“Fighting a constant and bitter battle with our own overblown egos.”
At a time where nostalgia as a selling point is exercised more regularly than actual gameplay, it’s only fair to revisit what they intend to invoke for the player. Sure, DUSK might be the best thing since bread that’s been sliced for you by a harem of women who think “No really, Anon, you have such a great taste in arthouse films”, but what about the inspirations, like Quake or Half–Life, or DOOM? You gotta find out what it was that made those games click, and in the case of Ion Fury, these sentiments seemed like an after-thought in the name of fanboys worldwide.
This is the sophomore title from American-based studio Voidpoint, along with the long-stagnant corpse of 3D Realms, and my oh my, hasn’t this game had the most riveting of journeys? From its first inception to a throwback that the boomer-shooter crowd would revel in eternally, it all started with a lawsuit from boomer-metal kingpins Iron Maiden due to Ion Fury’s previous name, Ion Maiden. Content for a while, the game saw further controversy for a rather unfunny, but nonetheless harmless, joke, which saw a flare of outrage from people accusing the studio of homophobia. It could’ve potentially sunk the studio, but the flame that burns twice as bright, so on and so forth.
You play as Shelly I-Never-Caught-Her-Last-Name, fresh off her pixie performance in the 2016 release Bombshell and catching up on some R ‘n’ R in her local cyberpunk bar. However, her vacation is quickly cut short by the intrusion of Dr. Heskel and his ragtag but limitless army of cyborg cultists. With a shattered glass and a triple-barrel revolver, Shelly plans to take down Heskel for ruining some well-deserved beauty sleep, with the added bonus of taking down Heskel’s newly-formed cyber cult.
If certain names and clues are simply bouncing off your receptors, then let it be declared here: Ion Fury is more than just a tribute to a bygone age of pseudo-3D FPS malarkey. It sees itself as more of a logical next step, with Ken Silverman’s Build engine being pushed to the limits. What 3D Realms, Monolith, and Action Forms did in the past falters in paralyzed awe at what Voidpoint can do with 20 years of hindsight. Move over, Randy Pitchford; the true rectifier of outdated game design is here!
Be aghast at the graphical qualities! Look at these textures! Valiant voxels! Oh yeah, this is a true testament to what ‘90s hardware can do and has to be the first thing that you unavoidably talk about when it comes to Ion Fury. What Voidpoint has done with the Build engine is a marvel, a technical achievement in and of itself, and you do have to drink it in. The first level is the ‘90s FPS equivalent of Citizen Kane, and it’s nothing but breathtaking to see what’s in store.
Despite having a lot in common with Duke Nukem 3D, first and foremost, Ion Fury still eyes the other two parts of the Build engine Tri-Force, starting with Shadow Warrior‘s tight combat design, giving you a weapon roster that equals Lo Wang’s initial arsenal. The Loverboy is a weapon that easily could’ve become iconic if it was put into a ‘90s FPS, with the triple barrel design and a chamber that can fit 18 bullets at once. From there, you have the usual machine gun, shotgun, a slower-firing but more powerful machine gun, and explosives, which are admittedly too gimmicky.
Honestly, if Ion Fury can have a problem more objective than subjective, it’s that the arsenal focuses too much on having alt-fires that are too specific, with optimal situations being rare. The Loverboy’s “Deadeye” alt offers no clarification, the Ion Bow’s slow-building but devastating magazine emptying routine has too long of a buildup for a weightless payoff, or the Bowling Bombs in general. It all feels a bit too finicky, especially in tenser moments, and it doesn’t help that you have a roster of enemies that is honestly too aggressive to accommodate for such a skill-based set of weaponry.
The monster roster is where Ion Fury starts eyeing Blood from across the table; Hordes of cyber-cultists endlessly jabbering, and armed to the teeth. Sub-machine guns, shotguns, grenade launchers and the Ion Bow, with the Ion Bow-wielding cultists being an especially devastating foe on higher difficulties. Their reaction times and telegraphing are mostly straight-forward, but to go back to the combat design quickly, absolutely none of the enemies show visual feedback, and despite a lot of the weapons being hitscanners, they still show bullet trails.
It sounds like a small quip, but it can honestly mess with your mind so much, especially when a lot of the roster shows no reaction to being shot at all. Ion Bow-wielding cultists were the worst for this, as you can never be sure that you’re able to stall them long enough with a quick shot for them not to charge their devastating bow up for a one-hit. You won’t see visual feedback from enemies until halfway in, and by then, you’re desensitized.
It’s hard to explain, but in the mission to show off that the Build engine is still a viable way to make a fast-paced FPS with game design that stands up there with the best of ’em, they’ve shown off a few inherent inadequacies that you simply can’t avoid. The apex of this lies in the verticality Ion Fury possesses in almost all of its arenas, which is frantic, wonderfully executed initially, and some of the best you’ll see in any shooter, period.
