARAMA It’s a Rebellion level, but at least the player is given a plot-based reason for why all their stuff got taken away. Major cyborgs are a pretty formidable enemy to be pitting against players with low health and no weapons, especially since the nearest pattern buffer is some distance away. I was able to survive, but this was an enormous spike in difficulty.

This was an Extermination mission, meaning the player must kill all baddies, but many of the enemies will not teleport in until the player is in close proximity. Most players are going to reach the end terminal, be told they failed to kill everything, then have to go through the tedious process of backtracking through the whole map just to find the handful of Pfhor that failed to teleport in. This is one reason why Extermination missions should be used sparingly. On maps with a huge number of enemies teleporting in, it only takes a handful of monsters not triggering to prevent the player from achieving the mission success condition. Blind and deaf monsters should be used sparingly and in conjunction with monster activation polygons. Reasonable zone borders will mitigate most monster trigger issues.

After achieving success, the end terminal congratulates the player by saying, “You have all the Pfhor!” I think the word “eliminated” is supposed to be in there somewhere. Much of the terminal text could use some basic proofreading. Just copying all the terminal text to a Word document and using the default spelling and grammar check functions would clear up all the most egregious issues.

SEWER STEPS Bwahahaha! In this level you get to eviscerate hordes of enemies using the TOZT and SPNKR. There’s so much ammo you can pretty much go wild, and it’s a nice change from most 3rd party Marathon campaigns in which these weapons are rarely available or can’t be used much due to limited ammo.

At one point a water texture is used for a solid floor. This looks bad.

The mission objective is to find seven alien machines; this seems a bit excessive since it’s very easy to lose track of which machines the player has visited. But, I can’t complain too much since I was able to beat the level in just a few minutes.

ZOMBIE MAZE Right at the start there’s a teleporter that will take the player to the bottom of a lava pit! This is hugely unfair, and means certain death unless the player has a lot of health. To make matters worse, there is no pattern buffer on this level or the previous level, meaning death here could kick the player back two whole levels!

At the bottom of the lava pit is a wall indentation that looks like it was supposed to be a switch, but the textures were never filled in so it just looks blurry and bad.

The oxygen recharger uses health recharger graphics, why?

There are several Mother of all Cyborgs on this level. These enemies are usually very dangerous, but here they are all harmless. Why? Because the ceiling height throughout this level is 1 World Unit, and MoaC enemies have a height greater than 1 WU, so they are literally stuck on the terrain.

WASTE WATER It’s another Rebellion level, this time with no plot explanation given. Even worse, the player starts out right next to some hostile bobs that have been modified to shoot a steady stream of seeking grenades out of their pistols! On Normal difficulty a single one of these grenades will kill the player (since they start out with almost no health), and the starting area has very little room to dodge. Consequently, this was probably the single most dangerous section of the entire campaign. It is extremely likely that the player will be killed here, and since there haven’t been any pattern buffers for the last two levels, they’ll get kicked back all the way to Stinkarama! I figure most people will rage quit the campaign at this point, or else use the level skip cheat (as I did).

On the upside, it is a bit different to be fighting with friendly hunters against bobs. Additionally, some of the super-bobs can only be killed by specific weapon types. Variety is the spice of life as they say, and I can say this campaign has a lot of variety.

Remember on Stinkarama it was an Extermination mission and some of the enemies didn’t teleport in so I had to backtrack through the whole level to find them to complete the mission? Well, it’s the same deal here, except that after wasting time backtracking through the whole level I was pretty certain I hadn’t missed any enemies, but yet the mission success conditions were still not fulfilled. On a hunch, I decided to kill all of my hunter allies, even though the terminal had explicitly told me not to do so. Sure enough, the only way to complete this Extermination mission is to kill all of your allies! This could be fixed by tweaking the physics file.

PLAGUE It’s a pretty straightforward gauntlet, basically just one long hallway filled with enemies. The starting terminal provides more bad info by warning the player that only some of the compilers are friendly; actually all of them are.

The combat was fine, but after clearing the level an apparent exit terminal shows up. If the player approaches this terminal they’ll find it’s nonfunctional and they’ll be dumped into a lava pit with no way out. Also, the wall of the lava pit has unfilled textures, so it looks blurry.

Now the starting terminal does warn the player that if something looks too good to be true, it may actually lead to certain death. I suppose having a conveniently located exit terminal would be “too good to be true,” or at least not in keeping with the poorly placed exit terminals we’ve come to expect in this campaign! Instead the player must backtrack through an exceedingly long hallway all the way to the level start to teleport out.

As a general rule I am against certain-death traps for the player, even if there is some warning such traps exist (whether the warning in the starting terminal is sufficient is debatable). At least there was a pattern buffer not far from the deathtrap, so the player can recover without too much trouble (assuming they used the pattern buffer, that is).

TOXIC CLEANUP Speaking of deathtraps, this level has another one, which is even more unfair. The player has a choice of three teleporters; two lead to the next area, the third leads to certain death. The player is given no warning about this. It’s entirely based on luck if the player survives or not, and this is bad because survival should always be based upon the player’s skill.

The lone F’lickta in this level was hostile to the Pfhor, which seems unintentional. What is a F’lickta doing in the Pfhor main base anyways? Otherwise, the combat for this level was fine.

The story wraps up with total victory for the hero. But I still have no idea why this campaign was named “Fart or Die.” I assume the level names were connected to this somehow, but it was never explained in the story.

Final advice: Overall, the biggest weakness of the campaign was simplistic level design. Lighting was almost completely ignored, but lighting helps to make a level aesthetically interesting—use it! Elevation was also almost completely ignored; but differences in elevation create tactical challenges for the player. Most of the time I was shooting at enemies in a room with a height of one World Unit, which leads to bland firefights. I might as well be playing Wolfenstein 3D or some similar primitive shooter if there’s not going to be differences in elevation! The Marathon map editor gives us the power to create magnificent cathedrals, bizarre alien starships, and underground geothermal power plants. All of those locations lend themselves to fun combat, and all of those locations are dependent upon the use of varied elevations to work correctly as viable battlefields!

The campaign’s biggest strength was, ironically enough, also simplistic level design. By making small levels that were easy to navigate, the author avoided the most common pitfall of the Marathon mapmaker — creating levels that are so large and/or complex that the player ends up spending most of their time lost, trying to figure out where to go and what to do. Even Bungie was guilty of this mapmaking sin. For example, on the infamously complex Bungie level “Habe Quiddam” players probably spent 1% of their time in fun combat, and 99% of their time trying to figure out where to go and what to do; so much downtime is tedious and boring! But in “Fart or Die” I spent most of my time in combat, and there was very little downtime, which is a good thing!!!

I hope this review does not come across as overly critical; my intent was to offer helpful advice. There were problems, yes, but also plenty of potential, and every mapmaker was a novice at some point. Good luck with your future mapmaking endeavors!

  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

The Most Ambitious Marathon 1 Total Conversion Ever Made Marathon TROJAN

MurgenROoF on Jul 23rd, 2023, Version 1.0

This total conversion was originally made for Marathon 1 but is now compatible with Aleph One. It has new graphics, enemies, sounds, and music.

The best part of Trojan is fighting against a variety of new enemy types. The enemy animations look very smooth and are well done. It may be too late to congratulate whoever created these adversaries, but this is some of the finest sprite work that I’ve seen in any Marathon scenario.

I was also impressed by the large number of new music tracks; they are of generally high quality but are unobtrusive enough to not distract from gameplay. The soundtracks reminded me of Unreal Tournament in a good way; the beats are repetitive but catchy.

Unfortunately, the campaign is dragged down by constant switch hunts and many tedious puzzles. You had better bookmark the online walkthrough here, otherwise you’re going to be spending a huge amount of time stuck wandering around, trying to figure out where to go and what to do, and that’s no fun:

Be aware that the above spoiler guide does not explicitly mention any secret areas, although it does show them on the map. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the levels! Minor spoilers ahead!

ARRIVAL: You get to admire a nice bit of chapter artwork before the level starts. Actually Trojan has a lot of high quality chapter artwork (8 pieces in all). Since this is a Marathon 1 scenario, there is no artwork of any kind in the terminals themselves; they are all text with the occasional map.

The storyline of Trojan is adequate. Basically, unknown alien forces suddenly attack a human colony world and it’s up to you to save the day. In terms of atmosphere this campaign definitely hearkens back to the early levels of Marathon 1. Trojan is the story of a desperate struggle against an overwhelming enemy force, panicked civilians getting slaughtered left and right, and (later) two unstable AIs entering the fray to both help and hurt your cause.

