Good Lord, have I had a good time with Ion Fury! I don’t know what it is about this retro-inspired take on the first-person shooter, but it feels faster and more fluid in many ways than some of the more modern examples. With a narrower, but thankfully fully customisable, field of view, the perception of speed is so great that I never felt like I could take a breath. Movement is life, anything else is death, and depending on which level of difficulty you choose to play it on, you are likely to die quite a lot in what is a challenging, old-school style shooter.
Developed by Voidpoint, a team of ex Build engine modders, and published by 3D Realms, the creators of Duke Nukem 3D, Ion Fury is a slice of pure nostalgia. You play as Shelley “Bombshell” Harrison, a bomb-disposal expert and crack-shot, fully capable of wielding any weapon she can lay her hands on. You join her on her quest to rid a neon-drenched Washington D.C of the evil Dr. Heskel and his weirdly-robed army. You are treated to some modern design decisions: an auto-save system, complex, looping environments, and the ability to one-shot-kill most enemies in the head, but for the most part this is a game deeply indebted to its roots, so sit down, kick back, and shoot like its 1996.
The pace is blistering. Whereas modern shooters have opted for a more realistic flow, Ion Fury goes all in on speed. It is exhilarating, strafing and firing in a wonderful ballet of movement. Enemies are always placed in the same positions, so dying becomes a reward in itself as you learn each level meticulously; tap that goon in the head there, strafe round a corner and throw a grenade there, spin 180 to catch the two coming through that door and so on. It all runs so smoothly too, the pace only letting up when you move through designated auto-save spots, the frame pausing briefly before you are released back into the action again.
The story and Shelley’s one-liners are predictably rote for a 90s inspired action-game, but what lifts Ion Fury is a superb sense of style. Voidpoint has created an incredible environment for you to move around in. Levels are complex and intertwined with each other, and you’ll find yourself back-tracking through previously explored areas unlocking doors that were closed off to you before. You won’t find yourself pushed through endless brown corridors either; rather, you are treated to smoky neon cityscapes and interiors dripping with detail. The pixellated style oozes charisma with a clear understanding of how to use colour to provide a sense of light so that the spaces feel huge and alive. Everything has a hand-crafted feel to it, from the placement of the enemies to the cleverly disguised hidden routes leading to secrets.
My only real criticism is that Shelley’s arsenal of weapons never feels quite as ambitious as the level design and art direction. They are all fun to use, from an electrified baton that satisfyingly x-ray kills the head spiders that drop on top of you, to an SMG that can be dual-wielded and fires incendiary ammo, or the shotgun that has ridiculous damage and range. But while they are all great fun, there isn’t really an over-the-top daft weapon like the BFG from Doom. That said, a number of them do have a secondary fire that helps to mix things up quite a bit, including an auto-aim and insta-kill mechanic on Shelley’s starting revolver that makes it one of the most useful weapons in the game.
It is clear that Ion Fury has been a labour of love for the team at Voidpoint, it oozes out of every pixel. Considering it was built in the same engine as Duke Nukem 3D it’s astonishing what they’ve done with it. Ion Fury feels both old school and modern at the same time. Shelley isn’t quite as iconic as Nukem himself, but she’s a likeable protagonist with cheesy one-liners and I had a great time playing as her. The environments drip with detail and are packed with little secrets to encourage you to really look at the spaces around you. The enemies do become a little too predictable towards the latter half and some of the bosses are also a little one-note, but none of it really detracts from this wonderful slice of nostalgia.
Wonderful feeling of hand-crafted spaces
Packed with secrets to discover
Good customisation options
Bosses are a bit one-note
Weapons aren't as exciting as I'd like