Ion Fury Review: Hail to the Queen, Baby
Do you remember CRT monitors? Clunky, white keyboards that could last for decades? The scream of your parents whenever you spent way too long locked in your room playing games?
Well, welcome (back) to the 90s. Ion Fury, published by genre standard-bearers 3D Realms, evokes all of that nostalgia at once.
If you grew up with playing classics like Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem, or even DOOM, you'll feel right at home with Ion Fury.
However, if this is your first time playing a game made on the Build Engine, there's enough to keep you hooked, so don't worry. The engine still excels 23 years later, rendering gorgeous animations and small details in every nook and cranny. With this latest release, there's even revamped controls, ushering the engine into the modern landscape.
Ion Fury arrives during a resurgence in throwback FPS titles, all of which are bringing new life to these classic experiences. Thankfully, this entry continues to push that trend forward. There's enough in its DNA to appease both past audiences and modern ones, introducing itself as an inheritor of sorts for Duke Nukem 3D, but ditching the macho protagonist altogether.
Instead, 3D Realms has passed the torch to a badass woman by the name of Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, who also has a penchant for shouting quippy one-liners.
As can be the case with shooters of any era, the story here is a mere excuse to justify the shooting that comes afterward.
An evil transhumanist doctor creates a cult of tech baddies that are storming the city, and, of course, you're the tool by which those numbers will be drastically lowered.
You'll do so through hand-crafted levels filled with secrets, stuff to shoot at, and weapons to experiment with.
Weapons and shooting fall in perfect balance between old and new. The revolver you start with is fast and powerful, landing headshots with ease if your aim is true. Interestingly, it also includes an alternative fire mode that lets you target multiple enemies at once, only to unleash a rain of bullets a la McCree's Overwatch ultimate when you release the button.
On top of a shotgun that can be turned into a devastating grenade launcher, there are also munitions called bowling bombs, by far one of the weapons I had the most fun with. They feel new and interesting, even if I have been throwing grenades in video games for years.
Physics, and the careful craft behind each impact and each projectile that leaves your hands, meld perfectly to make every weapon feel meaningful and different.
Luckily, movement ties everything together.
Ion Fury ditches the limited possibilities found in some of its forebears and offers agile inputs that easily feel like most modern shooters. This is not only for fashion, but it's also as a way to get you comfortably pushing through the levels and keep you alive
That's good, too, because there's no health regeneration here, and pick up items are either found or earned by killing enemies. Movement is key to survival, and strafing is, of course, as important as ever.
Hail to the Queen
As is often the case with games of its ilk, Ion Fury's campaign takes you through different suburban landscapes, from the usual decaying cities to train stations and beyond.
Far from the bold and intricate level design from other throwback FPS such as Amid Evil, here, the game takes us places we've been before, but ones we know and love. A bar with almost endless shot glasses to use as dummy targets, flashing lights in a disco tech, an arcade full of beeping, ping-ponging machines.
All of the game's levels are hand-crafted, so don't expect any procedurally generated bonanza in Ion Fury. This is both a blessing and a curse for the game. While I appreciate sticking to its classic roots, especially when so many games now take the procedural approach, the campaign can get tiring during long sessions.
Don't get me wrong, I can't stop thinking about going back to the game after I'm done with it. But I think it plays best in short sessions, exploring each scenario (which always grants you a reward) and enjoying it without overstaying your welcome. Perhaps it's the enemies who, even though they bring up a good fight, don't feel as groundbreaking as I had hoped they'd be.
That being said, I was hooked by Ion Fury from beginning to end. There's something about the way each weapon feels, how animations shine within the walls of an engine that might as well be considered ancient.
In no short order is it something to behold.
- A reinvention of the Build Engine I didn't know I needed
- Thoughtful and interesting shooting all around
- A completely new experience to dive into, even when everything seems familiar
- Enemy design could be bolder
- It's best enjoyed during up and coming sessions
There's clear harmony between everything I loved from my first FPS experiences and the quality of life updates that the genre has grown accustomed to throughout the years.
For me, the major achievement of Ion Fury is making you feel like you're entering a new world altogether, despite recognizing the polygons and sprites that pay tribute to its past influences.
It's only the beginning for this these throwback shooters, and this particular entry has the potential to be remembered as one the pioneers of its resurgence.
[Note: A copy of Ion Fury was provided by 3D Realms for the purpose of this review.]