You start by grabbing an arsenal of weapons with new graphics and names, but which are functionally identical to weapons from the original game. And I want to say, thank you Trojan devs for starting me out with a decent loadout befitting a space marine! So many Marathon mapmakers make the mistake of starting their campaign by making the player wander around the early levels with nothing but a single pistol. I guess the rationale for this is that the devs want to start small and build up the action gradually. But such level design is actually just wasting the player’s time, because the only thing you can do with a single pistol is beat up on weak enemies. Thankfully, Trojan doesn’t make that common mistake, and throws you right into the action against substantial enemy forces. Hooray!

Something strange happened at the start of this level. I was outside, fighting aliens with two Bob marine allies. After winning the fight, I went inside the nearby building, and the front door suddenly closed behind me, crushing one of my Bob allies to death. Surely this couldn’t have been intentional?

There are quite a few unarmed Bob civilians running around this level. They have decent voice acting, and the sprite animations look great (perhaps even superior to the Bob animations from the original game!). However, this level consists of a lot of narrow corridors, and placing a lot of Bobs in a lot of narrow corridors is never a good idea!!! It means the Bobs are constantly getting in your way and causing traffic jams that require lethal force to resolve. Usually I try to save Bobs, but after a few minutes of playing Trojan I gave up any pretense of trying to keep the human body count down because it was way too much of a hassle.

Most of the new aliens were fun to fight, but the hitbox for the floating exploding mine creature seemed to be slightly off; direct hits would often not register. Thankfully these enemies are not much of a threat and take only a single bullet to kill.

There are destructible exploding barrels, like in Doom. So cool!

Near the end of the level there’s an infuriating puzzle with six switches that have to be hit in a specific order to open the way forward. I actually softlocked myself in this puzzle, because I thought the solution was to go into a room that had partially opened up, and use a grenade to hit a switch which would open up the rest of the room. Well, instead I got stuck, and had to restart from the last save point, which was at the beginning of the level. Sigh!!!

COMMAND AND CONTROL This is a pretty horrible level, because large parts of it consist of narrow dark corridors with gray textures everywhere that blend together. I guess the point of this was to create some sort of maze to frustrate the player? But mazes don’t work in Marathon! I mean, I’ve got an auto-map, you know? It just looks bad, aesthetically speaking, and there’s not much to do in the mazes except keep an eye out for the occasional monster closet that opens up.

Another bad thing: There isn’t a pattern buffer until the end of the level. So if you die…you are going to suffer an awful lot of retracing your steps, which is annoying to say the least!

I also have to say a word about the switch hunts. They are terrible. There are so damn many switches, and there is no reason for 90% of them to exist. This is a problem throughout all of Trojan, although this level does stand out as a particularly egregious offender. Many of the switches open some door that you can’t see, often on the other side of the map. Then you have to go through the tedious process of backtracking through the level to try to find what opened up. Most of these switches should have been set to “trigger only once,” but no! Most of them can be hit again! So you can screw yourself by hitting a switch twice that you were only supposed to hit once, thereby closing the door that should have opened. There are so many switches it’s easy to lose track of which switches you’ve already hit, plus sometimes the switches open doors that only stay open for a brief time before closing. So in those cases, you’ll almost certainly need to hit the switch a second time as you try to figure out how the stupid doors work. Throw in the fact that some of the switches are broken, and there’s more locked doors than you can shake a stick at (some of which are decoys that will never unlock or open) and it’s just one huge recipe for frustration. If it wasn’t for the aforementioned online walkthrough, I’m sure I would have given up on Trojan long before I finished, due to constantly getting stuck on the switch hunts.

THE ROACH FARM Your mission is to save a nuclear reactor. The architecture for the reactor areas looks good and seems reasonably functional/authentic. Since these levels were made for the Marathon 1 engine, there were significant limits on things like the polygon count, so the levels tend to be small and without the intricate design construction we’ve come to see in some other Marathon campaigns. But I think the Trojan devs did a pretty good job with the (limited) M1 mapmaking tools that were available to them.

One great example of this is a switch-operated elevator that stops at three different floors. I believe this may be a first for the Marathon game engine; the Trojan devs may have initially invented this concept, although other devs have subsequently copied the idea and incorporated it into their own campaigns. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, as they say.

I did end up softlocking myself by jumping out of a ventilation shaft into the central core area. It seemed like a good idea at the time…

CITIZEN CAIN This level stood out for having lots of fun combat, making it one of the best Trojan levels. There is only one stupid switch puzzle that’s likely to give you trouble, which involves hitting a switch to temporarily open a door, then hitting the switch again to make sure the door stays open. You only have a very limited line of sight to this door, and it took me some time to figure out what was going on.

The storyline is heating up, as a rampant AI makes his appearance. He seemed to be a knock-off of Durandal, with perhaps a bit more insanity, but his terminal texts were entertaining enough so I can’t complain.

I do have to complain about a ridiculous crusher trap, however. Flipping some innocuous switch, not unlike any of the dozens of other switches you’ve already encountered, triggers a lethal crusher trap. It’s almost certain the player is going to be killed by this stupid thing the first time they enter the area. Thankfully, there’s a pattern buffer nearby (hopefully you used it!).

FRYING TONIGHT! The player is forced to take a leap of faith, and jump into a small ventilation shaft that’s directly above a huge lava lake. But you don’t actually know that the door to this shaft is unlocked, because so many doors in Trojan start out locked, and it’s quite clear that if the door is in fact locked then you’re going to be taking a lethal lava bath. I have mixed feelings about this. I guess psychologically messing with the player spices things up a bit. But I’m not sure I agree with forcing the player to explore areas that seem to be so far off the beaten path that, if you’re wrong about exploring them, you’re almost certainly going to get softlocked or killed. Remember, just two levels ago I did something very similar to this with a different ventilation shaft and ended up getting softlocked!

In the northwestern part of the map there was a mini-maze which had a bunch of the floating suicide bomb monsters hiding in it, and because I was running into them at point blank range it was almost impossible to avoid taking damage. At least there was a shield recharger at the start of the maze, though not all players will be lucky enough to find it before they run into the bomb creatures. Aside from this, the combat in the level was quite fun, with several newer enemy types getting a chance to shine.

BOY ARE MY ARMS TIRED The mission objective is to kill everything. Now that’s a goal I can get behind!!!

There is another lethal crusher trap at the start of the level, even more unfair than the previous one, because it provides a possible avenue of escape that looks promising but actually results in certain death. Of course, the first pattern buffer is AFTER the almost-certainly lethal crusher trap, so I got kicked back to the previous level. Argh!!!

Later still there’s a 4 switch puzzle. I never actually figured out the solution to this one. After wasting much time on it, I eventually decided that grenade jumping across a large lava pit was easier than figuring out the puzzle. Which, I think, is a pretty good indication that the puzzle was too hard.

CAN’T BE TOO CAREFUL NOWADAYS The level starts out with an easy switch puzzle that turns into a difficult platforming puzzle that requires split second timing to pull off. Blah!

Later you’ll run into an apparent dead end, with nowhere to go except wading into a lava river or grenade jumping to some elevated ledges. This is, again, a case of the player put into the unenviable situation of having no clear path forward and no good options. I grenade jumped, but not every player knows about grenade jumping or can reliably pull it off. Jumping into the lava river will get the player to the same eventual location, but at considerably greater risk.

Towards the end of the map there is a switch-activated elevator that’s a soft-lock waiting to happen. If the player fails to hit the switch, which is quite possible since it’s on the far side of a pit and initially out of sight; if the player instead drops down into the pit…it will become impossible to backtrack (without some difficult grenade jumping), and unfortunately the player may need to backtrack because there are two switches that must be activated to complete the level, and one of them is before the pit. So…why does that switch even need to exist anyway? Just make the damn elevator initially active or replace it with some stairs!

NO MORE TV DINNERS Bob androids, yes! At first I thought they were enemies, like the Pfhor simulacrums, but then they ran up to the hostile aliens and started punching them! This level features the most intense combat yet, against large numbers of baddies, many attacking from elevated positions or unexpected angles.

There is a switch/platforming/crusher trap, but a nearby pattern buffer means the consequences for failure are negligible. There is also a rather bizarre puzzle which has two different solutions, neither of which are obvious. One solution involves dropping down to a teleporter in a lava lake. At first I thought the teleporter was part of a secret because it was so out of the way, but no, it led to the level end. I actually backtracked through the whole level to see where the second path led, but it turned out to be just some minor platforming that took me to the same place.

YOU WERE DEAD, NOW YOU ARE RESTORED Bob zombies! Now I’ve seen everything!

