If someone were to tell me five years ago that retro shooters would make a comeback and there would be a neo-renaissance of oldschool FPSs, I’d chuckle and move on. How wrong I was. Now, you have these awesome shooters like DUSK, Amid Evil, Project Warlock, Hedon- all basking in the glorious design of fast-paced shooters from a bygone era. One of the first in this regard is Ion Mai…Fury (Wew, nearly missed a lawsuit there). Made by the people who used to make amazing mods for the Build Engine shooters and published by 3D Realms who brought us the said shooters in the first place. A year after giving us a small taste of the pie, Ion Fury will be getting a full release shortly after this review goes live. The only question that remains- is the game worth buying or is it just an attempt to take advantage of our rose-tinted glasses? Let’s take a look.
Story & Narrative
Ion Fury is a prequel to Slipgate’s Bombshell where you once again play as Cpl. Shelly ‘Bombshell’ Harrison, the “baddest bitch” this side of Neo DC. The scourge of augmented criminals citywide, Bombshell is the Domestic Task Force’s first and last line of defense. While drowning her sorrows in a watering hole after a terrible day, an explosion nearby turns her attention to the menacing Dr. Jadus Heskel and his horde of cybernetically altered minions. There begins her quest to slay Dr. Heskel and bring momentary peace to the crime-ridden city of DC.
Like its predecessors, the story in Ion Fury is barely tangible. If it wasn’t for the in-game text and Steam store description, I wouldn’t even know what the hell was happening. Look, no one plays these shooters for their philosophically nuanced story or deep personal dilemmas of the characters. Still, I feel like Bombshell is such an uninteresting hero. She lacks the charm of Lo Wang, the badassery of Duke or the menacing one-liners of Caleb. All her dialogues come across as really out of place and unfunny. Alas, the gameplay is all that really matters.
Gameplay & Mechanics
As explained in my preview, Ion Fury is a no-nonsense old-school FPS through and through. You traverse big, complex 2.5D levels shooting down a plethora of enemies in your path while searching for ways to get into the next section of the map. I feel like it would have been made into a Duke Nukem game if 3D Realms still had the rights to it. At the heart of everything is Ken Silverman’s Build Engine that powered classics like Duke 3D, Shadow Warrior, and Blood. The only difference is that Build Engine has been pushed to its limits in Ion Fury- both visually and technically.
Ion Fury has got its bases covered pretty damn well. The 7 episode campaign is lengthy and challenging, the levels are big and chock-full of secrets and easter eggs, the controls are butter smooth and the old-school gunplay feels very satisfying with a pinch of modern flavours like location-based damage. There are even a couple of bonus missions thrown in. It’s clearly evident that Ion Fury is a game made with love. Not everything is perfect, however. One design choice that baffles me is Bombshell’s choice of weaponry. It’s saying something when the best weapon of an FPS is the pistol. Aside from the Loverboy pistol that can lock on to multiple enemies and execute them, the rest of the arsenal – including the electric baton, the Disruptor shotgun that can be converted to a grenade launcher, the guns akimbo SMGs that spit incendiary bullets, the chaingun, the laser crossbow, bowling bombs, and clusterpuck bombs – come across as just ‘okay’. Not that they’re bad or anything but I expected Ion Fury to feature a more kickass and outlandish arsenal since it’s a spiritual successor to the holy Build Engine trinity that featured some truly unique and badass guns in the history of shooters.
Ion Fury features some of the biggest levels ever made in a non-modded Build Engine game and that’s both a good and bad thing. While the vastness of the level design brings Neo DC to an impressive technical forefront for a 20-year-old engine, it also makes some sections of the game artificially difficult. For example, the distance at which enemy sprites are rendered, attack range, the strong color palette and level geometry gives enemies an unfair advantage as they can hit you from all across the map and you’ll have a hard time tracking the shots fired as well as the location of the enemies. This is more apparent at higher difficulties when a few enemies standing at the far end of the map can blow through your health pool in a matter of seconds.
While the single-player campaign oozes quality and attention to detail (thanks to the many interactable items in the environment), it does get a bit boring towards the end.Ion Fury is not afraid to constantly bask in the shadows of its predecessors, and does so every step of the way. It’s a standard FPS from the start to the end. You can’t blame the game for staying true to its inspirations and for being what it is, but that does not make the monotony of the gameplay loop go away.This is just me nitpicking, however, as I’m sure the fans are interested in Ion Fury for what it is; not for revolutionizing the FPS formula.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
Ion Fury is simply the best looking Build Engine game yet with its keen attention to detail, use of strong colors and detailed spritework that bring the cityscapes, interiors and underground areas of cyberpunk Neo DC to its full glory. It runs as smooth as you want it to and there is even a decent selection of options to suit your needs, especially for the UI and controls. An absolute delight in this department.
Speaking of sound design, everything is fine and dandy. Gunfights, explosions, gibbing and voice acting are as “90s” as they get. The music, although not to my taste, is very fitting for the whole futuristic techno theme. Even though the voice acting is minimal, Jon St. John AKA the orgasmic voice of Duke Nukem who voices the antagonist Dr. Jadus Heskel steals the show. Sadly I can’t say the same for Bombshell who just doesn’t reach the same high as Duke. Come on, you knew this comparison was coming. She isn’t given the best lines to work with in the first place, so part of the blame goes to the writers.
Are you a fan of retro shooters? Do you love games like Doom, Duke 3D, Blood, Shadow Warrior or even modern offerings like DUSK, Project Warlock and Amid Evil? Do you like filling 2D sprites with projectiles while shouting cheesy one-liners? If yes, then Ion Fury is for you. This is a labor of love filled with nostalgia and backed by some solid gunplay. Hail to the queen baby!