Title: Ion Fury
Developer: Voidpoint, LLC
Release Date: August 15, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: 3D Realms
Genre: First Person Shooter
In the past 20 years, we have seen huge steps forward in terms of graphics and game design. This is also seen in the form of high-resolution textures, complex physics engines, volumetric lighting, and virtual surround sound. When it came to action games, all those tools and knowledge were arguably built on the foundation made by titles created in the Build engine, like Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and Shadow Warrior. Now, 20 years later, developer Voidpoint partnered up with 3D Realms to bring this engine back to life with Ion Fury. The result is an action shooter that not only looks and feels like their decades-old counterparts but plays exceptionally well in today’s modern standards.
Ion Fury begins with Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a bomb disposal expert for the global defense Force after she finds herself fighting an army sent by Dr. Jadus Heskel to take over Neo DC. And that’s pretty much the entire plot of the game.
While there is a bit of story dialogue and scenarios that play out, Voidpoint knows that players aren’t necessarily there to see a story unfold, more rather they want to blast off three barreled magnums and blow stuff up. The good news is that during my playthrough, things like plot points and character motives were not missed as I was completely absorbed but the gameplay and soundtrack.
This had a lot to do with the signature level design of branching paths that old-school 3D Realms games are known for. Where more linear shooters feel like a hallway, Ion Fury presents maze-like traversal that makes players want to check every nook and corner for any kind of reward. On top of that, levels have large buildings that tower over streets, hole-in-the-wall markets and alleyways that make the world feel like the player is moving through it, instead of levels that have repeated assets or the same square building blocks giving off a feeling of running in circles.
This is what makes scouring the rooms for more enemies to mow down feel so attractive during this kind of game. Though there is something to be said when the correct path does not feel obvious in some parts of the game. Once you run back and forth a few times, I can see players losing patience when they are used to other modern titles that have waypoints and maps in the head-up display.
Once you do start finding your way around the levels, there are great sights to be seen. Many times Voidpoint has created unique moments. For example, one mission had me activating a furnace to build up pressure and explode a hole in the roof to access the next section. Without direction, I felt the need to escape the room to avoid death, as the build-up seemed to spell danger for my character. Another section had me looking around a reactor room to find a way to the next floor level, noticing the damaged rotating walls around the reactor were climbable. I found myself getting close to a beam that could kill me just to advance through the level.
I can always appreciate when games are designed with a sense of presence and urgency as opposed to titles that favor graphical fidelity yet feel empty. Voidpoint doesn’t stop there either, even small things like throwing bowling ball grenades down an alley full of skull spiders, playing the piano a key at a time, or eating pizza with soda add fun little details that make levels even more fun to explore.
Even with those details, it’s easy to rush right past them as players get reacquainted with this retro-inspired fast-paced character movement and agile aiming. So much so that I had a hard time determining whether to use low or high sensitivity with my mouse and keyboard as both have their pros and cons in a high action game like Ion Fury.
When I finally felt comfortable, the bullet path correction was another hurdle to get used to. In general, it was helpful for loosely guiding shots that were around my reticle while quickly strafing but the correction seemed to be heavier on the vertical. Which is to say that enemies above or below my reticle were still being hit with my bullet despite being so far from my reticle. I do suspect this to be an unintentional bug as left and right bullet paths were not corrected in some instances. This could be corrected in an update but at the time of review, I felt I should mention it could impact the experience of serious players playing on high difficulty.
Speaking of difficulty, it is highly dictated on the management of health and the player’s ability to keep moving, again as many players may already know. Many times I found myself making the mistake of running into a room that is flooded with enemies who can end my run in seconds. Constantly moving is the best way for players to find a balance of keeping enemies at a distance while also running in between bullets and cover. Voidpoint does a great job at recreating this formula and making it fun with a unique weapon selection, ranging from ammo switching shotguns and bowling ball grenades to fire-spitting SMGs and multi-shot crossbows.
During my time with different weapons, I never really found them to have any situational advantages over one another. While I did prefer to quickly make work of the enemies with the SMG, I mostly stuck with the shotgun. I found it to be more reliable because of the issue I had with the bullet path correction on the magnum and crossbow. Especially when there was no penalty firing the shotgun at midrange as it only took an extra shot or two.
Of course, when the health is running low, players can find themselves frantically ducking and weaving the bullet-hell as they look for just one health pack. I feel that this lesson is taught with a bit too much tough love. Those that aren’t regularly playing old shooters, but are excited about a modern take on the genre, may prefer their regenerative health feature. This could be solved with a drop in difficulty settings, though my idea would be to drop more health packs in the opening levels until the rates are lower to normal in order to teach players to conserve them.
Lastly, I feel the need to address the awesome soundtrack found in Ion Fury. The times where firefights are paired nicely with high tempo electronic music on top of a 90s cyberpunk city is why chefs kiss their fingertips after a meal. Rapid, hip-hop like hi-hats and high pitch effects does wonders as a background to explosions and flying bullets. Add the fact that the music slows to a lull after a trail of bodies has me assuming that a DJ is following we around with drone equipped with speakers.
Ion Fury captures the reason why playing retro games is cool again. There are plenty of aspects in gaming that feel as though they were at their height, even after playing them years later. As far as arcade shooters go, if it was fast, punchy and addicting, it was a great game. It’s not so much that more recent games are bad at those aspects, but it does show that Voidpoint brings that captivation from 20 years ago into our modern era.
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