After fighting your way out of an amphitheater you encounter one of the most stupid Marathon puzzles imaginable. Flipping a switch reveals what appears to be an elevator. It even shows on your map as an elevator. But if you go forward, the door closes behind you and you get softlocked, with the only way out being suicide by your own grenades. Seriously, wtf! Terrible puzzle design, only slightly mitigated by a pattern buffer that appears right before the trap. There’s no way you could possibly solve or expect this trap without “a priori” knowledge. Even when you solve the first part of the puzzle, there’s a second part that’s also likely to softlock you because of the wonky way the solution switch works! Ugh!

This level is also notable for having the first difficult-to-find secret area. But here once again you’re likely to be softlocked, stuck in a room with no way out except suicide, unless you use “a priori” knowledge that could only have been gleaned from your own previous pointless death. It turns out you shouldn’t go to the secret area as soon as you find it (which would make sense), instead you should complete most of the level, then massively backtrack to the secret area, which makes no sense but it’s the only way to avoid getting softlocked.

Once you actually reach the secret you’re rewarded with the choice of four loot areas connected to four teleporters. Three of the teleporters send you to another loot area, whilst the fourth teleports you back to the main level. So once again you can get screwed due to lack of “a priori” knowledge, because how are you supposed to know which teleporters to take in which order? If you’re unlucky enough to choose the exit teleporter first you end up missing out on some prime loot through no fault of your own. Bad! Bad level design!

SAY BRO, ARE YOU WILLING AND ABEL? This level starts out strong with some intense firefights. Then it falls flat when you get into a ventilation duct system. I don’t understand what the obsession is with all these dark maze-like ventilation system areas in Trojan. They’re not aesthetically interesting, and there’s really no tactical aspect to the duct-based combat, because there’s almost nowhere to dodge and enemies just queue up in a line to be mowed down in any case.

But the most shocking thing to me is that grenade hopping was actually required to proceed. I was able to explore all the ducts except one, which required grenade hopping to reach, and I don’t feel that grenade hopping should ever be required of the player, since it is an uncommon skill that many casual players don’t even know about. I think this may be a bug or something that didn’t get ported to Aleph One correctly, since in the online guide getting to the elevated duct was a non-event. Also, in the online guide it stated that four blue switches needed to be activated in one room to proceed, but in my game only one of those switches would activate. I suspect that one of the other three blue switches that would not activate might have made the duct area more traversable, obviating the need for grenade hopping.

BIG PIG New cool-looking human allies and a big new alien enemy! Hooray! This is one of my favorite levels of Trojan. There is fun combat against challenging enemies, and no puzzles to slow down the action.

BURN! BURN! BURN! Another solid combat focused level. A few times I ran into an apparent dead end, but some quick backtracking revealed the way forward. This level also has one of the most difficult to find secrets in Trojan:

*Spoiler ahead It involved counterintuitively opening a door from the wrong direction, from a room that was adjacent to the actual door room. End spoiler***

DAMAGE IS OUR MIDDLE NAME This is a pretty straightforward romp through some alien-infested caves. There was one door switch that I had trouble with (it didn’t open at first), but after that it was smooth sailing and some fun combat. The final nuke detonation was a nice touch.

AGGRESSIVE MARKETING Three new types of challenging enemies to fight! Yes! Some cool new graphics as we explore the GenCorp ship! Yes! The storyline is getting interesting as you have to deal with a new hostile faction! Yes! A tedious switch hunt, with no less than six terminals that must be read for successful level completion? Noooo!

At one point a door in the southern central part of the map should have opened but did not. I’m not sure what the trigger for that door was, but after much backtracking on my part the door did finally open.

DEATH OF DRUMMAND This level is all about platforming, by which I mean using split second timing to make jumps to moving platforms. Failure usually means a dip in a lava bath, or the indignity of having to wait for a slow-as-molasses elevator to get back to the correct position. But…the Marathon engine doesn’t really lend itself to parkour of any kind. Marathon physics are such that even if you successfully make the jump, you’ll frequently bounce off the platforms you were aiming for. At least the most difficult section had a teleporter-out-of-the-lava nearby, to make the consequences of your inevitable many failures not quite so frustrating.

DOUGHNUTS FOR DINNER We’re back on the GenCorp ship, ready for some fun combat and not-so-fun switch/terminal hunting. I want to say that I appreciate the GenCorp ship levels actually look like a ship (from an architectural perspective, when looking at the auto-map) and I think that’s pretty impressive. Also, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but I’d like to say that I appreciate it that in Trojan the devs were really good about warning the player that a terminal was about to teleport them somewhere, so they’d have the option to press escape to abort if they still had unfinished business in the area. This may seem like a small thing, but a lot of other Marathon campaigns have a problem with terminals teleporting the player without warning.

In this level enemy tanks make an appearance! But our arsenal has been upgraded as well, with rocket launchers that are quite formidable. There’s lots of heavy fighting on this level, and the challenge was welcome.

SAY IT WITH GRENADES Another combat focused level, and one of the best in Trojan, in my opinion. The reactor that you’re supposed to blow up looks cool, and I liked how after the detonation you see how it affected the lighting in the areas of the level you’ve already been through.

Towards the end of the level there is an elevator that, once taken, forces you to engage in a lot of pointless backtracking. It’s actually useful once you destroy the reactor, but you’re likely to encounter (and use it) before then, which is not a good thing. For the purposes of utility and streamlined gameplay, this elevator should only have been activated after the reactor was destroyed.

ELECTRIC As soon as the level starts you’re hit with a very cheap ambush, as aliens swarm you from multiple angles and you have almost nowhere to dodge their attacks since you’re precariously perched on the edge of a lava lake. Basically, before the player even gets their bearings they’re probably already taking significant damage. Players could easily be killed by this ambush, then have to replay the entire previous level because there are no pattern buffers on the GenCorp ship! That would really suck, and it’s a pretty good justification for why this sort of instant-ambush-at-level-start is always a bad idea.

As far as the theme of this level, the devs must have said, “Hey, let’s make a level where half of it is so dark the player can’t see a damn thing. Then they’ll have no choice but to use the infravision power-up that most people ignore because it’s so horrible!” Unfortunately, even the brightly lit half of the level has problems, since at two separate points the player must locate a secret door to proceed. Why??? I mean, for secret areas, sure, make the player take the time to search for a secret door. But for just normally completing a level give the player a break; there’s no reason secret doors should ever be mandatory.

Speaking of secret areas, there is one in this level that requires a large amount of grenade jumping to reach. Grenade jumping is a rare skill that few players possess or even know about; even for secrets I’d argue that grenade jumping should never be mandatory, though I’m sure some people will disagree.

LUNE NOIR The alien ship graphics are great; even the sounds of the alien doors are cool. I liked the new fusion weapon (retrieved on the last level, but probably first used here), and the new rapid fire alien weapon. There is also a new alien enemy type that looks suitably bizarre and, let’s face it, variety is the spice of life. I’m really impressed with the huge number of different enemy types that can be found in Trojan.

This level has some pretty horrible switch hunts. But even worse, at one point I thought I was softlocked because I seemed to be stuck in an area. Even tabbing all the walls looking for secret doors did me no good. So, I was forced to consult the online spoiler guide, only to discover I should have tabbed a weapon shelf in the center of the room, which was actually a secret elevator that led out of the area. There is no way I ever would have found that without the spoiler guide!

SAVAGE STREAK The graphics for the alien command center looked great. The combat was mostly fun, and there were several clever ambushes.

Unfortunately, there is a part where you are forced to drop down into a river of harmful alien goo. Even worse, this happens far, far away from the only shield recharger on the level, so you pretty much have to do a bunch of tedious backtracking to get health before even attempting this. Even if you do take such precautions, it’s still quite possible to be killed by the goo, because once you drop down to hit the necessary switch, it’s not at all clear where you have to go. Looking on the auto-map will basically tell you a general direction to escape, but that’s it. And once you’re in the goo river and taking constant damage your entire freaking screen will be turning bright green; in my case I actually ran right past the hidden exit teleporter and died because I couldn’t see the damn thing in time.

EAT YOUR MICROWAVE Aside from the normal tedious switch hunts, what sets this level apart is a fantastic boss battle that takes place around an alien monolith (the alien computer core).

There is also, unfortunately, a teleporter puzzle that’s more annoying than dangerous. There are five teleporters situated around a pool of harmful alien goo. Of course only one takes you where you want to go, and the rest teleport you all over the map, necessitating lots of tiresome backtracking. You have no way of knowing which teleporter is the correct one, so trial and error is the order of the day. Because you’re taking damage from the alien goo, it reduces visibility on your screen and it’s easy to get confused about which teleporters you have already taken. So yeah, I was not a fan of that puzzle.

