A year ago, when Halo debuted, I was playing some multiplayer Halo at a friend's house and recalled just how strikingly similar Halo was to Marathon: Bungie's previous installment of First Person Shooters. I remember being overwhelmed with a deja vu-esque sense that I was in fact playing a Rose that was going by another name, and made a mental note to eventually look into the matter.
So I did some research, and came up with some fairly strong evidence to prove that it seems to be a very well done transfer of the Marathon legacy to the 3D gaming world. Why bother? Well, because as a fan of Marathon, I saw what an incredibly tight game Bungie had on their hands, and lamented the fact that nobody ever wanted to play a one of those "Mac games." By the responses I got, it seemed like I was asking them to do something immoral. To this day, many die-hard PC-only fanboys still scoff at the idea of Marathon. Can you blame Bungie for creating a sequel but changing the name in the interest of selling more titles?
There were rumors of Marathon "easter eggs" throughout Halo, and I think there's something more to the following similarities than "easter eggs." Games like Duke Nukem which had homages to nearly every FPS that came before it (Doom, Dark Forces, etc) had easter eggs. Halo has what I would call an identity crisis.
::WARNING:: HALO SPOILERS FOLLOW ::WARNING::
The Marathon Logo.
It's seen in the game often enough for it to be almost persistent. The first place I noticed it was on the chest of Captain Keyes, the commanding officer of the Pillar of Autumn. This screengrab is from the opening cutscene, so you won't have to go very far in the game to see it for yourself. The Captain wears it here as if it's an emblem. Just as Star Trek officers wear the emblem of Starfleet on their chest, the Captain is seen here with the Marathon logo displayed proudly.
When looking for a website that discussed some of these rumored "easter eggs," I found a screengrab of the Pillar of Autumn, the capital warship you start out on in the beginning of the game (note: I'm not certain what part this screengrab is from, as the Pillar of Autumn isn't seen at this angle in the opening cutscene). While the logo is more hidden here among the geometry of the sihp, it's still displayed somewhat prominently (and largely), and towards the end of the game you can see it's mirrored on the opposite side of the ship as well.
Consider the bridge of the Halo itself. When the Master Chief walks out onto the gangplank for the first time, he's in the immense and expansive sphere shaped command center of Halo. The platform he's walking on extends and eventually intersects with a circular platform where the controls are located. I couldn't find any screengrabs that had a wide enough shot of the Halo control room, but if you look at the opening shot in the cinematic for that section, and imagine what it looks like from above, you can see that the negative space around the catwalk is the Marathon logo.
Lastly, we have Exhibit A. The Halo logo itself. This is a larger version of the Halo logo which I nabbed off of Bungie's site, but it's the exact same as the smaller one depicted on the front of the game box. Look in the background, dead center, just between the A and the L. You can't miss it. I don't know why I didn't see it when I first picked up the box. The Marathon logo dead center in the Halo logo pretty much seals it for me. This title was meant to be Marathon.
It should be noted that both Marathon and Halo are nearly identical if one were to describe them to a friend: A First Person Shooter which involves the player using futuristic armor and weapons to defend the fate of the Earth and humanity itself from a hostile, unknown, alien civilization. The player is aided by an Artificial Intelligence onboard his ship, and can even use dropped alien weapons.
The Master Chief's Name is Bob.
When I first saw Halo, we were playing it in Multiplayer mode. What I saw was a bunch of Master Chiefs in Mark V armor running around, and something about the whole experience struck me as very familiar.
In Marathon, there were these characters who would show up from time to time to aid you in your quest. They were usually crew from the human ship you called home, and they were typically equipped with human weaponry. For whatever reason, be it their expendability or the fact that they all looked and sounded the same, they were nicknamed "Bobs." [Which turns out to mean "Born on Board." --b] By the time Marathon Infinity (the third Marathon in the series, and the one which most recently came out before Halo), the Bobs were upgraded to have armor (possibly Mark IV armor?) and a better pistol. Unfortunately I couldn't find a better screengrab on the net than these, but I think you can see how the Chief resembles a Bob all too closely.
