Publisher: 3D Realms
Genre: First Person Shooter
An endless army of cyborgs has overrun the city. Right at happy hour, no less! Luckily Shelly ‘Bombshell’ Harrison is there to put down her cocktail and pick up all manner of destructive weapons. These nasty robo-scum better prepare for a world of hurt, and a spray of questionable one-liners.
Ion Fury is a first person shooter with a distinctly 90s feel. This may be in part because developer Voidpoint (Twitter) have created the game in the classic Build Engine. Or maybe it’s the familiar 3D Realms logo looming in the credits.
Anyone who has even taken a sideways glance at Duke Nukem before will be familiar with the format. Players navigate a 3D world populated by sprite characters and objects, delivering justice via bullet and explosion. All while trying to stay alive.
At their disposal players have a large array of weapons, as well as the usual walk, run, jump, crouch and interact actions. Waves of enemies will come at them, with progress impeded by a series of colour keycard coded doors, or other similar obstacles. Occasionally players may be called on to solve light logic puzzles.
Weapons have two modes, the exact effect of which differs from choice to choice. For instance the starting pistol, called Loverboy, has the secondary ability to target enemies and quickly fire a series of shots. Or there is the shotgun, which has an alternate fire which loads grenades into the weapon.
Enemies range from weaker foot soldiers, to a variety of flying foes, as well as tougher and larger opponents. In typical 90s fashion the player will also periodically come across boss battles, pitting them against a sizeable opponent in an arena setting.
The levels are set across a variety of locations, including the city streets, subway tunnels and subterranean bases. Typical to its forbears, each level is littered with secrets to uncover. Objects slide open to reveal caches, walls can be destroyed to access new rooms, and the player can attempt some decidedly tricky footwork to get out of reach bonuses.
Players strafe, jump, dodge and gun their way while an eclectic techno-inspired soundtrack untz untz untz’s in the background. During which Shelly cracks wise as she blows her enemies into mangled piles of blood and pixels.
In most areas Ion Fury is a seamless rebirth of Duke Nukem 3D. The most impressive thing about the game is the way it harnesses the essence of Duke Nukem but adds its own details and upgrades. This makes Ion Fury seem nostalgic, while at the same time bringing new life to the format.
The good aspects really stand out. It’s a smart use of the Build Engine, so it doesn’t just feel like a rehash of all the games that have come before. A unique personality and edge is injected into both the gameplay and the story, which brings modern sensibilities and retro mechanics together.
Thought has gone into the level designs, and how the limitations or hallmarks of the past can be leveraged to create interesting spaces. This is most apparent in the early city levels, which give the player an open world feel while actually being quite constrained in layout. There are some real excitingly dynamic locations to navigate and creatively engage enemies.
In an interesting, and I assume tongue-in-cheek, twist only two voice actors appear in the game. Veteran voice actor Valerie Arem takes on the role of Shelly. While Jon St. John, the voice of Duke Nukem himself, fulfils the role of the main villain Heskel. It’s a twist of expectations which works on a number of levels.
Strangely though, for every good aspect there is a bad flip side. Using the Build Engine has meant rolling with some of its limitations, such as not being able to look or aim too far up or down. Not a total loss, but frustrating when the rudimentary enemy AI puts opponents in positions you can’t engage them.
For the most part every level layout is well thought out, but the locations quickly become tedious. The spacious and interesting city locales give way to lots of brown tunnels. Things look up on occasion, like when the player suddenly emerges outside. But the rug is quickly pulled from under them as they are literally dropped into the brownest of sewers ever to hit screens.
The voice actors are fantastic. But it’s too bad they aren’t really given anything entertaining or engaging to say. Shelly drops inane and puerile comments, while Heskel is a one dimensional villain in a world of two dimensional people. This falls into the larger problem of the narrative not being in any way interesting, which feeds into some of the lacklustre boss battles and repetitive enemies. Plus there are scores of stupid infantile jokes to assail the senses. If I have to look at one more billboard loudly proclaiming the “Washington 4 Skins” I think I’ll scream.
Ion Fury is a game of contrasts. Retro nostalgia against modern sensibilities. Fun gameplay against tedious level s. Enjoying the experience a game offers against a series of eye bleeding dick jokes. I don’t think the game is worse for it, but they do seem like elements of the past that could have been downplayed, if not lost entirely.
Despite this Ion Fury still offers an overall enjoyable experience. It leans into its heritage, maybe a little too much on occasion, but it does so with a certain amount of flair and chutzpah. And it’s nice to see a developer taking an older engine and really pushing it into modern spaces. It also proves that there is still some life in the old run-and-gun format of first person shooters.