Office productivity has a new enemy, and its name is Marathon 2: Durandal. Set 17 years after the extraterrestrial unpleasantness aboard the starship Marathon, this flashier, nastier, first-person corridor-crawler puts the player at the unenviable beck and call of Durandal, the rogue artificial intelligence from the first game. Durandal, still a little disturbed (in the first raid-party mission he gleefully tells you that he has been introducing the beleaguered alien defenders to "the magic of orbital bombardment"), has brought the galactic war to the Pfhor stomping grounds. Just guess who gets to be the point-man.
The original Marathon was no small achievement, but Marathon 2 absolutely shines: Somewhere along the line, the aliens got a lot smarter, and they know how to use local conditions and features to their advantage, bobbing into an aperture just long enough to take a few cheap shots at you before ducking back (although a few well-placed grenades will bring that kind of crap to a thundering fireball of a halt). The stereo panning and ambient sounds (running water, chittering aliens and thrumming machinery straight from the dripping corridors of the Nostromo) make headphones a must; a larger viewing area shows off special effects like flickering light sources, underwater exploration (and it's about time - the game is called Marathon, right?), striking outdoor environments under vast moon-cluttered alien skies, really gross-out monsters with gaping maws for chests (the first time one of these things came at me around a blind corner, I damn near recoiled right out of my chair), and player-friendly humans (Born-on-Boards or "BOBs") who splatter yellow blood if they were actually alien-assimilated Trojan-horse mutants, or red blood if - oops - it turns out they weren't.
And what about BOB? Well, first of all, he's not like he was in the last game - in other words, a useless, whining, panicked, unarmed civilian whom you'd just as soon shoot in the back (and in fact often did) as look at. No, now BOB is an assertive, talky, and decidedly armed soldier who occasionally beams in with two (or three, or seven) of his friends to help you clean out a room. He's also had it up to his palette with getting shot at, particularly by trigger-pumping morons like you who're supposed to be on his side, and if he takes a round because of your cruddy aim he's likely to send of fair number of them right back.
The single-player story line of Marathon 2 - revealed bit by bit via telescreen, courtesy of an artificial intelligence of questionable sanity - is fun and deep enough, but the game really starts to get dangerous when up to eight players link up to fight - either in fairly standard Quake-style free-for-alls, or in the specialty multiplayer games such as King of the Hill, which is pretty self-explanatory, or "Kill the Guy with the Ball," which, come to think of it, is also pretty self-explanatory (once it's made clear that the "ball" is actually some poor schmuck's skull). Also, the level names are priceless, but I won't ruin any of that for you. As with all great multiplayer action games, Marathon 2 rates way up there on the Office-Productivity-Kill-O-Matic and the Cuss-O-Meter, and any minor flaws (such as the inability to jump) are nicely sidestepped by crude fixes (such as the ability to "help" someone get some air by detonating a grenade at his feet). Marathon 2 is a distance runner, and with all its perks and goodies should more than tide over the 3-D shooter fanantic until the totally customizable Marathon Infinity comes out for the PC.