How Bungie’s Marathon Connects to the Original Game

Bungie's upcoming Marathon project shares some interesting narrative connections with the 1994 game that put the studio on the map.

Marathon Game
Photo: PlayStation Studios

One of the biggest surprises of the recent PlayStation Showcase was the reveal of Bungie’s new Marathon game. While Marathon is Bungie’s first new project in quite some time, the game’s name is obviously a nod to 1994’s Marathon: the game that put Bungie on the map. So how closely connected are those two titles?

Well, from a gameplay perspective, they seemingly have little in common. 1994’s Marathon was a sci-fi FPS that injected a rich genre narrative into a Doom-style FPS. The new Marathon is described as a “sci-fi PvP extraction shooter.” For those who don’t know, extraction shooters are an emerging spin-off of the battle royale genre. Popularized by games like Hunt: Showdown and Escape From Tarkov, extraction shooters often drop you into a hostile area and task you with collecting as much loot as you can before you extract. Extract too soon, and you won’t walk away with much of anything. Wait too long, and you run the risk of losing everything.

Most extraction shooters are first-person games, so we assume the new Marathon will be an FPS as well. After all, that genre is kind of Bungie’s specialty. Furthermore, that brief description certainly makes it sound like the new Marathon will be a multiplayer-only title. Beyond that, we’re still in the dark regarding a lot of the specifics. Even with just that information available, though, it’s clear that the new Marathon will be significantly different from 1994’s Marathon.

In an interview with PlayStation, Marathon Game Director Christopher Barrett confirmed as much. When asked about 1994’s Marathon in relation to the new Marathon, this is what Barrett had to say:

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“We have a tremendous amount of respect for the original Marathon games and, from the very start, we’ve wanted to honor that, especially the mythology, story, and themes of the world. At the same time, our vision for this game is something new. It’s not a direct sequel to the originals, but something that certainly belongs in the same universe and that feels like a Bungie game. Finding those opportunities to nod to the universe’s lore, while also getting to build something different and new has been one of the best parts of developing this game so far. It’s our aim to create something incredible both for players who are completely new to the Marathon world and for those that have been waiting years for more stories in the Marathon universe. You don’t need to know anything about Marathon to understand or play this game, but if you do, we’re making the experience with references and deep cuts you’ll recognize.”

There’s a little more to it than that, though. According to the Marathon website, the new game takes place in 2850. The original Marathon took place in 2794, though the latest known events in the Marathon universe stretch to as far as 12811. At present, though, not much is canonically known about what, exactly, happened in the Marathon universe during that rough 2850 time period.

The new Marathon also references clone technology that has led to the creation of synthetic bodies with conscious shifting abilities. It seems that the game will task players with controlling “Runners” who must explore a colony in the Tau Ceti system after the arrival of a mysterious ship causes the colony’s 30,000 residents to disappear. The colony is apparently filled with riches such as advanced AI technology, though competing runners pose a significant threat to your efforts to acquire any of those treasures.

This is where the first game’s plot clearly comes into play. 1994’s Marathon revolved around the crew of the Marathon ship attempting to settle the fourth planet in the Tau Ceti system. A colony is established, but both the Marathon and the colony are attacked by a race of alien slavers known as the Pfhor. Eventually, the Pfhor are able to destroy the colony and most of the members of the ship’s crew. Only a few are eventually revealed to have survived the incident.

Based on what we know and suspect, it sounds like the new Marathon will basically see you explore the aftermath of the Pfhor’s attack on the colony. While that means that the game will likely include quite a few references to the original title (some much more obvious than others), that choice of time and place means that most of the game will likely not feature major characters or plot points from the original Marathon games. As Barret said, you probably shouldn’t expect many significant new details so far as the franchise mythology goes.

We’ll wait to see what does happen in the new game, but this decision makes sense from a lore perspective. The original Marathon certainly has its fans, but it’s doubtful there’s much of an audience for a straight-up narrative continuation of those games. With any luck, though, this new title will at least help revive interest in what was always a pretty compelling franchise.

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