NON DORMIT, QUI CUSTODIT Big plot revelations and even bigger firefights lie ahead. Appropriately, since this is an epic mission to retrieve the alien Macguffin that everyone’s after, it has one of the best soundtracks in Trojan.

Unfortunately, some of the monsters in the level had trouble triggering and just ignored me. For the most part, Trojan has been really good about using monster triggers correctly, so this took me by surprise. The lack of enemy aggression made some difficult fights easy, including the boss battle for the artifact. Since the huge boss monster was ignoring me, and I got typical non-combat hit registration sounds and graphics when I fired a few bullets at the boss, I mistook it for just some impressive-looking flavor graphics. I then left the room and the artifact behind, completed the rest of the level, then had to consult the online guide to find out what to do next! Fortunately, my second visit to the boss did result in an epic battle. But there’s no way to retrieve the alien artifact without grenade jumping, and you know my feelings about mandatory grenade jumping (grenade jumping should never be mandatory to complete a mission!!!).

I do have to give plaudits to Trojan for having an entertaining variety of mission objectives. So many Marathon campaigns fall into the tired cliche of “there’s some aliens here, go kill them.” But Trojan has mission-based gameplay that syncs with a fairly interesting story. In Trojan you get to grab alien artifacts, fight fun boss battles, destroy a giant monolith, and even detonate a nuclear bomb. How many other campaigns have even attempted such things?

There is an incredibly difficult-to-reach secret near the level start that’ll have you tearing your hair out.

*Multiple spoilers ahead** It’s pretty obvious from looking at the auto-map that there’s an elevated ledge at the top of a mining shaft. The only way to get up there is to pull off an extremely difficult rocket jump. It took me probably 100+ tries, and when I got up there I was face to face with an angry alien and had no choice but to drop back down again or be killed. So I kill the alien, make another 100+ attempts before getting back up there, only to find…a blank terminal. WTF? At first it seemed like a cruel joke by the devs, but then I got to thinking, “What if the terminal is tied to the success of the mission?” So I grabbed the alien artifact, came back, made countless more attempts to rocket jump up to this stupid ledge a third time…Ugh! My suspicions about the terminal were correct, and I was taken to a secret level…But really, the amount of effort to get to this secret was kind of ludicrous. For some of Trojan’s secrets you really have to be a glutton for punishment.

LOVE PUPPY 23 (secret level) It’s a vacuum level, which might not be a big deal except there are several puzzles to figure out, which will cost you precious time and air. So yeah, you’re going to have some suffocation deaths.

Also, pretty early in the level there’s an unexpected lethal crusher trap that will almost certainly kill you the first time you encounter it. Everything about this level seems to be designed to punish the player for not having “a priori” knowledge about it, which I feel is unfair. To add insult to injury, since there’s zero pattern buffers in the entire level, that means you’ll get kicked back to the previous level and have to do the stupid rocketing jumping thing a hundred more times to re-enter the secret level.

Hah! That was a joke. Even the most masochistic players wouldn’t torture themselves like that. I just used the level skip cheat after my first death on Love Puppy 23. Apparently the devs realized that was what people were going to do, so they helpfully provided a bunch of weapons and ammo at the level start; in this way level-skippers have a fighting chance for the combat portions of the map, rather than having to struggle with just a single pistol. *End spoilers***

HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL There are no less than three enemy factions on this level, hell bent on killing you and each other! That is so cool!

In the eastern part of the map there are two lava bridges to choose from. If you end up choosing them in the wrong order you can end up…well, I wouldn’t call it a “softlock” because it is possible to escape, but still, it’s quite difficult, and it may not be immediately apparent just how much trouble you’re in until you’ve cleared out the eastern part of the map and come back to the lava bridge to find it missing! Then you’d better hope you’ve got a lot of health left so you can survive an extended lava bath, which is the only way to recover. The bottom line is, you may lose a lot of time and progress simply because you made a rather innocuous choice about which bridge to take.

Towards the end of the level you’ll face some of the most tactically challenging fights in all of Trojan, as you face off against powerful juggernauts whilst high atop a narrow walkway with a lava lake below. Your only avenue of retreat will descend into the lava after you’ve crossed it, adding to the fun. I actually had to plan out how I was going to fight my way through this, and felt a real sense of accomplishment when I succeeded.

FROM OUR BACON MENU The level is based on a central hub that you keep coming back to as you open up more parts of the level. This is solid, professional level design and I enjoyed playing this level. The combat was tough but fair, which is what you’d expect from the second-to-last level of the campaign.

DANCE THE LAST WALTZ WITH ME You get to see some new graphics for the Hades ship, get to listen to a good soundtrack, and even get to fight bobs! There is not a single pattern buffer on the level, but this is acceptable for the final level of the campaign. The epilogue tied up most of the plot's loose ends, though it seems there were plans for a sequel that never materialized.

In summation, this campaign features some great combat, a decent story, and new graphics/sounds/music. There are definitely some rough edges, particularly regarding some puzzles and switch hunts. But if you’re a fan of Marathon 1, this is definitely a total conversion worth checking out!

  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

Great Architecture, Unpolished Gameplay Portal of Sigma

MurgenROoF on Jan 1st, 2023, Version 1.1

This is an eleven level campaign notable for its highly detailed architecture, linear level flow, and incomprehensible story. There are new weapons and new graphics, but much of the gameplay is unpolished.

First, I have to mention the architecture. It’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into it. You’ll almost never see simple rectangular hallways or square rooms. There’s lots of neat little touches, such as artistic wall indentations used to create unique-looking rooms, or waterways that flow sensibly into a central reservoir. There are also some neat mapmaking tricks, like being able to move/swim through some waterfalls to reach an adjacent area, or finding secrets hidden behind illusionary walls. Lighting, often ignored by many mapmakers, is consistently used to good effect in this campaign. Overall, the map structures have some of the most attention to detail I’ve seen in any scenario, and it’s almost a shame because many of these beautiful areas are sparsely populated with enemies and the player will spend little time in them.

Combat would be fairly easy if not for a pervasive lack of shield rechargers. Save terminals are plentiful, however. Many of the Pfhor enemies have a new look and generally they are more dangerous than their vanilla counterparts; however, they are also encountered in smaller numbers. There are a few instances of unfair teleporter ambushes in which enemies suddenly appear right next to the player, but overall combat was fun and reasonable.

The level flow is one of the biggest strengths of this campaign. Unlike many Marathon scenarios, the player will not have to waste a lot of time looking for switches or trying to figure out what to do next. This is because the levels are designed in a linear manner; thankfully this is done in such a way that it does not feel forced. There are a few times that a switch opens a door out of line-of-sight; thankfully when this happens there is often a helpful terminal nearby that will use both text and pictures to show specifically what door got opened by what switch. But unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only good thing I have to say about the terminals in this campaign.

The storyline is incomprehensible. After playing through all eleven levels I still have no idea what the Portal of Sigma is, or why I was sent on a mission to capture and/or destroy it. Spelling errors abound. Perhaps the developer does not speak English as his first language, but this is definitely a case in which finding an English-speaking proofreader would have been helpful. Or heck, even just using a spellchecker could have done wonders in terms of legibility.

The lack of polish shown with the terminals extends into the gameplay, and it’s probably most obvious with the new weapons. Pretty much every weapon has either been replaced or remastered, but the execution is lacking. The new arsenal includes a cool-looking chain gun, a triple rocket launcher, and a railgun that can shoot through multiple enemies. But some of these weapon graphics actually blink out of existence during certain animations. Even worse, there is actually inconsistency in how the weapons function! For example, the chain gun usually has a moderate rate of fire and can shoot two grenades at once. But sometimes, due to some sort of glitch or bug, the fire rate becomes insanely fast, only single grenades are shot, and the ammo capacity is suddenly reduced to about 40% of the normal maximum.

There are several later levels in which swimming is necessary to proceed. This wouldn’t be a big deal except I don’t think there is a single oxygen recharger anywhere in the second half of the campaign. By the final level I was down to just a few seconds worth of oxygen left. I fear that some players will end up getting stuck, essentially softlocked, because they’ll exhaust their oxygen supply and have no way to replenish it.

Level notes:

Ghar’hima Ship: What was the point of giving the player health and a pistol in the first level if it’s just going to be immediately lost in the subsequent Rebellion level? The force field was cool.

Suenagaku – This is a secret level that’s clearly unfinished. Half the level is unpopulated, and much of the remainder consists of elaborate corridors that lead to dead ends. There is a secret area that can only be opened by smashing some wires that are already smashed (this magically makes them whole again!). The newly opened secret area shows dev-specific text on the automap.