Marathon's weapons all had a very distinct and recognizable look to them, and some of Halo's bear a striking resemblance. Of those, the pistol has a vaguely similar look and feel about it, and the assault rifle is positively straight out of Marathon. The only thing it's missing is the grenade launcher underneath it. Even the ammo countdown (where each individual bullet is displayed as it is expended) is incredibly similar to Marathon.
But the giveaway is in the rocket laucher. In Marathon, the players and fans of the game nicknamed the rocket launcher the "Spanker." It was a two-shot, two barreled rocket launcher (one above the other). The Halo rocket launcher is a double barrelled two shot rocket launcher, and has the letters "SPNKR" written on the side of it and the ammo cases found laying around the levels. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Marathon and Halo both sport witty chapter titles at the beginning of each chapter and sub-chapter. It's a small point, but it's another one to add to the growing pile.
Your Artificial Friend
In both games, you are instructed by the ship's sentient onboard computer. In the case of Marathon it's Durandal, Leela, and Tycho, and in Halo, it's by Cortana. The AI play a pivotal role in all four games; without them your cyborg hero would lack direction. One could even argue that the addition of a second, sinister AI (343 Guilty Spark) harkens back to Marathon Infinity when Tycho (the "evil" AI) tried leading your character astray.
Worth noting is a sort of an unexplainable "zen" similarity between Marathon and Halo multiplayer: the speed at which you run. Considerably slower than any other FPS on the market, both games seem to move at a sim-like slow pace (compared to games like Quake and Unreal).
Marathon was probably the first FPS I had ever seen where they assigned a specific "death animation" to each way of dying. Of particular note was the rocket-launcher (or spanker) death, where the victim would fly through the air in an almost super-man like fashion flailing his arms and limbs, and upon hitting the ground, wall, or other solid surface, would turn into a pile of pink goo and bones.
Sure enough, if you hit a group of people/characters with a grenade or rocket in Halo, the bodies go flying. You won't see this in many other FPSs. Typically the other games tend to "gib" the victims into pieces rather than waste engine processing power projecting a parabolic arc for the body to fly in.
This pretty much put the icing on the Halo = Marathon 4 argument for me. After taking the grand tour of Halo, and seeing all of the familiar hallmarks of a Marathon game, I explored the multiplayer game types.
Marathon really expanded what "multiplayer" meant when it innovated the genre and came up with incredibly new and original game types to expand on the traditional deathmatch. While capture the flag was never an option in the original Marathon series, they came up with two types of deathmatch that are original to the Marathon franchise:
Kill the Man With the Ball. Is it in Halo? Would I be writing about it if it wasn't? Kill the Man With the Ball was this incredibly fun game wherein the object was to capture a skull which was placed in the middle of the arena, and whoever was able to hold the skull the longest won, but with a catch. The player holding the ball could not run (only walk), and could not use any weapons. Finding it in Halo was like seeing an old friend you hadn't heard from in a few years.
King of the Hill. No, it doesn't have anything to do with living in Texas. It's similar to KtMWtB, only now the winning player must stand in a designated zone longer than anyone else in the game. Standing in the zone doesn't nullify your weapons, but it does make you one hell of a target. Again, my heart sang when I found its welcome presence in Halo. The only other multiplayer games to ever even attempt these games was Goldeneye, so seeing Bungie carrying on the Marathon legacy is a sight for sore multiplayer eyes.
Is Halo just a Marathon sequel? Should it have been named Marathon: Halo? Will Bungie ever cop to the fact that Halo is Marathon 4, and not just an "homage?" I guess we'll never know for sure, but I know that there's a lot of Marathon fans out there who can't wait to get their hands on
Marathon 5 Halo 2.
Research sources used: