The history of video games is studded with significant and beloved first-person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D and Doom served as the genre’s early pioneers, and their runaway success inspired a long legacy of other titles. In later years, games like Halo would bring the genre to the mainstream. That sci-fi franchise is still one of the most prominent series out there to this day, and it’s even inspired a major TV adaptation. But before Halo: Combat Evolved took the gaming world by storm, developer Bungie produced a lesser-known title. While Halo was a massive success for Microsoft, 1994’s Marathon served as a landmark title for Mac.
This little-known Mac exclusive is a first-person shooter, just like its successor Halo. Marathon takes place aboard a colony ship of the same name. The ship is attacked by an alien invasion, and the unnamed player character is tasked with repelling the intruders. Along the way, you will discover the truth behind this terrifying attack. In what would become a tradition for the industry, much of the lore and narrative is presented on in-game computer terminals. You can find them scattered throughout the game. You will also interact with three onboard AIs who manage the ship. Each one has a part to play in the events leading up to the invasion. This emphasis on story and narrative was a novelty for FPSes of that era, and a strong blueprint for the rich worlds and stories of the Halo series.
While the idea of a protagonist repelling a hostile alien force aboard a giant spaceship is hardly novel nowadays, Marathon had a number of gameplay features to help it stand out. It was the first computer game to employ a free look system, for instance. This lets the player look up and down and direct their field of view with the mouse. With the benefit of this mechanic, levels could benefit from a much more heightened 3D design, and engage enemies in more dynamic environments. Like its predecessor Doom, Marathon features nonlinear levels in a linear order. Players are encouraged to explore hidden paths in search of secrets.
Marathon Main Characters
As befits a story-based FPS, Marathon has some important figures you’ll want to keep an eye on as you progress. The cast isn’t as large as later games like Halo, but there are still some memorable figures. Here are some of the most important characters in Marathon.
- The Security Officer: In Marathon, you control an unnamed security officer who must repel the invading aliens and save the colony ship. The character is a cyborg, outfitted with enhancements and improvements to make him a more effective warrior in battle. In this way, he serves as a sort of prototype for Halo’s iconic Master Chief.
- Leela: One of the three AIs onboard the Marathon, Leela serves as your guide for most of the game. She has remained loyal to the ship and its crew and is focused on defeating the aliens.
- Durandal: The second AI on the Marathon has gone rampant, becoming self-aware and learning to think for himself. Durandal had contact with the aliens before the attack, and his motivations with regard to them are unclear and sinister. He ultimately interferes with Leela’s efforts and forces the Security Officer to aid him in his own mysterious ends.
- Tycho: The third AI was disabled in the initial attack from the aliens, and does not play much of a role in the story. Unbeknownst to the protagonist and the other AIs, however, he survived and was reprogrammed by the evil aliens. He becomes a major opponent in the sequels.
Marathon Titles In The Series
While the Marathon franchise isn’t quite as illustrious as its younger sibling, it still maintains an important spot in the history of the video game industry. It features a full trilogy of video games centered around these mysterious, scheming AIs and their tenuous relationship with the aliens lurking at the fringes of known space. In addition to these three games, Bungie has recently announced something of a reboot for the franchise. Not much is known about this new title’s release date, but it will be a more PvP-focused extraction shooter, taking place in the same universe as the original games.
- Marathon (1994)
- Marathon 2: Durandal (1995)
- Marathon Infinity (1996)
- Marathon (TBA)
Marathon Cheat Codes
Unfortunately, there are no official cheat codes available for Marathon. Creator Jason Jones has spoken at interviews about wanting to avoid giving players an advantage that they could simply implement at will, as he felt this would spoil the experience. That said, there were cheats present in the beta version of the game. Bungie removed these cheats at launch, so they no longer work. However, they do look like the sort of cheat codes you’d be familiar with from vintage games of the era. These codes have been preserved for posterity on a Marathon fan site dedicated to the original trilogy, and here they are, for history’s sake.
- HEALTH: Gives the player 1X shields.
- RIFLE: Gives the player the MA-75 assault rifle.
- FATMAN: Gives the player the SPNKR-X17 SSM Launcher.
- TOASTER: Gives the player the Tozt-7 Flame Unit.
- PZBXAY: Gives the player the alien weapon.
- ASLAG: Gives the player the SPNKR-X17 SSM Launcher with two additional rockets, the MA-75 with three additional ammo clips and three extra grenade clips, and 2X shields.
- AMMO: Gives the player an extra clip/charge for every weapon in their inventory except the fusion pistol.
- HAVESOME: Gives the player the Super Shields powerup.
- ISEEYOU: Gives the player the Hypervision powerup.
- FISHEYE: Gives the player the Extravision powerup.
- BYE: Gives the player the Transparency powerup.
- LEVEL: Allows the player to skip to the next level.
- MAP: Lets the player see aliens on the minimap even when they’re out of automapping range.
Marathon Cheat Codes FAQ
Is Marathon part of Halo? Despite their shared history, and the similarities in themes and setting, Halo and Marathon take place in unconnected universes and serve as technically unrelated games. Playing the Marathon trilogy won’t give you a better understanding of the story in the Halo games, and vice versa. That said, the Marathon games are a vital piece of Halo’s history outside of the lore. Bungie’s experience on Marathon helped it draw the attention of Microsoft, and its expertise made Halo: Combat Evolved the world-changing title it was. While the franchises technically stand apart, Halo still owes much of its existence to this humble FPS trilogy.
Will Marathon be like Destiny 2? These days, of course, Bungie is no longer actively involved with Halo. It’s more known for Destiny 2, a sprawling multiplayer shooter in a grand universe of high fantasy and epic sci-fi. This far out, it’s hard to say whether the new Marathon reboot will be closer to Destiny 2 or to the franchise that first put Bungie on the map. The game’s focus on multiplayer PvP combat certainly makes it seem more similar to Destiny 2, which is essentially an MMO, but only time will tell how it plays.
How long is Marathon? If you want to go back to the beginning and see the origins of Bungie’s sci-fi FPS expertise, you luckily won’t need to sink a lot of time into it. The first Marathon game is only 7-8 hours long, depending on how much time you spend looking for secrets. This means you can pretty comfortably play it through in one or two sittings. The more involved 40-hour campaign is very much an aspect of modern video game development and something Marathon clearly predates.