Ion Fury PC Review
If there is one thing I have noticed throughout my life is that the past likes to return, no matter if it is a clothing style, a style of music, vehicles, or in this context, a style of video game, it will reappear if there are people who enjoy it. There have been plenty of video games that use retro games as an influence or have been developed as a game in the same vain using modern engines. Ion Fury, on the other hand, is 3D Realms and the developers, Voidpoint, a group of modders with expertise in the Build Engine, looking back at the 90s to continue on from Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior. Not only does Ion Fury play like Duke Nukem 3D, it also feels and looks like a shooter from that time period, due to the developers using the Build Engine, the same engine that was used to power their games in the mid 90s that gives Ion Fury an authentic tone, a true 90s experience rather than one filled with mislead nostalgia.
Ion Fury could easily be a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, and for people who were disappointed by Duke Nukem Forever, then Ion Fury is finally the game you were waiting for to fill the Duke itch. The star of Ion Fury is Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a bomb disposal expert who is part of the Global Defense Force. The GDF are currently in battle with an army of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers lead by Dr. Jadus Heskel, a cult leader who is pushing the transhumanist ideology. Shelly is what Duke Nukem would be if he was female. She’s got all the fun weaponry, the over the top cheesy one-liners, film quotes and adult insults that bring the entertainment to the shallow story, but just like those games from the 1990s, a story for a first-person shooter was only a vessel for the game’s setting and progression, since the real star of the old-school shooters was the action and level design.
Gone is the linear pathways and waypoints that some modern shooters are built upon and what returns are complex levels, featuring plenty of pathways, verticality and coloured doors to open with key cards. It’s a well-known formula from that era, even spawning memes for current vs 90s first-person shooter level design. What is good for the people that still love this style is it’s all here in full force with levels packed with small exploration and backtracking to find secrets or Easter eggs, which require some smart investigative work to find them all. Younger players might feel lost when it comes to this style, but Ion Fury cleverly uses the world to subtly point you in the right direction, filling it with a new wave of enemies to signal that this is the correct way to go. There is always the map to use that can be brought on screen with the press of Tab if needing the extra help.
Levels come in varied designs, such as the beginning area set in the city that has Shelly moving across high rise buildings and then down to the floor, to more compact areas, such as the sewers that keeps the action tightly packed. I would say that the actual environments don’t go as wild as the ones in Duke Nukem 3D, using more realistic and grounded themes for the levels – city, shopping centres, underground, subways, forests, labs and inside skyscrapers. It’s one of the few points that could be highlighted as a weakness, but their layouts are still crafted terrifically, making most of them just as excellent as some of the best designs of the 90s – yep, that also means the ability to flush the urinals.
On the flip side, because the developers are aiming for an authentic approach, it never pushes itself forward, staying rather conservative, instead of being ambitious. There is nothing wrong with this mentality, since there aren’t many games nowadays that feature a level design like this, but it would have been nice to see how wild levels could push the Build Engine. Maybe this is something that could happen in a sequel if it becomes a successful release.
One thing for sure is that what is packed inside these levels isn’t boring. The fluidity of movement is fast and the action is easy to control. Velocity is something I have missed from modern first-person shooters, something I liked returning in Quake Champions, and with Ion Fury, there is gameplay focused on high speed strafing, almost like a dance around enemies to avoid their shots and return with some firepower of your own. Each enemy has a pattern of attack – the basic cultist is armed with a pistol, making it easy to avoid, while the greater cultist has an ion bow with a spread shot. Later on, they bring in the shot-gunners, grenade launcher users, metallic centipedes and these skull flying drones that track you from the sky and send long-range projectiles with area damage. These drones will also retreat to cover between shots making them annoying to take down from afar.
Gunfights are often easy when it’s one on one, but when the enemies come in groups, mixed up, the heat turns up as bullets come flying from all locations. The enemy variety is good, and while the AI isn’t amazing, the fast action between yourself and the computer helps cover up some of the simple AI fight patterns, even if they require slightly different approaches. I do feel they could do with a few more additions in their visual design to change things up a bit as by the end of the game you will have seen your fair share of the same foes.
I was surprised by how the developers have managed to make each enemy without the need to succumb to the dreaded bullet sponge. None of the enemies feel overpowering – this usually comes when they are all grouped together instead – and this is down to the game’s satisfying and impactful weaponry available. It is not often a starter weapon is still used in the latter part of a game, but Shelly’s default weapon, the Loverboy revolver pistol, actually packs a punch for headshots and has a useful secondary fire mode which locks on for a quick-fire headshot if kept stable during the trigger animation. In fact, the pistol was so handy that I would use the lock-on secondary for the flying targets in a distance, as this was an easier way to take them down over manually aiming.
Any Duke Nukem 3D fan will feel right at home with the available weapons, as they are close to copies but with a new skin. No longer able to boot people, Shelly instead has an electric baton, which is also used in solving some of the game’s electric-focused puzzles. There is the shotgun that packs a meaty visceral punch, gibbing enemies into pieces, but it can also cause a bloody mess with its alt-fire as a grenade launcher. The pipe bombs are replaced by bowling bombs for grenade or rolling explosive fun, and there is a small Submachine gun that can set people on fire and also be used in a dual format. Chaingun, Ion bow and cluster land mines make up the final selection, with each one being useful all the way through the game’s 9 hour campaign. Similar to the level design, I do feel the weapons are a bit safe, as there isn’t any extreme takes on something seen in Duke Nukem, like the shrink ray or microwave expander.
While aiming for the authenticity of a classic Build Engine shooter, Voidpoint did not ignore modern features. It’s fair to say that death can come often in Ion Fury, more so with the challenging boss fights, but thankfully, there is automatic checkpoint saving, plus the old way of quick save/load through shortcut keys.
Voidpoint has shown that even with the old Build Engine, if you have talent, you can make things look great through artistic presentation rather than true-to-life graphics. Ion Fury looks brilliant, the higher resolution output means the sprite work and 3D modeled environments give a sense of old-school without being incredibly blocky. Animation is beautiful all around, from enemies to weapons, it’s just immaculate. I know this statement is kind of unfair to say when it is 2019, but Ion Fury is clearly pushing the Build Engine the most it has ever been, and it won’t eat your hard drive space, since it requires no more than 100 megabytes.
I went into Ion Fury not expecting much from it, but after finishing the game, I can easily say I bloody loved my time spent with Shelly. Voidpoint has managed to bring to life a retro shooter that takes a beloved style and rigorously craft something so spot-on, so perfectly 90s, but doing so without hampering the experience. The superb and frantic action, well-thought level design and brutal weaponry all play a part in coming together to offer a joyous single player campaign. If this is what Voidpoint can do when authentically going for something from the era, I hope they manage to push forward past been a authentic representation if they ever manage to create a sequel, as they are clearly a talented bunch of people that can match the best of the Build Engine games.