Todo lo que queda: In the fight against three blue hunters, one of them got stuck on the terrain.

All Good People: The battle inside the water tower was spectacular. The architecture was some of the best I’ve seen in any Marathon level.

Dream a Prophecy: This is a secret “Vidmaster” level that can only be reached from One Mint Julip. Apparently there was also a way to reach it from Destination HELL but the terminal was never activated? It’s the hardest level of the campaign and the challenge was welcome.

All Those Spooky: The final battle was anti-climactic. The player cuts through a few weak fighters, some F’lickta, and then reaches the victory terminal? Seriously?

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

An Epic Campaign Eternal X

MurgenROoF on Dec 24th, 2022, Version 1.3 preview 4

Note: I played through version 1.3 Preview 4.

Eternal is a massive 52 level campaign that’s essentially a love letter to the original Marathon trilogy. It’s a ton of fun and adds a lot of new content in terms of graphics, weapons, gameplay tweaks, and sound. In terms of quality I would say this is definitely one of the top three Marathon 3rd party campaigns.

Graphically the textures, weapons, and enemies have all been redone and they actually look much better than the original. There’s lots of new terminal art and it is of superior quality. Your motion spotter looks different; even the main menu screen has a new look. All Eternal textures look good, but the neon fluorescent Pfhor textures in particular look phenomenal.

There are also a bunch of cool-looking new weapons that are fun to use and generally handle well.

Gameplay tweaks: Oxygen now auto-replenishes in oxygen-filled environments, which is a great quality of life improvement! Your motion spotter now includes a compass, and the auto-map now tracks enemies, items, and even projectiles.

Eternal features a useful secrets counter. This tracks how many secrets are on the current level, plus how may secrets you’ve had the opportunity to find overall.

The campaign features autosaving by default. It can be disabled under the “Environment-Plugins” option.

Eternal has branching level paths. In the fourth level of every chapter there will be exits to two possible successor levels. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I feel it’s good to give the player choices (or the illusion of choice, since all of the paths eventually merge back together).

But on the other hand, I felt the execution had some problems. For example, on “Sakmet Rising” it is highly likely that the player will run into a Hathor terminal shortly after starting the level, which will whisk the player off to the “Remedial Chaos Theory” level. The player might not even realize they have a choice of going with Hathor versus staying with Tycho and completing the remaining 90% of “Sakmet Rising.” It’s just so counterintuitive, and it means that anyone intending to play every Eternal level had better start by finding a spoiler guide so they can plan out exactly how they’re going to do it. I would suggest either making the branching paths more obvious to the player via terminal text, or getting rid of the branching paths entirely and making the failure path the normal path.

Sound: There are hours of new music, and most of it is pretty good. Many of the songs are evocative of the original Marathon 1 soundtrack, in a good way. For example, Eternal has a new version of Bungie’s “Rushing” song that uses, I think, brass horns? Well anyways, it’s a really kick ass song that lends itself to fast-paced combat scenarios, which is appropriate because when you first hear it a massive firefight is breaking out on the bridge of the Marathon! My favorite soundtrack was probably “Carbon” which I thought synced well with the chaotic situation at the start of Chapter 3.

The plot: The plot did not grab me at first; much of the early exposition was irrelevant and could easily have been cut. I fear new players might try the campaign, encounter an initial wall of text with lots of technobabble, and log out before ever seeing the strengths of Eternal. However, once the plot gets moving, it REALLY gets moving! Eternal ended up having my favorite Marathon 3rd party scenario story. Looking back on it, the narrative is pretty amazing in scope, and touches upon almost every bit of lore from Bungie’s official campaigns.

Time travel is central to the story of Eternal. Yes, it is a problematic plot device for many reasons, but I became OK with it once I realized it was actually an excuse to take the player on a walk down nostalgia lane, as you’ll get to revisit some iconic locations from Bungie’s trilogy. I loved how there was always a cool new twist to those locations.

Some of the terminal text is in the form of poetry; normally I would not say that poetry is a medium that lends itself to storytelling in the first person shooter genre. However, in this case, I would argue that there are parts of Eternal’s plot that could not be effectively delivered without the use of poetry. For example, the story of the level “The Manipulated Dead” has a powerful emotional payoff, but it simply wouldn’t work if normal word syntax was used.

Eternal has a memorable antagonist. Most Marathon scenarios don’t even bother with an antagonist, or if they do it’s just “Generic Pfhor Warlord #9735” who is out to conquer humanity, and how many times have you kicked that guy’s ass? But Eternal’s antagonist has all the hallmarks of a great villain — a personal connection to the protagonist, regular interactions with the protagonist, the ability to react to any setbacks the protagonist might cause, and just a generally interesting backstory and motivation.

Level design: Alas, there are too many switches that open stuff to who knows where. Too many levels devolved into a switch hunt, or trying to find what area the last activated switch opened up. Many levels require hitting about 20(!) switches to reach the end, which means there’s 20 different places for the player to screw up and get needlessly lost or stuck. The single biggest thing that would make Eternal better would be to tone done the switch hunts, or institute some kind of waypoint system to keep the player from getting stuck because they missed 1 switch out of 20. I used the “Eat the Path” plugin to help find where I needed to go, which helped but it was not perfect.

Level notes:

Tangent Universe — A somber level as the player witnesses the defeat of the human race on a space station close to the sun; there is great music to set the mood. On this level the location of the sun is used to good effect to cast shadows.

Enantiodromia — The terminal text did a great job of setting up Chapter 2, and your fight against Battle Group One. The plot of Chapter 2 was my favorite, because it felt like I was coming into this military stalemate and just singlehandedly turning the whole thing around.

Chapter 2 — The spaceport levels had superb aesthetics; the music, plus the ambient rain and thunder synced perfectly with the idea of fighting in a far flung alien outpost as massive Pfhor capitol ships loomed on the horizon.

Chapter 3 — I loved all the callbacks to Marathon 2!

Let Sleeping Gods Die —The spiral staircase was inspired.

How deep the rabbit hole goes — The water pillar in this level was another thing that I didn’t even know was possible in the Marathon engine.

Second to Last of the Mohicans — A working conveyor belt! Another thing I’ve never seen in the Marathon engine before!

The Incredible Hulk — What a great way to explore Marathon lore. The events are mentioned in the official trilogy, but now we get to be an active participant in them.

This Cave is Not a Natural Formation — Some really great looking architecture in the initial arena and the northeast cave area.

Frog Blast the Vent Core — I liked the lighting, the bridge, and the smashed up part of the ship.

This Message Will Self Destruct — My favorite combat level. You’ve acquired an arsenal of really powerful weapons, and now you get to use them against hordes of powerful enemies.

Where Giants Have Fallen — Wow, the circular ascent was really clever! I probably could have grenade jumped up, but I wanted to take the scenic route, listen to the poignant music, and reminisce over the epic journey I just completed.

Thanks so much for making this, I had a blast playing it!

  • Currently 4/5 Stars.

A really unique mini-campaign Megiddo Game

MurgenROoF on Dec 20th, 2022, Version

It’s a 3 level mini-campaign that’s notable because of the new texture sets.

The first level takes place in a corporate office complete with cubicles and 90’s style desktop computers. Graphically nothing like this has been done in any other Marathon scenario; it really does have a unique look to it. Seeing hostile aliens teleporting into a corporate board room or coming out of a washroom provides a…I guess you could call it a culture shock? Basically you’re seeing a huge dissonance between “normal” things and unnatural sci-fi things that don’t normally go together.

Even better, the terminals in this level are hilarious! It’s not often you see humor in Marathon scenarios, let alone humor done well, but these jokes were actually funny. The humor is situational; the Pfhor are attacking a small business and the human employees are in a state of panic, but corporate leadership is more concerned with profits and deadlines than the welfare of their staff. It’s poking fun at contemporary office work culture in a way that had me laughing out loud more than a few times.

Unfortunately, the mission objectives for this first level (and indeed all levels in Megiddo Game) were overly convoluted. Your first objective is to smash four wall panels, but they use new graphics so you’re not even sure what you’re looking for. Even worse, the wall panels are small and easy to miss. You are given vague directions to three of the four panels, but still you can expect to spend most of your time on this level trying to figure out what to do next, not fighting aliens.

Another part of the level requires you to find a pretty well hidden underwater passage. Such a thing might be OK for a secret area harboring extra loot for the player, but no, this is a mandatory part of the level.

For the level finale the player makes their way to the office roof and fights a fun battle against a large enemy force. I was a little puzzled to see a possessed drone among the regular Pfhor drones though, as that drone fought as my ally during the battle. That was probably a bit of erroneous combatant placement by the mapmaker.

