Marathon!!! (for iPad)

| Free on iTunes

In space, no one can hear you scream.

So it said on the poster for the movie, Alien, and I believed every word of it. I was, and still am a huge fan of the first two Alien movies, all of the Predator movies, and all of the Alien versus Predator movies. They all set my very active imagination on fire. They gave us an often chilling glimpse of what would it be like to encounter a hostile creature so different from anything we’ve known that it truly lives up to the term, alien.

The first Alien was a creep-fest. Big ship, unknown and ever changing entity stalking you, and nowhere to run. It’s either you or It. In the movies, more often than not, it was It.

I’ve always been a fan of games that recreate the wonder, suspense, surprise, and terror of movies like Alien. I guess I was born a century too soon because I believe we belong among the stars, and I accept the notion that being in space may mean being eaten, phased, lased, cocooned, rapidly decompressed, infected, invaded, impregnated, exploded, imploded, impaled, exhaled, and slimed.

Back in 1994, Bungie was a company that supported Apple computer, and they created a game called Marathon. It was the beginning of a very successful franchise for them, and the start of fantastic environment for Apple fans.


Marathon, the game, puts you, as a new security officer, on the United Earth Space Council (UESC) colony ship, Marathon. The ship has been invaded by a hostile, but intelligent race of aliens called the Phor. To make matters worse, there seems to be something not entirely right with the ship’s Artificial Intelligences. There are three: Leela, Tycho, and Durandal.


The initial instruction screen is new.

It is the story that unfolds that sets Marathon apart from other shooters of its time. It was an intricate and well thought out plot that unfolded as you moved through Marathon. In essence, not only did you shoot, but you also had a reason to shoot, and sometimes a reason not to shoot. How cool was that?

Of course, nearly all first person shooters today have engaging backstories, but Marathon was the first, especially on Apple computers, to combine fast action with an intriguing story.

Bungie made a mint.


Lining up a Phor for demolition.

Bungie was purchase by Microsoft, but the legacy of Marathon just wouldn’t go away. The game was ported to OS X, Windows, and Linux, picking up more fans along the way. And now, the original game, Marathon, is available for free to all iPad users.

I’m in Marathon heaven.

If you play first person shooters then you may be disappointed with Marathon. The graphics are definitely old school, like the original Doom, but with more atmosphere. Even so, if you give the game a chance, you’ll find yourself being pulled into the story, and suddenly you are not just blasting low-rez, poorly animated bad guys. Instead, you are fighting for your life and the lives of the remaining civilians.

How immersive is this game? I recall playing Marathon for the first time. I had just saved some civilians (BOBs as they are called in the game) from certain death at the hands of the Phor. The BOBs were ahead of me as they rounded a corner. I then heard a noise and saw one of the BOBs fly back, smash into the wall ahead of me, then slump to the deck. Then, a huge Phor ponderously rounded the corner. I had to get past it to continue. I don’t remember how I did it, but I do remember jumping back and yelling, “Oh Crap!” when I first saw it.


Two double-barrel shotguns! Yeah baby!

Marathon, in all its 16 bit glory, is now available as a free download from the App Store. The game is made by Soli Deo Gloria Productions and offers 2 in-game upgrades; HD Mode and Master Chief Mode. HD Mode improves the graphics, making the walls and other object appear less blocky. In my opinion, the upgrade isn’t worth the US$3.99 asking price. I’d avoid it.

Master Chief Mode is actually game cheats. You get all the weapons and ammo, invincibility, and you can save at any time (in the normal game you have to find a terminal to save the game). If you like that sort of thing then the US$0.99 is worth it.

If you’re a purist or on a budget, then the full free version will do just fine, thank you very much. It’s the most fun you’ll have without donning a spacesuit.

That’s a wrap for this week. More free space games listed below with direct links.

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“Frog blast the vent core!”

“They killed Bob!”


I loved the original trilogy, and via the Aleph One project, I have enjoyed them all over again, with significantly better graphics, even on my current Mac Pro. I’ve downloaded the iPad version and, while it is still fun, the on-screen controls make it almost impossible, at least for me, to play it with any finesse. The difference in level of control between the iPad and Mac versions is huge for me.


Love the Marathon series. This port though is a bit iffy.
As mentioned above the controls are very touchy. I haven’t found out how to slow them down. Secondly it’s a bit buggy. Example: iplayed until I got killed, just after saving. Now when I load the game I’m instantly killed before the controls even load. Then the game reloads without a prompt to start over from new. When I quit and restart it, as is normal with iPad programs, reloads to the last point, where I get killed.


and I accept the notion that being in space may mean being eaten, phased, lased, cocooned, rapidly decompressed, infected, invaded, impregnated, exploded, imploded, impaled, exhaled, and slimed

That’s quite a list, Vern, and one hefty price to pay if it all happens to the same unlucky soul. I admit, I don’t care much for first person shooter games. My son has introduced me to a few that he swears I’ll love - this time for sure - and most of which involve zombies, which I despise, mainly because zombies are just so…inconvenient, lumbering up just when you really don’t need a zombie. Games or movies, I now realise that I simply dislike zombies (someday, somewhere, some zombie rights group will cite me for being a zombie-phobe, to which I’ll respond, ‘Bite me’).

Back to first person shooters; I actually like the space-based motif, and will no doubt pass this onto my son and he will, once again, attempt to socialise me into the world of gaming.

[Unsolicited Opinion Alert.] But I wonder why there are comparatively fewer problem-solving space-based games. Ideas that come to mind include games where you would have to get your craft and crew to destination X with a limited budget and resources, many of which you would have to figure out how to obtain on the cheap and en route, plotting the most efficient course and plan - or die (or have your programme cancelled by dysthymic pandering politicians). Or how about a game where you have to prevent a conflict between rival colonies or a human colony and a neighbouring star system, who feel threatened by hyperspace-hopping hominids from Helios? Or how about games where you have to apply real physics and maths to solve colony-building paradigms? Or games where you are challenged to identify whether a planet even has life forms, or if the thing you’ve picked up even qualifies as life?

Such games as these might stimulate young minds to develop a fondness not simply for problem solving, but science, and here is the real horror of it all, surreptitiously teach them to enjoy thinking.  Perhaps more of these exist than I realise, or perhaps NASA, JAXA or ESA will consider investing in more of these to help raise the next generation of space scientists. I might even play.

As ever, many thanks for these reviews.



Excellent article, Vern. I remember playing the original trilogy for hours on end. Heck, even the start-up music would give me chills. And as for atmosphere, it was so creepy I could NOT play the game with headphones!

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