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April 2024

Ion Fury

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Voidpoint
Developer: 3D Realms
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2019


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PC Review - 'Ion Fury'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 2, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Ion Fury is an old-school hand-crafted pixelated first-person shooter powered by 3D Realms' Build engine, which powered Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Shadow Warrior and other 90's hits.

What's old is new again. That adage has applied to all forms of entertainment, including video games. We've seen it with the revival of the roguelike genres and art styles like the 8- and 16-bit sprites. For the first-person shooter, we're seeing a slow movement away from heavy military and story-based affairs and back to the classic maze and high-action shooters of yesteryear. While games like 2016's Doom returned that kind of action to the public eye, more recent titles like Dusk and Amid Evil show off a real understanding of what made titles like Quake and Heretic tick while adding in some new ideas of their own. In many ways, the recently released and renamed Ion Fury also belongs to this old-school shooter classification.

Acting as a prequel game to Bombshell, Ion Fury has you once again playing the role of explosives disposal expert Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison. Six months after your last promotion, the city of Neo, D.C., has come under attack from Doctor Heskel and his cybernetic army. After they make a failed attempt on your life, you take the fight to Heskel and his forces. Like many shooters of the time, this is very light on narrative, but it has just enough to give your actions some structure.

It needs to be stressed that this isn't a new engine being used or one of the more common ones, like Unreal or Unity, that's trying to mimic something from yesteryear. This is a game that was made in 2019 in Build. If that sounds familiar, that's the engine responsible for some classics, like Blood, Duke Nukem 3D, Nam, and the original Shadow Warrior. That means that some of the graphical hallmarks of those titles are present here, such as pixelated textures. There's more verticality in the game, so while you still have long hallways, expect to fight in the open air of the city more often. Since this is pseudo 3D, you can rotate around enemies and objects, and they'll rotate with you since everything is flat. There's no real-time lighting, but the various colored lights do a good job of faking that effect rather well, and the blood splatter, explosions and fire look spectacular when you take the game engine into account.

While this is the same Build engine, the team at Voidpoint tweaked it a bunch, and the results add some punch to the engine's capabilities. Aside from the ability to scale at very high resolutions, you can get a large amount of verticality in a level. Object interaction has long been a hallmark for the game, but you get more of it, so it's more involving to move garbage bags and break glasses. The levels are bigger than before, and the load times used to disguise movement from one large area to another is so short that you wouldn't realize it if you aren't paying attention. That lack of load time is also helpful when you die, as respawning feels instantaneous.

Those tweaks aren't just for the graphics alone, as the sound is much better than what you would have gotten before. The sound effects come in crisp, and the music, while still action-packed, sounds like a step above MIDI material while still retaining an old-school vibe. The voices are also clear, and fans of the old 3D Realms stuff will appreciate that Shelly is full of one-liners. It takes a while before her lines start repeating, which we can't say about the enemies in the game.

Of course, one benefit of using something this old is that you don't need much to make the game run smoothly. Looking at the recommended system specs, just about any modern machine can run the game, and if you're willing to drop the resolution a bit, you can run the title on some pretty old rigs from about a decade ago. You can't run the game on something that ran the DOS release of Duke Nukem 3D, but unless you're using an ARM-based system, you should be able to run this game without any issues.

It might seem redundant to go over the core mechanics, but there was some real dedication to making Ion Fury feel like it was plucked off the shelf decades ago. You're never limited in your arsenal, as you can carry every gun on your person at all times. Those weapons also have an alt-fire mode, so it's possible for a shotgun to become a grenade launcher with the press of a button. Secret passages and rooms are everywhere, and the game is interactive enough that the vending machines work. Keycards become your only blockers, and as expected, they're all color-coded. There are no waypoints to show you where to go, but there's no regenerative health, so medpacks are your friend, and those who want to take cover need to hide behind a wall instead of hitting a button to take cover.

To their credit, the team added in some modern conveniences that make the title bearable for those who haven't played an old shooter in a while. Headshots count, so those with good aim can down enemies faster than before. The game can autosave, and you can allow up to 10 saves at a time if you're not fond of manual saves. Of course, with the checkpoints being far apart enough, you'll want to make it a habit to save. There isn't a regenerative health system, but armor and health items are quite plentiful, and some enemies might drop off armor or health for you. You also need to reload your weapons after every few shots, but that can be seen as a drawback, since the absence of reloading made gunplay flow smoother back then.

Reloading aside, Ion Fury channels everything old school. Guns can deliver decent damage at any distance, so a shotgun from far away is plausible. Enemies hit hard, so running and gunning through a level can result in instant death if you aren't paying attention to your surroundings. You need to explore your environment to move forward, but your curiosity is rewarded with extras that you'll need almost immediately. The game is also fast, so it's a test of reflexes as opposed to methodically moving to a place, aiming, and shooting before repeating the process again.

Taken as a whole, the game feels packed compared to some modern shooters. The campaign only takes around eight hours to complete, but it feels like you're doing more in it, since the segments are long and there are hardly any cut scenes. Some additional short episodes are thrown in, making it feel like this version is packed with DLC as opposed to a brand-new title. The one thing missing here compared to other shooters is a multiplayer mode, but in the grand scheme of things, that omission isn't too bad.

The only other issue is using a controller as opposed to the trusty keyboard-mouse combo. For one thing, the game has no binding for a weapon's alt-fire mode, a glaring omission considering how useful it is. The other issue you'll run into is that the game has you moving at top speed all the time, whether it's running through an environment or turning to aim. The default settings are too sensitive, so expect to go in and tweak everything often before you can start a proper run.

Ion Fury is an old-school shooting fan's dream. All of the mechanics are intact, from non-regenerative health to the ability to carry a full arsenal of weapons, and the level design feels intuitive and encourages exploration without needing waypoints. Some of the new mechanics fit in well, but a few, like the need to reload, only increase the difficulty on a tough game. Seeing all of this done on a decades-old engine is enough to convince you of the versatility of those old FPS engines. Unless you hate the old FPS style, Ion Fury is a must-have for your gaming library.

Score: 9.0/10

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