Publisher: 3D Realms
Release: August 15, 2019
Rating: Not rated
Reviewed on: PC
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Ion Fury is loud. From its introductory level, packed with hooded transhumanist cultists for you to mow down with your handy revolver, all the way to the epic showdown that marks its end, this is a first-person shooter with no patience for realism or a slow pacing. Ion Fury (formerly called Ion Maiden and inspired by Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior) is a glorious pixelated playground for you to run around with high-powered weaponry, reducing armies of monsters and henchmen to goo, as you search for countless secrets tucked away at its fringes. It’s a hell of a time.
The premise is refreshingly simple. The story leans hard into ‘80s sci-fi (RoboCop in particular), casting you as police officer Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison as she takes on an evil scientist who is turning the citizens of Washington D.C. into cyborg monsters. This showdown plays out across seven chapters, and I enjoyed every single moment of my ten-hour playthrough. The combat is fun and interesting thanks to weapons that sound powerful and challenging foes. During the campaign, you’ll fight decapitated heads roaming around on mechanical spider legs, mechas, cadavers fitted with jetpacks and missile launchers, and a host of other disgusting creations.
One of Iron Fury’s most notable accomplishments is the velocity of its action. Movement is fast enough that it doesn’t embody the now awkwardly stilted maneuverability of its inspirations, but it’s never too fast for the player to control. The action is so balanced even though it’s fast most of the time I felt like a death-dealing force moving at the speed of light as I danced around foes and peppered them with lead. Your arsenal is highly creative and powerful, with each weapon being useful in a number of situations. Even your starter pistol, usually a last-ditch effort in other shooters, is both handy and satisfying in combat thanks to its ability to let you paint multiple targets and then unleash a volley of murderous headshots in one swift motion. This maneuver is particularly useful for taking down airborne foes. The chaingun, on the other hand, is great at stunning and putting down enemies that can charge through your other weapons, while your homing bowling bombs can zip around corners to kill targets. Learning the strategies to use with each foe, and then combining those strategies to emerge victorious from overwhelming encounters is much of Ion Fury’s charm. I never ran up against an encounter that was unfair and instead was constantly engaged by how the enemy makeup of each battle would force me to change my tactics to progress.
The true star of Ion Fury, as it is with the shooters that inspire it, is the level design. The campaign is technically a point A to point B affair all the way through, with loading screens, simple puzzles, and boss fights that punctuate each chapter. However, the levels are massive and creatively distinct. You fight in mansions, malls, downtown districts, metro systems, underground complexes, and even duke it out on a moving train. These levels also contain a ridiculous amount of secrets.
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Nearly every environmental fixture you come across in Ion Fury, whether it’s a light switch or a refrigerator, can be interacted with. Sometimes that light switch might just turn on the light. Other times, an innocuous switch might open up a floor panel hiding some grenades and health packs to help with the battle waiting just down the corridor. Even without the secrets waiting to be discovered, interacting with environmental objects can reveal tactics to help you throughout the rest of the game. Cracking open a soda machine will garner you some health-restoring energy drinks, which is helpful since those things are all over the place. I had so much fun running down secrets that even after I had technically beaten a level and killed all the enemies, I’d spend more time roaming around in search of hidden stashes of weapons and ammo or goofy Easter eggs. All of these secrets and charms go a long way toward making the already-enjoyable action of gunning down foes more exciting. I always felt like I was exploring a world that had been meticulously crafted as opposed to churned out on an assembly line or procedurally generated.
Ion Fury’s limited storytelling and humorous attempts are ultimately charming and refreshing, managing to pay homage to the attitude-first persona of Duke Nukem 3D without bringing the icky sexism attached to it. Like Duke, Shelly’s got a number of quips she loves to throw out that go from blatant pop culture references (like lines drawn from Tim Burton’s Batman) to nonsensical (“Clean up on aisle Your Ass”) with the delivery of those lines doing a lot of the heavy lifting to make her a fun, if not particularly deep, character.
Outside of an odd quirk where you can’t manually reload weapons even though they have clips that reload automatically once they run dry, Ion Fury is everything that I’ve wanted from a modernized take on the arcadey shooters of the 90s. The pitch-perfect movement, the enemy variety, creative weaponry, and fantastic level design all add up to a superb shooter campaign. In a sea of retro shooters looking to channel the glory of the genre’s early days, Ion Fury emerges as the title that pushes those thrills into the present in an engaging way, deftly capturing their timelessness.
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Summary: This retro shooter lives beyond its nostalgic ambitions to become a fantastic, timeless FPS experience.
Concept: Take back a futuristic city from an evil scientist in this ridiculously entertaining retro shooter
Graphics: The 2D pixel art for characters and weapons is clear and eye-catching, as are the cityscapes and underground lairs you infiltrate
Sound: The weapons roar and the MIDI rock-and-roll background music rules
Playability: This twitch-based shooter might take some getting used to if you haven’t played one since the ‘90s (or ever), but the learning curve is fair and mostly gentle
Entertainment: More than just a throwback to frenzied ‘90s shooters, Ion Fury is a fantastic game filled with creative weaponry, oodles of humor, and memorable levels.
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