Right from the menu screen with the “Read Me” option that features two slides that tell you what you need to do, to the fast-paced-for-its-good-at-times gunplay, you know damn well that Ion Fury is a shooter tailored during the late 90s and 2000s when the Build Engine was king. Heck, the file size for this game is a paltry 90MB; this goes to show that 3D Realms and Voidpoint mean business when recreating the look, feel, and style of what shooters used to stand for.
Much like Amid Evil and Dusk conjures the spirit of Heretic and Quake back in the 90s, Ion Fury is doing the same with Duke Nukem 3D. Keep in mind that this is an acquired taste; jumping head-on into this may elicit nostalgia but also remind us why these type of titles are few and far between.
The plot is kept simple: you are Shelly Hamilton, a supercop tasked with taking down the robot and mechanical menace in her city and precinct. Unlike her contemporaries like Duke Nukem and Lo Wang from Shadow Warrior, she doesn’t have a crass pottymouth but she still belts out corny puns and catchphrases. The enemies she fights are less literal pig cops and more dystopian Robocop-esque enemies wrapped in colour-coded cloaks signifying their danger levels. The game’s futuristic setting and its paper-thin narrative is self-aware but still keeps serious to a degree.
Which is why the weaponry in Ion Fury is a tad familiar for those who have been first-person shooting their way through the “radical” period of the 90s. While they seem less outlandish compared to Shelly’s weapon-savvy cousins, they’re still impactful and work well in tandem with one other.
You have your shotgun that also shoots out pipe bombs, your SMGs that light people on fire, and your crossbow that can also fire five horizontal shots simultaneously. They’re no Freeze canons or voodoo dolls, but they still get the job done. Probably because you’ll have to switch between them a lot when you’re dealing with all the enemies while frantically running and dodging.
And run you shall, because you’ll end up six feet under if you stand still and aren’t in motion. You’ll be moving, bobbing, and weaving when shooting down crossbow-wielding soldiers and flying robot heads, unloading your shots with some level of precision and hoping there’s an armour or health drop around the corner.
You’ll also be switching back to unused weapons, now stocked up and ready for unloading; there are many instances where tiny walking spider head bots and footsoldiers walk in a cluster when I conveniently have 5 or so Bowling Bombs. The results are explosive magic and flying guts & gore.
You’ll also be scouring every nook and cranny for secrets; this Build game for 2019 cherishes its easter eggs and hidden caches that the game berates you for not going 100% even when you survive each zone.
At the same time, the old-school gameplay gets a few much-needed touches. Headshots are instant death for most enemies. You automatically run by default. Auto-saves are scattered generously, though you can manually quicksave in case you forget. Levels are designed pretty well in a roundabout fashion that makes you feel smart once you crack their gimmicks and layout via oodles of backtracking and buttons that open up new paths. Heck, these are so frequent that Shelly herself cracks wise at one of these instances.
Streets Of Rage
After the 4th or 5th hour however, the tedium starts setting in. Not all the shotgun blast sounds and cocking in the world can hide the fact that you’re rinsing and repeating each level with the same keycard-searching and enemy gauntlet-hunting. And the less said about the bullet sponge old-school pattern bosses, the better. It’s one thing to create tough yet exploitable bosses, but it’s another to feel some sense of accomplishment when you have a giant cybernetic tank man outsmarted by stairs.
Ion Fury is not for everyone. Folks who used to play 90s shooters with a blend of 2D and 3D will find a lot to love here, provided they aren’t spoiled by modern-day shooters and their conveniences.
At the same time, as a person who loved flooding up Duke Nukem 3D’s 1-1 with pipe bombs and love every single detail of its seedy world, I do wish 3D Realms add in some more modern features to strike that balance between nostalgia and current-gen gaming sensibilities.
With a little more tweaking, Ion Fury could have been the perfect send-off to a bright and silly era of FPSs. For now, we’ll settle for a decent homage that’s enough for a 6 to 8-hour romp to the past.
- Perfectly captures the Build shooter challenge and feel of the mid-90s.
- Interesting aesthetics.
- Lovely levels and mazes designed specifically for old-school throwbacks.
- Weapons are solid and packs a slew of punches.
- May not be for current-gen shooter fans due to archaic structure.
- Repetitive as heck.
- Bosses are rote and predictable.
FINAL SCORE: 60/100