The PC may have had the first 3D shooters in the shape of Wolfenstein and Doom, but the modern combination of proper narrative and immersive action can be traced back to Marathon - released exclusively on the Mac back in 1994. Fifteen years later, it can be downloaded and played for free, thanks to the open-source, cross-platform Aleph One 3D engine.
In 2005 the full Marathon trilogy was released into the open- source community – and it’s that free version we’re interested in. Bungie separated the game engine from the content (called a ‘scenario’ in Marathon-speak), enabling a community of enthusiastic volunteers to update and upgrade the games from either direction. As a result of their hard work, you can now play Marathon with new, higher-resolution textures, sprites, backgrounds and sounds. The engine itself boasts a more intuitive HUD display and OpenGL support. Don’t let us mislead you though – the game will never compete with Crysis or Bioshock in terms of graphic beauty – but it looks better than ever and the improvements keep on coming.
Instead of true 3D there’s a combination of forced-perspective and 2D sprites – like Doom – but the chapter-based approach to narrative and a storyline in which a space-age soldier is dispatched behind enemy lines will be familiar to millions who have played Halo on the PC or Xbox. It’s no surprise that Bungie, Marathon’s developer, is also behind the Microsoft title.
If you played Marathon to death the first time around, there’s now new content to explore too. Full scenarios like Rubicon X and Tempus Irae expand the original stories – making Aleph One a must-have for gaming fans, vintage or modern.