However, these are 2D sprites, and when Ion Fury decides to get tighter in sewer levels or throw THOSE FUCKING SPIDERS at you, trying to keep a grasp on the situation devolves into an oil slick of frustration. There’s also the flying drones that are one annoying sound effect away from the worst of Duke Nukem, the weird teleporting monsters reminiscent of Scourge Splitters; they don’t mesh well at all with this new limitless space available with 25 years worth of technology.
Nevertheless, Ion Fury‘s relentless combat tends to be more fun than frustrating. There’s an immediate sense of accomplishment following every firefight that pushes you to within a hair’s breadth of death. However, thanks to a terrifyingly long completion time, the level design has to constantly juggle different levels of the aforementioned verticality, looping, and intelligence, succeeding almost always.
Mind you, this level design knowledge tends to be expended on useless endeavors that almost always end up falling flat. The sewer sections are a good example of missing the mark by an inch rather than a mile, but it doesn’t matter whether you rent out John Romero to spice up your glorified map mod for the weekend, sewer sections cannot be executed properly. Despite that, the other sections of Ion Fury most would consider generic, such as the office sections, the usual city-burning-in-progress levels— They’re all phenomenal. They bring back good memories of loading up Hollywood Holocaust for the first time or getting to use the VK-12 shotgun for the first time in an 18+ reboot of Office Space.
Realistically, Ion Fury has a winning hand and should have cashed out to be a dead-set champion of FPS design, passion, and style. That isn’t the case, though, as over time, the game flounders and falters in an attempt to keep the player interested in the action. This is due to its arbitrary and arduous length, spanning over 7 chapters and multiple huge levels, with pacing thrown out of the window.
Really, the core design of Ion Fury is all over the place; it’s the equivalent of a narcoleptic cheetah. The action demands your attention at all times, but Voidpoint also stresses with the same urgency that secrets are wildly important, and the game can never manage the two correctly. You’re either running around like a headless chicken attempting precise surgery with buckshot, or you’re dry-humping several walls and vents attempting to find secret switches that can give you an iota of ammunition for the electronic hordes ahead.
Part of this comes down to enemy placement. A massive flaw arises from enemies spawning in without any audio or visual cues. Even then, it’s always a shot at the back that’ll get you. You can foresee and overcome projectiles coming towards you always, but Voidpoint believes that true skill arises from the ability to watch your own back after every firefight.
Is the game hard? Yeah, but only if you decide to play by the rules previous Build engine games set up, and that’s where the problem within Ion Fury lies. It’s not about providing you a loud and messy end to anyone who doesn’t quip Die Hard incessantly. No, it’s about being a dick in unforeseen ways because “a true FPS vet would’ve seen it coming.” Really though, nobody would, and as the game begins to fumble for time, and environments resemble Fallout 3 more than Ghost in The Shell, Ion Fury begins to plummet dramatically in the second half. The art design, the enemies, the battlegrounds, they all lose flavor and morph into an unintelligible blob of corridor fights and screeching from THOSE FUCKING SPIDERS.
Seriously, of all the enemies to accurately bellow their locations out to the player, it has to be these fucking knock-off Toy Story horrors? I state now, with no hesitation, and with the same fire I lay out before these mass of pulsating wires and still-warm blood, that nothing in any other video game, FPS or otherwise, will ever be as annoying to fight, as irritating to hear, or as incessantly pathetic as these useless fucking spiders which offer nothing to the fight other than demanding pin-point accuracy with an Xbox One controller. Yeah, try doing this while also being equipped with an auto-aim function that has the same narcoleptic properties as the games pacing.
Right, now that I got that out of my system, I can state with a much calmer demeanour that Ion Fury is still a decent game in its own rights, and that’s beyond the brilliant graphics. When it gets going, and you’re put into a room that only wants to see you fight for your life, the dip-divin’ you’ll be performing across wrecked cars and charred bodies is amongst some of the best FPS action you’ll ever see, period. I simply wish it wasn’t three or four hours of non-stop brilliance that should’ve ended 6 hours ago.
Honestly, if the technology was there in the late ‘90s and Half–Life got delayed by, like, six months or something, I can easily see Ion Fury joining the holy trinity of Build shooters and making an FPS equivalent of the Big 4 of Thrash Metal. Even now, that’s still the case, but in this analogy, they’d easily be Megadeth. Repeats upon repeats that only the devoted could withstand, as opposed to onlookers who realise they’ve done this same song ‘n dance for the past 20 years.
Honestly, if Dusk or DOOM (2016) set you off on a journey to find out what FPSes used to be before a time where democracy was apparently threatened by a government’s boredom, then Ion Fury is a logical next step. Don’t expect it to replace your favorite shooters, though, because honestly, after separating the Twins, no-one’s gonna blame you for thinking that’s it in terms of what the game has to offer.
This review of Ion Fury was based upon the Xbox One version.
A bold ambition and frantic FPS action isn't enough to stop dated design, both in its engine and the levels. The mind-breaking length doesn't help either.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.