Neo D.C. To most, it’s an Orwellian, crime-ridden, hellscape. To you? It’s home. Cpl. Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison is the baddest bitch cop the force has to offer. She’s also the only hope Neo D.C. has to maintain the acceptable level of chaos the city allows. With her arsenal of guns and explosives, she’ll rain down hell on those who have dared to step out of line. No one threatens the safety of her neon-lit techno metropolis but her.
Inspired by games built with the Build Engine, like Duke Nukem 3D, Ion Fury is a 90s-inspired, retro-style, FPS. Ion Fury is developed by Voidpoint, LLC and published by 3D Realms (Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem series).
Ion Fury is available on Steam for $24.99 and releases on August 15th, 2019, and Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 later this year.
The majority of Ion Fury’s plot is laid out for you in the opening summary screen. You play as Cpl. Shelly Harrison, also known as “Bombshell;” a nickname she earned due to her femme fatale looks and love of explosives. Shelly has served the GDF’s Domestic Task Force for six months – making her its most senior member and defacto leader. Shelly has one goal in mind: get drunk, have fun, and kill any cyborg cultist who threatens the first two things. Naturally, that’s exactly what happens. Starting off with just her trusty hand cannon, that holds an absurd amount of bullets, Bombshell will fight her way through Neo D.C. to root out the sudden rise in cyborg crime.
Beyond that, there’s not much to say about the story. There is a plot that gets wrapped up at the end, sure, but the plot never really changes from the start to the end. There’s an evil guy, and you gotta go stop him. However, I can’t imagine many are picking up Ion Fury for an engaging story. As you move from one level to the next, the game’s primary villain will taunt Bombshell with the occasional ’90s pop culture reference. A favorite example is: “Don’t you realize, that despite all your rage…you are still just a rat in a cage?” That’s where the majority of the writing, beyond the story context, comes through – the one liners.
Bombshell herself will of course have her own catalog of things to say in response to explosions and death. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t that notable. Clearly this is an aspect borrowed from the duke himself, Duke Nukem. It makes sense, too, considering Bombshell was originally designed to be in a Duke Nukem game. However, despite the clear inspiration, Bombshell falls short of the lovable dorkiness of the Duke.
Where the Duke Nukem games were ’90s games based on ’80s action/sci-fi/horror movies, Ion Fury is more like a ’00s game (despite playing like a 90s game) based on ’90s action/sci-fi/horror movies. But also some ’80s for good measure (wasn’t that such a great decade?). The problem is, Ion Fury doesn’t lean into that framework enough. Perhaps I’m only reading into things and that wasn’t the intention of the developers at all. But if not, why not? Regardless of the eras it’s trying to evoke, Ion Fury’s Bombshell tries to do what Duke Nukem did, but comes up short. Though, not so much that it makes her a bad character, per say. However, it’s enough that you can see the stumbling of it all.
Now that we have all that nerdy shit like “plot” and “characters” out of the way, let’s get to the real meat: the gameplay. Ion Fury plays almost identically to the Build Engine games that inspired it. It’s fast, it’s fluid, and most importantly: it’s fun. Damn fun. There was some trepidation going in, as I had not touched an FPS made before 2010 since, well, 2010. It’s no secret that FPS gameplay has slowed down over the years. However, despite its obvious speed, it didn’t take long for me to fall into the groove with Ion Fury. It’s fast, sure, but I never felt like it was too fast. It had just the right amount of movement speed. What’s more, the aiming speed matched it perfectly, so one was never fighting the other. This is good, as you’ll never want to be standing still, lest you become Swiss cheese.
Speaking of aiming, the gunplay feels immensely satisfying. The shots had just the right amount of impact to them. The damage each gun deals is just the right amount to match the strength and quantity of enemies on screen. Furthermore, each gun has its own alternative fire. The shotgun converts into a grenade launcher. The machine gun can be dual wielded. However, the most powerful alt-fire goes to the first gun you have: the hand cannon. With it, you can select several targets on screen and fire shots that’ll hit them with 100% accuracy. Think McCree in Overwatch. Unfortunately, that clear imbalance of power across the arsenal is a problem.