The second level of Megiddo takes place on a derelict alien ship and uses a totally new texture set which looks awesome. This level also contains numerous secrets, but each secret is cleverly revealed to the player beforehand. Basically you are shown the secret loot cache, but it’s currently unaccessible, then as you progress through the level you can try and figure out how to reach it. This sort of baiting with hints is I think the best way to handle secrets, and it makes finding them the most fun.

The third and final level takes place on the Pfhor homeworld, and once again features a new texture set with some spectacular graphics. The creator of this campaign went on to make Tempus Irae, a famous Marathon campaign based on Italian Renaissance architecture, and in this level you can really see the architectural genius that led to his later successful endeavors. For example, part of level three contains a majestic Pfhor temple with spiral fluted columns that wouldn’t be too out of place in Tempus Irae despite its alien origins.

One last note — do not use HD texture plugins with this campaign because they are graphically incompatible with the new textures. The readme warns about this, and I can confirm this warning is valid.

This is a really unique campaign that’s worth checking out, just make sure to find a spoiler guide in case you get stuck.

  • Currently 4/5 Stars.

Great concept, great execution! Kill Them All IV

MurgenROoF on Nov 24th, 2022, Version 1.00

You know what the single biggest, most common problem is with Marathon levels? Being lost with no idea of where to go or what to do. This leads to downtime, and downtime leads to boredom! Boredom sucks!

KTA IV has a simple but effective solution to kill boredom where it stands.

Each level is very small and simple (less than 100 polygons), and there is no plot to slow you down. It’s pure, 100% carnage, because in order to activate the teleporter to go to the next level you have to…well, the scenario is entitled “Kill Them All,” so it’s pretty self explanatory.

But the action is about as streamlined as it gets, with no downtime, and no getting lost.

Because there are a whopping 52 levels, they are divided into six different chapters. The first level acts as a sort of hub, allowing you to play the chapters in any order. It is probably best to play them in numerical order, because the difficulty level does ramp up in the later chapters.

Each level is a Rebellion level, meaning you start with no weapons and little health. This keeps things fresh because you never know what resources will be available in a particular level. It also ensures the difficulty cannot become too easy or too hard based upon long-term resource acquisition.

A large amount of authors contributed to this, which is nice because it means there’s a lot of variety in the level design. I’ll just mention a few levels I found noteworthy:

“Power Word Kill” is a level that’s all about the rocket launcher. You get tons of rockets and the high ground, and down below you are large concentrations of enemies just waiting to be exploded. It’s the best case scenario for everyone who loves rockets.

“The limacon” has a truly bizarre architectural design. Pulsating lighting adds to the effect, and a huge battle against invisible compilers is just icing on the cake.

“Purple Haze” sets you on a small island with a central building. Opening one of the building’s doors will pit you face to face with a horde of powerful enemies, and the small available battle area means you’ll need to make good choices about where to fight and when to run.

“Polygons, Platforms, and Duct Tape” features a central room with a pool of water in the middle. As the player explores the level hordes of enemies will be released, and some of them will inevitably fall into the deepest parts of the central water pool where they will become stuck. This caused me some consternation because I knew I had to kill all the enemies, but there were so many baddies stuck at the bottom of the pool I was certain I would suffocate before I could punch them all to death. Plus, that would be really time consuming and boring. Later I found a flechette that could fire underwater and hasten the process, but still it just seemed like sloppy level design. Finally, at the end of the level, it was revealed that the two water pits were in fact platforms that would be raised so that all the trapped enemies would be released to fight again. So the water pit traps were not unintentional, as I first suspected, but I still think that this could probably have been handled in a better way.

“Victoria” is a level that’s all about the shotgun. Now in Bungie’s campaigns shotgun ammo was rare enough that most players would carefully hoard it, using it only in the direst of situations. But in this level your only weapon is a shotgun, and ammo is plentiful, so you finally get to go crazy with this seldom-used but powerful weapon. It certainly helps that the level features close quarters fighting with large clumps of enemies, which is where the shotgun performs best!

This combat-focused campaign is great fun, and well worth playing!

  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

It’s a complex mini-campaign Kindred Spirits

MurgenROoF on Nov 24th, 2022, Version

So this is a sequel to Marathon Phoenix. Some of the good things from Phoenix got carried over to this mini-campaign, but alas, some of the things that made Phoenix great are lacking.

Level design remains top notch, with one exception which I’ll discuss below. The “Dr. Tycho’s Castle” level really did seem to have a castle-style layout, complete with moats and parapets. “Compressed Output” had elegant architecture with some fun set pieces.

The secret skulls system that worked so well in Phoenix is back. And although many of the adversaries are standard Pfhor, others are special upgraded versions that provide an extra challenge. For example, one is a tan cyborg that’s capable of throwing grenades at high velocity at the player.

Unfortunately, two of the best things about Phoenix were its new weapon arsenal and its music soundtrack, and both of those are absent from Kindred Spirits.

Also, I had mixed feelings about the final level “When the Water Breaks.” The level is too complex for its own good. It must have been really difficult to make, but in this case more complexity did not equal more quality.

There are so many overlapping polygons that the automap quickly becomes useless. It also doesn’t help that there are locked doors everywhere, and it’s often not clear what will open them — sometimes it’s a chip insertion, other times a switch, other times it’s just walking on a particular polygon. As I wandered through the level, lost, I kept saying to myself, “Why do there have be so many stupid doors between me and the bad guys? Just let me smite the baddies already!”

In the southeast corner of the map I ended up strafing out a window that looked solid but was not. I ended up stuck in outer space, softlocked, and had to reload from a previous save.

At least when I finally did make it through all those horrid locked doors there was a payoff. The final battle was an epic one to be sure, with lots of fun carnage against a wide variety of enemy types.

In conclusion, Kindred Spirits is not as good as Phoenix, but it is entertaining. For those Phoenix players who were sad when it ended and wanted more, this is definitely worth a playthrough.

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

A really fun combat focused campaign Marathon Phoenix

MurgenROoF on Nov 23rd, 2022, Version 1.4.1

This is a major campaign which is all about combat. What sets the fighting of Phoenix apart from other scenarios is a plethora of cool all-new weapons paired with new enemies to fight and great level design.

The new weapons are more powerful than the standard Marathon arsenal. For example, one is a fusion cannon that functions like the standard fusion pistol except it lobs energy shells which explode on impact with a large radius of effect. In this way packs of hunters and other fusion-vulnerable enemies can be decimated.

Another weapon is a powerful crossbow that can be used to accurately snipe enemies at long range. Since the standard Marathon arsenal focuses mostly on close-range weapons, the ability to push out combat to longer distances is appreciated.

But don’t fret that the new weapons will make the combat in Phoenix too easy; you’ll need the extra firepower! That’s because the enemies in Phoenix also got a power upgrade! Although you’ll fight plenty of the standard Pfhor which you’re already well familiar with, there are a lot of new enemies that present new threats. None of these new enemies have new graphics, but they do possess different combat capabilities from the ones that you’re used to.

For example, there is a kind of super hunter in Phoenix that has a burst-fire attack that spews out a huge number of projectiles with a large amount of inaccuracy. Thus, you’ll quickly learn to avoid close range combat with that kind of hunter. There are also a few gold-colored boss enemies that you’ll learn to fear. And defenders are featured as a common enemy, which is nice because they were rarely seen in Bungie’s official campaigns, and even then they were allies, not enemies. Thus, most Marathon players have never had to fight defenders before, but in Phoenix you’ll fight a lot of them, and the challenge is welcome.

There are a lot of optional secrets to find in Phoenix, and even a unique skull system that will help you track them. Basically, every time you find a secret you’ll find a skull with it. Picking up a skull will tell you how many secrets are left in that particular level, letting you know how much progress you’re making towards 100% secrets completion (useful for completionists like me).

Level design is really top notch. Not only because there are some great set piece battles, but also because a lot of attention has been paid to aesthetics. For example in “Sanctum Sanctorum” you’re exploring a long-abandoned temple, and to reinforce that plot point you see one of the floor tiles has been torn out of the floor at the level start. It’s just little touches like that that show a high amount of attention to detail. You’ll almost never see just boring, featureless, rectangular rooms — everything in Phoenix looks designed for a purpose.

The campaign features a really great music soundtrack. I grabbed it and put it on my iTunes. My favorite song was “The Complex” by Kevin Macleod; it’s absolutely the sort of action music that would go along with storming a heavily fortified enemy base, which is what you’re doing when you hear it!

The story was entertaining enough. Terminals give clear level objectives. Unlike most Marathon campaigns, Phoenix features an active and dynamic antagonist. I did have one complaint about the end of the story though.

