I can’t stand atoms with an electrical charge! Some might say I have Ion Fury…
The 90s were an amazing time for first-person shooters. Players were spoilt for choice with the likes of Heretic, Blood, Duke Nukem 3D, and of course Doom. In recent years there have been attempts to bring these classics back for a modern audience with Dusk bringing back the Blood vibe, Amid Evil representing Heretic, and finally, we have Ion Fury (previously titled Ion Maiden — I can’t imagine why they had to change the name) to let you get your Duke on! Having been available on PC since 2019, it’s time to take a look at the recent console release.
You take on the role of Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison — who you may remember from Bombshell if you were one of the few people who played that — as she attempts to take down Dr. Heskel, an evil scientist who has released a horde of cybernetic soldiers into the city of Neo D.C. That’s about as much plot as you’re getting. No cutscenes, no text rolls, and no exposition. Just shoot the baddies until they go away. It really is the 90s again isn’t it?
Ion Fury runs on a heavily modified version of the Build engine, responsible for the likes of Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and (ahem) Redneck Rampage amongst others, and you can feel that right from the get-go. From moment one, anyone who has experience of these games will feel right at home as movement, combat, and environments feel as though they were lifted straight from them, save for the visuals having a massive facelift. The detail on the graphics is fantastic throughout, with brilliant weapon models and neon-infused levels — at least early on — really showing off the talent developers Voidpoint had to hand.
And this being a Build engine game, there’s a heap of interactivity on offer, from usable vending machines and security cameras to secret doors and a fully playable piano being just a tiny handful of things you can mess around with. Not only that, but there are a heap of references to other Build games here too. Graffiti hinting at moments from Shadow Warrior can be found all over the place, as well as lines spouted by Shelly herself. In fact, the line delivery for Dr. Heskel is done by the voice of Duke Nukem, Jon St. John himself!
But that’s enough about how much reverence the developers have for what came before. It’s all for nought if there isn’t a great game behind it, and Ion Fury is good, but with a flawed console release. The moment to moment gameplay feels as good as ever, as you rush from area to area, frantically taking down droves of enemies with a variety of fun, if uninspired, weapons.
Stages play out much like Duke Nukem 3D as you fight through believable locations to find keys as you hunt for the exit. Each level is expansive, with plenty of in-and-outdoor areas to explore. You’ll typically enter an area and fight enemies from all sides before slowing the pace to find where to go next. There were only a handful of occasions — mostly during indoor stages — where I didn’t know where to go next, but this was often down to my not having noticed a newly opened door or broken vent. The variety of levels is excellent, ranging from city streets and industrial plants, through to office buildings and horror-themed mansions. The fact that they all felt connected is a sign of great world-building too.
The combat is fun, with a solid variety of really detailed enemies in every encounter. There are often lots of opponents on display at once and you’ll have a tough time keeping tabs on all of them so movement is key. All the weapons are fun to use, from the pistol with its auto-aiming headshot secondary fire, through the homing grenades, to the fire bullet SMGs. As fun as they are to use though, the weapons aren’t all that creative. The SMG may fire incendiary bullets, but it still functions as a regular SMG in a shooter. The crossbow looks neat but doesn’t do much more than a rifle in any other game. Add to that that ammo for most of the weapons isn’t all that common, and you may be a touch disappointed with the options available to you. When you consider the games that inspired Ion Fury had weapons like shrink rays, aerosol flamethrowers, and actual demon hearts, you can’t help but feel that the options here lack creativity.
That issue with the ammo becomes even more noticeable on the higher difficulty levels — and rest assured that Ion Fury is a really tough game on anything above normal difficulty. The number of opponents and damage they do is magnified to insane levels. I had a fair bit of difficulty on normal mode but found the step up to hard to be utterly absurd. If you’re after a solid challenge, then you’ve got some stiff competition here. This may be due to the game being designed primarily for mouse and keyboard and seems to lack some features that adapt FPS games to consoles such as a weapon wheel to replace number key slots. Regardless, Ion Fury is tough!
Now, I mentioned the console launch being flawed, and I really do mean that. Whilst there are some simple issues such as odd visual glitches, there are far more significant ones like significant framerate drops at the oddest moments. They could happen when walking along a simple corridor or during a colossal firefight, which is much more irritating. Pretty as this looks, when games of significantly greater complexity can run smoothly, there shouldn’t be a single problem here. Then there’s the odd issue of randomly turning 180 degrees during combat. At first I thought there was a button that allowed you to make a quick turn, but it turns out it’s an odd bug that causes it. At the time of writing, it doesn’t seem to have been addressed.
The worst one of all though was all my save files disappearing. Twice. Having played through a few hours, I came back the following day to be met with a blank Load Game screen, including an empty autosave slot. Starting again and getting slightly further than before and then finding them missing again was licence for me losing any patience for Ion Fury. Thankfully I persisted one more time and haven’t had this problem repeat. I assume it’s been patched out in the frequent updates that will hopefully address the other concerns.
There may be a number of significant issues here, but this is still an enjoyable game. Ion Fury has all the hallmarks of a solid 90s FPS. The fun combat and excellent level design combine with gorgeous retro visuals to make a good game for lovers of classic shooters. Just be prepared for some oddities until they’re patched out.