Firstly, the weapon variety in Ion Fury is, surprisingly, not only limited, but also uninspired. Bombshell only has access to five actual guns (there may be one more I’m forgetting, but that’s because it’s forgettable), not including her explosive options. Yes, each gun has an alt-fire, but with the exception of the shotgun/grenade launcher, the alt-fires don’t turn them into different guns. Perhaps this was the case in Build Engine games that predate this. However, being inspired by something is not an obligation to carry over their faults. What’s more, the weapons you do get aren’t all that interesting. Sure, the hand cannon is cool, but it’s still just a big magnum pistol. The only really unique weapon is a laser crossbow. Unfortunately, it’s less than practical for most situations. However, that is one more thing in the guns’ favor.
I found that I was often saving some weapons for certain situations. The crossbow, for instance, is amazing for long distances, and its alt-fire shreds bosses. The chaingun does great against beefier enemies. However, for the vast majority of the game, I was sticking to the hand cannon and the shotgun. Truthfully, those two are just so powerful and so useful that the other guns fall more heavily into niche uses. There’s always a stand out gun or two in an FPS, but the magnum and shotgun are so ahead of everything else it’s hard not to see a divide.
Like FPS games like Duke Nukem and DOOM, navigating the world of Ion Fury may be disorienting at first. For example, doors that need colored key cards are back. This means that you will enter into a large level that you must navigate, turning away from locked doors, only to return when you find the right key card. Assuming, of course, you remember where they are. There is a map you can pull up on your screen – both wireframe and detailed versions – to help navigate. However, I never found much use for it. If anything, the map only served to get me more lost. Admittedly, I’m bad with directions, so your results may vary.
Thankfully, levels rarely feel barren. Every time you make some progress in navigating the level, like picking up a key item or opening a locked door, the world repopulates. This way, you’re not constantly just running from one gore-caked room to the next. There will eventually be more cultists to help cake on even more gore. How thoughtful! Each zone is rather substantial too. It took an hour, give or take, to complete each zone. After seven zones, I finished at roughly nine hours. However, some of that time was spent getting lost. They never felt boring, at least!
Graphics & Audio
Typically, I don’t have a lot to say in this section. However, this game deserves to be praised for how it looks and sounds. Firstly, the graphics. Just like Bombshell herself, this game easy on the eyes. When you hear “retro” and “’90s,” you might not think a game would look all that good, by modern standards. Well, that’s where you’re wrong, bucko. Ion Fury is a sight to behold. This game positively pops with its sprite work and world design. The enemies and Bombshell’s weapons look detailed without seeming out-of-era. They’re right in that sweet spot of pixel quality that makes a game look good while also looking stylized in the best way.
The world, as well, has been given a lot of life. Specifically, the city. So much of Neo D.C. is decorated with satirical and cynical advertisements. It feels like playing in the worlds of Judge Dredd, RoboCop, and, of course, Duke Nukem. God how I wish we could get a Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Starship Troopers) Duke Nukem or Ion Fury movie. Hell, put Duke and Bombshell together, and make the world’s best buddy cop movie, but I digress. Unfortunately, the world does lose some of that character as Bombshell moves further from the city. By that point, you may even be tired of the fake advertisements and crude humor taglines, so some may find that a good thing. Overall, the world has more character than Bombshell herself. Take that as you will.
Just like the graphics, the audio feels right at home in the ’90s. Ion Fury captures that sound beautifully. The tracks are exciting and engaging and often fit the tone of the situation perfectly. They’re not quite good enough to buy an OST for, but they’re damn good in the context of the game itself. What’s more is the audio of the gameplay is phenominal. The gunplay wouldn’t feel nearly as crunchy without the sound effects to back it up. The splashing of blood, the death gargle of a cyborg, it’s all so damn good. Most of all, though? The sounds of empty shell casings hitting the ground. It’s hard to describe why, but when that sound effect is done, and done well, it’s the best. And Ion Fury? Ion Fury does it well. Damn well.
In short, the sensory elements of Ion Fury work amazingly. The world of Neo D.C. is a humorous and colorful treat. The sprite work is perfect both for the era it’s trying to evoke as well as our own. Of course, the music could be better. Most OSTs, aside from Nier: Automata, could be better. However, for what it’s trying to accomplish, which is cyber-punk as envisioned in the 90s, the music is successful. What’s more, the sound effects are expertly crafted and need to be made available to the public, so they can be modded into any game with less than stellar discarding-bullet-casings sounds.