SPOILERS AHEAD! At the end Durandal shows up and effortlessly defeats the Pfhor. I felt this denigrates the accomplishments of the player. Because if you had a super powerful ally who could just show up and zap the bad guys, then was all the heroism of the player meaningless? Apparently this was done to link the plot of Phoenix to other Marathon mods, but I think it would have been better to just omit that plot point entirely. END SPOILERS

Other cool stuff that is unique to Phoenix or has only rarely been done before:

”Stone Temple Pilates” has cliffs that kill you if you fall off them.

“Shades of Gray” does a great job of building up a sense of foreboding before introducing a new enemy type.

”Into Sandy’s City” is a neat concept for an underwater base level. There is an air-filled base surrounded by water, and to reach all parts of the level you have to venture out into a ruined flooded area of the base.

“Enchanting New Mexico” is a homage to Bungie’s “What About Bob?” In this level you have to outrun rising lava no less than four times! And it features a really impressive multi-story tower, which may have been a little too complex its design, as this is one of the few levels I got lost in.

“Escape Two Thousand” is a level situated high above a lava lake, and it’s all about platforming. I’m not gonna lie, I am not generally a fan of platforming in Marathon. But if ever there was an example of Marathon platforming done right, this is it. The whole level I was saying, “I can’t actually be meant to jump across the lava to that tiny little ledge, can I?” But a glance at the automap would confirm my path, and I’d probably have some very intense moments as I tried to find my footing and fight off baddies who might knock me off my precarious perch into the lava sea below. Did I get fried to a crisp a few times? Sure, but I had fun doing it!

“Vampire Killer” was my least favorite level of the campaign. The point of the level is to activate a switch that will flood the whole level, opening up new areas to explore. It’s a great idea in concept, but the execution was lacking. Firstly, there are a lot of waterfalls in the level, but after the water level rises the waterfalls are still there, and it just looks bad. This is a rare example of poor aesthetics in Phoenix, and though the waterfalls-under-water ugliness is found throughout the campaign, it’s especially noticeable in this level. Secondly, a bunch of bad guys will invariably get stuck under the floodwaters, rendering them harmless and highlighting how the Marathon engine does a poor job with underwater combat.

“Roquefortress” was my favorite level of Phoenix. There’s a great dichotomy between light and dark areas, and the soundtrack “Animosity” just syncs with it perfectly and made the plot premise of exploring an abandoned mining facility really come to life.

Every Marathon fan should check out this campaign, it’s great fun!

  • Currently 4/5 Stars.

It’s almost a total conversion TrAVel

MurgenROoF on Nov 22nd, 2022, Version 1.0

This campaign includes new tilesets, lots of new terminal and chapter art, and all new enemies. There is not a single Pfhor in this campaign, and let me tell you, it is nice to be fighting someone different for a change!!!

At first I wasn’t sold on the new enemy design; the initial rebels and drones you encounter aren’t very tough and are functionally similar to Pfhor fighters and drones, respectively. But the enemy design only gets better as you progress. For example, you run into an invisible alien enemy, but they aren’t like S’pht Compilers. Instead these enemies give telltale clues to their presence that you have to look out for. There is a humorous enemy — a pizza delivery kid, that had me laughing out loud when I heard his (her?) voice acting and saw how he (she?) attacked. Some of the later enemies are very tough and will test your Marathon combat skills to the limit.

And that actually leads me to my main criticism of this campaign, which has to do with the difficulty level. I played on Normal, and the early levels had me fighting weak enemies that weren’t much threat. I was seriously considered bumping up the difficulty to Total Carnage, but later events made that unnecessary. That’s because the later levels are actually really hard because the late game enemies are extremely dangerous. While the challenge is welcome, I do feel it’s important to note that the disparity in difficulty levels between the early game and late game is the largest I have ever seen in any Marathon scenario.

The storyline is about fighting a group of hostile alien rebels who have an anti-human ideology. It’s passable, but don’t expect to be wowed by the plot.

Level design is linear, which is good. In many Marathon scenarios I have the problem of having no idea where to go or what to do, but in TrAVel I very seldom had that problem. Each level is a series of self enclosed areas leading to one another. Clear level objectives, not much chance of getting lost, and no infuriating puzzles or platforming means this campaign avoids many of the most common Marathon mod mistakes.

There were a few minor architectural problems — a few unfilled polygons, and some buildings, particularly in level 2, that had poor use of the “landscape” visual feature. There was a point in one of the later levels where I fell in a pit and got stuck with no way out; I had to reload from an earlier save. But overall, this is a very unique and fun scenario worth checking out!

  • Currently 1/5 Stars.

It's a readme. CARNAGE VILA 46! README

MurgenROoF on Nov 21st, 2022, Version 3.0

Nothing to see here, folks.

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

It's really intense! XBLA Survival

MurgenROoF on Nov 21st, 2022, Version 2.1

Your goal is to survive as long as possible. At the start of each match you’re given a few seconds to grab weapons and ammo, then the enemies will start spawning in and they won’t stop coming!

The fighting is just about as ferocious as Marathon combat can get, and the search for ammo means you can never camp one location for very long. At first only weak enemies like drones show up, but the longer you survive the tougher the baddies get. The longest I’ve survived on the XBLA maps is 14 minutes, and by that time the map was filled with juggernauts, blue hunters, and red defenders!

Actually that leads to my one disappointment about this game mode, which is that it has no end and is un-winnable. You will always eventually be overwhelmed and die, but I think it would have been so cool if you could somehow survive against all odds to win. At the 14 minute mark the map will be so flooded with enemies that have enormous health pools that it actually becomes impossible to traverse the map to get ammo, so your doom is assured.

There are four purpose-built XBLA maps to play Survival on, plus you can play on standard netmaps. I did notice that when playing on standard netmaps that the monster AI would glitch out. To avoid this make sure to enable Aleph One Previous AI:

It should also be noted that the four XBLA maps are specifically designed for Survival, but other netmaps are not. So it’s actually possible to hide on some of the non-XBLA netmaps and survive however long you want. But that’s not very exciting, is it?

Playing this game mode on solo maps will not work because you aren’t going to find enough ammo and the levels aren’t designed for it.

Enemies, ammo, and health spawn in randomly, which unfortunately can lead to luck playing a role in your lifespan. Basically, when a health canister spawns in, you want to take note of its location, and to hold off on using it as long as possible, because you’ll only get a few and you need to conserve them. But it becomes a problem when the health canisters randomly spawn in a bad location, like out in the open when red defenders with highly damaging homing shots are flooding the map. But, at least the high amount of randomization means that every game will be different.

In order to conserve ammo you’ll need to make the most efficient use of what you’ve got. That means the often ignored flamethrower actually ends up being one of the best early game weapons. But the flamethrower can become a liability when large numbers of flame-immune enemies start appearing. Tactically, it’s a really great thing to force the player to adapt their weapon use to reflect the enemy mix they are fighting; it means the player can never be complacent and just lazily stick to using just one weapon.

Bottom line: If you like combat, this is a fun game mode that’s worth trying out!

  • Currently 2/5 Stars.

Some good, more bad Heretical Cyborg

MurgenROoF on Nov 20th, 2022, Version 1.2

The good: *Short and fairly straightforward, so there is little chance of getting lost. There’s no terminal but there doesn’t really need to be one (until the end).

*The secrets are numbered and labelled. This is a great idea and I wish more maps did this.

*Combat was decent enough, with no unfairness. There are pattern buffers and shield rechargers available.

The bad: *Lots of enemies have trouble triggering. I think they are set to “Deaf?” Use zones for monster triggers instead. The fight by the x1 shield recharger can be trivial or difficult depending on how many monsters actually end up triggering.

*Ceiling lights are in the floor.

*A pervasive lack of ammo. I had to fall back to my fists at one point.

*The stupid canisters everywhere can block the player’s movement, which is especially annoying if you happen to be in combat.

*An abrupt ending that yanked me out of the level before I had a chance to fully explore it. I find some assault rifle ammo that I can't use, I think the nearby closet might have an assault rifle teleport in (because that would make sense), but nope! It's the level end! I don't even get to use the ammo I just found.

This is why terminals giving the player the option to “ESC to abort” a teleport are great for level transitions. This part may have been true to the original Heretic level, but it did not translate well into Marathon.

*Lighting could use some work, but the actual architecture is OK.

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

Marathon Meets Braveheart Blauwe Vingers - Mac

MurgenROoF on Nov 19th, 2022, Version 1.2

This is one of the most ambitious total conversions ever attempted in the Marathon engine, and there is really nothing else like it!

