Ion Maiden is the Duke Nukem 3D Spiritual Successor We’ve Been Waiting 20 Years For [Early Access Preview]

The Build Engine debuted over 20 years ago with the release of a game called Witchaven by Capstone Software and IntraCorp. Don't remember that game? That's not surprising. You've likely played a build engine game, though. Some of the most popular shooters of the mid-1990s were constructed with the 2.5D engine which marked the dividing point between 2D sprites and 3D models. Blood, Shadow Warrior, Redneck Rampage, and most famously, Duke Nukem 3D were all constructed using this toolset, and in 2018 one more game will join the ranks of games built with the Build Engine: Ion Maiden.

Ion Maiden is a prequel to 3D Realm's poorly received top-down action platformer Bombshell. The game once again stars Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison, but this time around 3D Realms is going back to its roots to try and create the magic Bombshell was missing, all the way back to its roots as a matter of fact. Ion Maiden will be the first commercial game made with the Build Engine since 1999's World War II GI.

Ion Maiden Preview: If You Build it, They Will Come

Ion Maiden Preview Grenades

So, Duke Nukem 3D is still excellent, but over the years it's started to feel a little clunky, and graphics that looked stellar on a 13-inch CRT don't look nearly as crisp on a 27-inch 1440p LCD monitor. It seems strange to build a brand new game on such an old platform, doesn't it?

Well, Ion Maiden isn't using the same edition of the Build Engine that Duke did. Instead, it's being built using a much-improved port of the Build Engine to Windows (instead of the original MS-DOS) called EDuke32, that allows for a multitude of enhancements. While the art I've seen in the early access version of Ion Maiden follows Duke's 2D spite style for enemies and pick-ups, we're likely to see real-time dynamic lighting and shadow mapping, and shader-based effects that weren't possible in previous commercial Build Engine games.

Ion Maiden Preview: Duke 3D 2.0

Ion Maiden Preview Chaingun

Enough with the technical stuff. Most people are going to wonder how Ion Maiden plays. I'm pleased to say that it feels a lot like a logical next step for if there were a Duke Nukem 3D 2. The game still has the same fast-paced gunplay as Duke 3D but takes advantage of the improved engine and superior performance of today's computers to render levels that feel much larger, both in length and scope.

An iconic moment for a lot of gamers is when Duke jumps down the duct at the beginning of Hollywood Holocaust and lands amidst (a very small) cityscape. Ion Maiden somewhat reproduces that scene early on when you escape from a base to find yourself in a wide-open (and filled with enemies) street.

There's still lots of secrets to find, and Ion Maiden retains that "linear-but-open" feel that makes Duke Nukem 3D feel so huge, even though it's technically a very "Point A to Point B" type of game. The Ion Maiden Steam Early Access build only has a quick "Preview Campaign" so I, unfortunately, was left wanting a lot more, but it was a good sneak peek. The $19.99 ($17.99 with the current 10% discount) asking price is a bit steep for a short early access campaign, but seeing as that buys you access to the full game when it comes out, I guess it's worth the gamble.

According to the early access roadmap, Ion Maiden should only be in early access for around six months. Hopefully, that means that around September we should get to see the full version of the game. I had a blast in the short campaign that's out now, and if the full release is as long as Duke Nukem 3D and it all has the same quality I've seen so far, $20 is definitely worth it.