In what seems like a perfect bout of life imitating art, the push for ’90s nostalgia sure does seem artificial. Brands and companies sure act like everyone are into scrunchies and Clueless, but it’s probably not as widespread as you might be led to believe. The internet’s unique method of giving everyone their own niche makes wide cultural trends way less common. So, while the recent resurgence in retro first-person shooters came in part due to an assumed ’90s rebirth, they now live all on their own. From Dusk to Project Warlock, these games have been an incredible reminder of what the genre can do at its best. 3D Realms knows this all too well, and the team is stepping back into the arena alongside developer Voidpoint. The result is ION FURY, an updated take on Duke Nukem 3D that goes above and beyond nostalgic pandering to become one of the better first-person shooters in recent memory.
Ion Fury Review | Bombshell in a strange land
You play as Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, the protagonist of ill-fated isometric twin stick shooter Bombshell. Thankfully, Ion Fury is a prequel, so you just need to know that Shelly is a police officer with a need for revenge and a love of one-liners. After a cybernetic cult rises up and attacks, Shelly takes up arms and blasts them apart one by one as she chases down their insane leader. Starting off with her signature Loverboy pistol, she eventually gains an armory of miniguns, crossbows, and bowling bombs to use against these mechanical terrors.
This is nothing out of the ordinary for a shooter on the Build engine but what sets Ion Fury apart from its inspirations and peers is the fidelity it squeezes out of classic tech. Even now, the graphics in Duke 3D hold up pretty well, but Ion Fury presents a marked improvement. The assets are crisp and detailed 2D sprites, none of the pseudo-3D weapons from the late ’90s Build releases. The levels contain the same level of detail, with subtle lighting effects and deviously crafted visual trickery. It brings the feeling of landing in Hollywood Holocaust to the modern-day, eliciting the same feeling of awe in its scope.
Ion Fury Review | Not afraid to shoot strangers
Like the best action games, Ion Fury showcases a mastery of its craft in service of some kickass set pieces filled with andrenaline. Trucks careen towards you, airships rain down missiles, and there’s even a requisite level on a moving train. There are stages with tense mazes of corridors and ones with giant courtyards filled with a dozen enemies. It’s a great variety that keeps your momentum going effortlessly, especially since each level loads into the next without visible load times.
Only the level design gets in the way of the game’s momentum as it can sometimes be less than intuitive. It’s all too easy to wander around a stage for 10 minutes or more looking for an exit. Levels come packed with plenty of secrets and alternate pathways, which is great for replay value and player choice. It’s just that this design can also confound you if you’re not in the exact right mindset. There are so many modern touches to Ion Fury that a delayed waypoint would hurt anything.
There also should be more firearm choices throughout Ion Fury‘s campaign. The game crescendos to what seems like an obvious final boss and then just keeps going. The meaty campaign is great and will keep busy for a decent amount of time, but the arsenal just stops expanding at some point. You get a few tougher enemies, so there’s some variety, but the arsenal plateaus at a certain point. You’re also lacking a lot of the more creative tools and gadgets seen in other Build engine games. It’s all understandable, but still a shame.
Ion Fury Review | Be swift or be dead
With all that said, Ion Fury has a great variance of both enemy types and firearms. You’ve got a shotgun that doubles as a grenade launcher, explosive throwing discs, and homing bombs you hurl like bowling balls. Each pull of the trigger is satisfying and weighty, and each enemy is packing the same weapons you are. Get too close to the cultists wielding crossbows and they won’t hesitate to land a headshot. This is the type of game where you abuse the quicksave button, but the difficulty all just part of the fun as it raises the stakes. The game has responsive enough controls to get you out of trouble so these hard levels are just satisfying tests of skill.
Ion Fury also has an immaculate soundtrack and vocal work. Both Shelly and evil cult leader Jadus Heskel (Duke himself, Jon St. John) bring appropriate gravitas to their roles. The music also contributes, with a great mix of moody synths and pounding guitars. Not only does the music set the tone perfectly, but it’s the type of soundtrack you want to listen to outside of the game. That just doesn’t happen with today’s more cinematic scores, and the throwback is greatly appreciated.
Ion Fury Review | Wasting Loverboy ammo
Beyond the action set pieces, the satisfying gameplay, and the varied content, one thing makes Ion Fury stand above the rest. Few games in 2019 have felt as considered as Voidpoint’s FPS campaign. Each scenario has been expertly handcrafted by fans of the genre who know all the tricks. This is a shooter that will surprise veterans and new players alike. With procedural generation and multiplayer grinding becoming so prevalent in games at all levels, it is delightful to load up something so focused on the player’s enjoyment.
If you’re a fan of any breed of first-person shooters, Ion Fury should be on your playlist. Even among its retro FPS peers, 3D Realms has put out a best-in-class experience that rivals anything released this year. The fact that such a game can come after the character’s inauspicious debut in Bombshell makes it all the more miraculous. The adventures of Shelly Harrison have truly begun, and hopefully, there’s no end in sight.
GameRevolution reviewed Ion Fury on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.