It's a dirty job but someone has to do it.
If I had to write a short blurb describing Ion Assault, disregarding its extremely cookie-cutter story, it would be a tale of rubble. Tons of rubble taking up space in… outer space. You're the trash guy who pilots a nimble, little ship and has to clean everything up. Yeah, that sounds about right.
[image1]Cleaning up is the basic objective in Ion Assault. Depending on the area you are in, you'll run into a bunch of different types of debris, like asteroids, chunks of cities, and even alien artifacts. Your job is made easier thanks to your ship's unique ability to suck up space particles and use them as a weapon. But apparently, some space folk aren't all too happy with your environmentalist attitude and stand in your way with every sort of annoying unit from this side of StarCraft II.
Don't worry, though; their insolence doesn't have to be taken lightly. There are a handful of little trinkets that come in form of power-ups, like shields and protonic beams, dropped by these pests. Even so, you're bound to get into some really thick pickles as you try to clear space of trash. Space is only a name in Ion Assault – the gameplay area is very small and limited by borders. The borders provide a lot of strategy since they bounce off any of your shots if correctly powered, sometimes into sprays of bullets that take apart everything in its way.
There's a fair bit to like in Ion Assault if you're the sort of arcade player hunkering for more twin-stick space shooting, even though it feels generic. It takes a broad stroke from Geometry Wars' book of visuals and gameplay, even though it does carry a certain amount of originality in the form of its singular attack system. Visually, everything looks colorful and alive, but there's really very little that makes Ion Assault stand on its own.
Ion Assault has been out for a while on the Xbox 360 and has only now gotten a PC port. The move to PC bumps up the visuals quite a bit and adds a little to the difficulty curve. Sadly, the difficulty does not derive from challenging gameplay, but from the awkwardly adapted controls. The mouse and keyboard combination that works on first-person shooters just doesn't cut it for a twin stick shooter because… well… there aren't any sticks to begin with. The WASD controls are limiting and get in the way especially in the later levels when enemies get trickier and the screen gets crowded.
[image2]I'm not exactly sure why the co-op mode, albeit local from the XBLA version of the game, is nowhere to be found in this port. An online mode is almost mandatory in PC games these days and should have been included here, especially when the developers had extra months in porting it over.
At its core, Ion Assault is a relatively short but challenging romp. Replayability is completely dependant on your personal drive to climb online leaderboards and for gaining achievements, thanks to the lack of content after conquering the meager campaign. A survival mode can only carry a game so far. Geometry Wars 2 proved that there's a ton of variations of a simple gameplay idea that can be made into game modes and that only shows the missed potential of Ion Assault.
Considering the extra time it spent coming to the PC, it's strange that it comes out as a worse product by missing a key feature that was included in an older version of the game. If you absolutely have to get your fix for space shooters on PC, stick to arcade compilations. Ion Assault might be fun for a while, but there's ridiculously little to come back to after you are done with the campaign and its lone survival mode companion. That's to say, other than rocks of space trash to sift through. There's plenty of that in Ion Assault.