I think an important quality in a critic is the ability to recognize that some things, no matter how popular, will simply never resonate with you. For the intellectually curious, this can be rather difficult, as our instincts tell us that there must be something we’re missing and if we just make more of an effort to understand, eventually things will click. Of course, that’s not usually how it happens, Dark Souls being the only real exception that comes to mind.
More often, this attitude simply causes me to saturate myself in something until I’m absolutely sick of it. The Star Wars movies were a long time struggle of mine, as were comics written by Grant Morrison. In terms of video games, that story begins and ends with Halo. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of money over the years buying Halo games that I don’t like, always telling myself years later that I should give them another shot. It’s a pursuit that always ends in disappoint and the realization that I could have spent that same money on pizza. To my credit, I eventually learned, reaching a point of acceptance. For a multitude of reasons, Halo just isn’t for me.
So why do I find myself liking Marathon so much?
That’s a different question that may take me months or even years to fully figured out. Full disclosure, today was the first time that I’d ever tried it, noticing that it’s been freeware for quite a while now. I’ve always known Marathon by reputation, primarily as the Mac equivalent to DOOM, both in time period and influence. The difference is that Marathon has a more consistent aesthetic, leaning into a cold sci-fi setting based around alien invasions, rampant AIs, and all of the other things that every Bungie title seems to be about. DOOM, on the other hand, is… well, it’s DOOM, a mishmash of influences and themes that work primary due to the chaos that ensues around them.
While I certainly shot at a lot of aliens, most of my time with Marathon was spent reading terminals and navigating very cramped mazes. The promise of reading a lot of text on screens was oddly what drew me in, hearing how the lore of the series eventually became so complex and multi-layered that no human being could actually make sense of it all. This is even more impressive considering that shooters in 1994 weren’t attempting any story to begin with, let alone one so complex.
Whenever I hear about stories being incomprehensible, in games or otherwise, I tend to flock to them, so from the beginning I saw Marathon as a challenge, albeit much different from the one presented when playing Halo. With Halo, it was a matter of trying to figure out how it came together to be better than the sum of its parts. With Marathon, I already feel welcome in those corridors. Even if the aforementioned mazes get to be a little much at times, I’m already convinced that whatever I see on the other side will be worth it.