It transforms a sci-fi futuristic shooter into a medieval “Braveheart” simulator!

The download came with an application entitled “Blauwe Vingers” which seemed to be a launch application, but as of 2022 it doesn’t actually work with Aleph One. Instead you should play this scenario by dragging a copy of Aleph One into the BlauweVingers_MacOsX folder and using that to launch the game.

The scenario was created in Dutch, but I played with an English translation by replacing the Dutch scenario file (Kaart.sceA) with an English language scenario, which can be separately downloaded from this same website:

This allowed me to understand the gist of the story, although cutscenes, chapter art, and spoken dialogue were still in Dutch. But that’s cool, if anything it adds authenticity to this scenario. It’s apparently based upon real historical events that happened in Holland in the 1500s and I really liked how the player is given a pivotal role to play in the story as it unfolds.

The first thing you should do upon launching the game is to go into the Options menu (“Spel Opties” in Dutch) to enable weapon crosshairs and to set the graphics settings to “highest.” The crosshairs are useful because some of the missile weapons you’ll get are difficult to use without them. And pushing the graphics up really does make a difference.

When you launch the game you’ll be treated to a cutscene, the first of many. When transitioning between levels make sure that you don’t accidentally hit any keys or move your mouse, because that could cause you to skip a cutscene! After the cutscene you’ll end up in medieval Holland! You’ll see things you never thought you’d see in the Marathon engine, like slopes and many cool-looking 3D objects (not 2D sprites). You will also eventually see some really impressive rainstorms with lightning!

It did take me a moment to get accustomed to the new controls. Walking up to someone with a book or star over their head will trigger a dialogue when you press the spacebar. The map is enabled with Tab. And there are no save terminals, you can save whenever you want by pressing Control-S.

At first I was just walking around town, talking to people. It was basically a walking simulator with optional history lessons thrown in. But then abruptly the game turns into a “Braveheart” simulator! Dudes will be trying to stab you left and right, and you’ll be stabbing back! There’s a large arsenal of cool-looking medieval weapons for you to find and use.

I played on Normal difficulty and found the combat to be fun and fair; since you can save whenever you want no one should have trouble beating this scenario.

Fairly early in the campaign there is a branching path, which is clearly described to you in both dialogue and on the auto-map. You can choose to either go out into the rainstorm or keep exploring some underground tunnels. The rainstorm has no combat but it does have a x2 health power-up. The underground route has a lot of combat, but it will give you a rapier with a lantern several levels earlier than you would otherwise get it. The lantern is cool because it will light up the dark passageways for you! Since this is the only part of the campaign where that ability is useful, I STRONGLY urge you to choose the underground path. Or just control-S to experience both paths.

Later on I briefly got stuck on a mission in which you’re supposed to rescue someone from a burning building. I took too long and ended up suffocating from the smoke!

MINOR SPOILER AHEAD In order to get past that part you have to break some wooden barrels to move on. I didn’t realize those barrels were breakable at first. END SPOILER

After beating the story missions I noticed there were a bunch of multiplayer maps. I think Marathon multiplayer is mostly dead at this point, but if you’re curious you can use the standard level skip keys (Control+Shift+New Game on Mac) to see the multiplayer level design. Each of those levels has its own soundtrack, and the main menu also has a catchy tune!

This really is a stellar effort and deserves the maximum score of 5 out of 5 stars.

  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

Great except for final puzzle Vacation in Vilcabamba

MurgenROoF on Oct 19th, 2022, Version 1.0

This one level scenario provides a really cool looking Inca-themed tileset. It includes new sounds and new terminal art. It really deserves 4 stars. But I had to subtract a star due to the final puzzle.

Level design is aesthetically pleasing. I felt like I was exploring a ruined temple. There are Pfhor to fight but the overall combat difficulty was low.

There are puzzles but I felt the difficulty level was acceptable. There are also deathtraps but they have hints as to their location so they aren't too unfair.

However, the map's final puzzle/deathtrap was simply ridiculous. Yes, there's a spoiler ahead, but you might as well read it because you'll never figure this out on your own.

In the final area you hit a switch which opens up a new area to explore. If you go explore it, you will be soft locked and unable to complete the level. Even worse, it will not be immediately obvious that you're soft locked. That's because the new area will have a switch protected by a deathtrap. But you can trigger the switch without triggering the deathtrap, leading to the idea that the switch opened up another area somewhere in the level. I wasted an hour combing through the already completed level trying to find what that switch opens.

Let me just save you some time, it opens nothing. The correct course of action is to find a hidden switch in a dark, obscure corner of the final part of the map. If you ever leave that area of the map you won't be able to get back to it, which means 99% of players are going to get soft locked at that point. Hope you have a recent save handy!

There is a clue about what the hidden switch looks like in the initial terminal message, but it's a moot point since most players will never even see the switch unless they know exactly where to look.

Basically, after you encounter the map's one blue hunter, you need to be keeping multiple saves so when you reach the final puzzle you won't get soft locked.

  • Currently 5/5 Stars.

Really useful Eat The Path

MurgenROoF on Oct 18th, 2022, Version 1.0

This is one of the most useful plugins for Aleph One, because it directly addresses one of the biggest problems of Marathon: getting lost with no idea of where to go or what to do.

During the 1990s, being lost with no idea of where to go or what to do was pretty common in first person shooters, including in Bungie's official campaigns. But modern shooters will usually give the player a waypoint to follow and a mission objective on their HUD telling them what to do when they arrive at their destination.

While some purists may disdain this modern-day holding of the player's hands, the bottom line is that unnecessary downtime sucks, modern shooters are streamlined to provide lots of action with little downtime, and Marathon falls short in that area.

What Eat the Path does is provide more streamlined gameplay by showing the player the location of their next likely objective. This can be depicted both on the auto-map, and visually with a trail of floating lights to follow. The player has to manually trigger these hints, so it can be used as much or as little as you please.

Although the plugin will not work 100% of the time, in my experience in using it on over a dozen different scenarios it has helped most of the time I have used it. It's not just helpful if you get lost; it can also help you find secrets. If you don't like the objective it sets you can choose a new one.

This is a huge help that will save you time and, if you're a completionist like me, it will help you fully explore every level!

  • Currently 1/5 Stars.

Too many softlocks Gemini Station

MurgenROoF on Oct 18th, 2022, Version 2.0

So...this scenario was made quite some time ago (1997?) but it seems the conversion to Aleph One compatibility may have broken some things (or maybe they were already broken, I don't know).

And it's a shame because this is a pretty ambitious project that tried some things that I've never seen attempted before with the Marathon engine.

The first combat level starts you out with no health or ammo fighting troopers, hunters, and even a juggernaut in enclosed spaces. It was pretty unfair/hard, even on Normal difficulty. The pervasive lack of health, saves, and especially ammo becomes an issue later in the level, when you must stop an auto-destruct sequence from triggering by using grenades to smash some wiring. The idea is really cool, especially since if you're successful the computer console will display a big "OFF" message, but the execution sucked; I reached that area with almost no grenades!

In the next level, "Gemini B" I almost got soft locked because a door in the southeast corner of the map permanently closed which prevented access to parts of the level. This was after I accidentally fell off a platform that for some reason was set to only trigger once. I was however, able to find an alternate, if convoluted, route and complete the level.

There was also a juggernaut on this level that will completely ignore the player. However, if the player presses a switch it will create friendly drones that will attack the juggernaut. Creating allies is a cool concept, but once again the execution is flawed. If the neutral juggernaut is killed by the drones a new one will spawn in, and this time it will actually be hostile to the player!

"In Partibus infidelium" had some really clever level design, including a system of pressing switches to toggle teleporter destinations, which would be reflected in a nearby teleporter "flag" which was actually a series of cleverly placed paper thin platforms. This level had problems too, though. Parts of it seemed like they should be reachable, but weren't (the entire northeast part of the map). Plus, flooding the hangar bays with radioactive goo would kill the player, but not damage any of the hordes of Pfhor at all. Surely that could not be intentional?

This level also had a clever ambush with a semi-new enemy type.

"Taurus = torus" was a fun level with no problems.

I got soft locked on "Aquae Perturbae" apparently because there were two uplink slots, and if you do not put your uplink chip in the slots in the correct order you cannot proceed.

Softlocked again on the next level "Deep Doodoo." Also, some of the bobs on this level are also neutral, meaning that no one will attack them and they themselves will not attack.

A cool concept on "Gauntlet." You have to run across the map while getting showered with grenades. You can escape on a waiting spaceship that is well designed (it hovers, even!).

Although this campaign does have some interesting concepts, as of 2022 it is broken and you have a high chance of getting soft locked while playing.