Bungie's Marathon looks the part, but do we really need another extraction shooter?
Bungie's Marathon was one of the most difficult games to pass judgment on from this week's PlayStation Showcase. The trailer kicked off with a disclaimer: "not actual gameplay", which in itself felt slightly out of place, given how gameplay-heavy the showcase was in its entirety. Then came a burst of rhythmic synth music; some colorful visuals of matrix-like plants and humanoids; a sci-fi figure darting along a corridor wearing a backpack with a timer counting down, holding what looked like an automatic rifle, gatling gun or laser cannon in both hands.
As the camera pulled out, the same soldier-type ran past a wall adorned with the Bungie logo. The fighter emerged into an open space, before being immediately struck down by another combatant, this one an equally-stylized sniper at range. The music then went a bit Daft Punk, and a glitchy 'Marathon' title card danced neon yellow and black across our screens. "Discover more at Marathonthegame.com," read a prompt. Do that now, and you'll find various making-of-style videos, email sign up boxes, and, crucially, a wee bit more on what the game is about.
"A massive ghost ship hangs in low orbit over a lost colony on Tau Ceti IV. The 30,000 souls who call this place home have disappeared without a trace. strange signals hint at mysterious artifacts, long-dormant ai, and troves of untold riches. you are a runner, venturing into the unknown in a fight for fame… and infamy. Who among you will write their names across the stars?"
Sounds pretty cool, right? Further down the page, that's followed by this: "Become a runner in Bungie's new sci-fi PvP extraction shooter. Compete for survival, riches, and renown in a world of evolving, persistent zones, where any run can lead to greatness."
And that's when I let out a sigh.
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Earlier this month, I wrote about how Redfall proves it's time to press pause on tired squad-based shooters. I felt moved to do so because, to me, it feels like squad shooters aren't connecting with players today in the same way they were five, even 10 years ago. I don't have a problem with the genre as such, but I do have an issue with developers chasing trends in a bid to cash-in on what's perceived to be an easy win.
The longevity and sustained success of Rainbow Six: Siege alone proves the genre's worth when executed properly, but for every game like this, there's a handful of utter let-downs – not least Siege's beleaguered sibling from last year, Rainbow Six: Extraction. One of my most-anticipated forthcoming games, in fact, is a squad-based extraction shooter in Embark Studios' The Finals – a game that already has the best destruction physics I have ever seen – but against the likes of Redfall, I cannot square the decision to push a studio so talented as Arkane into this space in my head whatsoever.
Bungie, on the other hand, clearly has the FPS chops to pull off a worthy squad-based extraction shooter. The enduring popularity of Destiny 2, and the dynasty that is Halo speaks for itself. It's just that with so many forgettable efforts that have come and gone in recent times – not least Evolve, Elite: Dangerous Arena, Back 4 Blood, Lawbreakers, Battleborn, Amazon's Crucible, and even Battlefield 2042's Hazard Zone offshoot – I'm left asking the question: do we really need another one? Probably not, but that's not to say Bungie isn't onto something good.
That teaser trailer from the PlayStation Showcase was as stylish as they come, and I was properly interested until learning more about its place in the currently a la mode extraction shooter spectrum. Bungie has always been great at setting trends (how many looter-shooters have followed Destiny?), so Marathon feels slightly out of character as a game seemingly chasing the bandwagon.
Which, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing. This take on Marathon follows the original series trilogy, developed between 1994 and 1996 exclusively for Apple Macintosh computers. I was playing video games back then, and I don't remember it at all. I don't even remember anyone owning an Apple Mac, besides the shared computer that lived in the TV room at my primary school. Marathon is hardly a household name 27 years later, then. But, once upon a time, neither were Destiny or Halo. Watch this space, I guess?
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