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Ion Fury Review: A Positively Charged Ride of Retro Raucousness (PS4)

Following on from her 2016 debut, Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison hits the big time with Ion Fury; the latest first-person shooter from 3D Realms - creators of the infamous Duke Nukem franchise. Ion Fury is a celebration of old-school, first-person shooter games, and embraces those classic tropes in beautiful and bloody fashion.

Ion Fury Review: A Positively Charged Ride of Retro Raucousness (PS4)

Ion Fury is arguably the biggest game for 3D Realms since their disastrous outing with Duke Nukem Forever. It’s a return of the scintillating, fast-paced nature of 2.5D, FPS games of the 90’s. In a world over-saturated with simulated, real-life military shooters; games like Ion Fury are a welcome throwback to a bygone era of tough love. With less emphasis on cover, and more emphasis on over-the-top action brimming with swift bloodshed and badass music – Ion Fury is a much-needed change of pace. Our Ion Fury PS4 review will determine how successful this revitalization of the genre has proven to be.

Despite some initial controversy regarding the name, resulting in a lawsuit from Iron Maiden, Voidpoint have not let it deter them in their efforts to make a once great genre become relevant again. I’d say that in general, games have become a bit more serious in this day and age – especially with sophisticated technologically capable of fully-fleshing out stories now. Ion Fury DEFINITELY doesn’t take itself seriously, allowing for a more relaxed game that would rather advertise the “Washington 4skins” than develop a meaningful plot – I for one am ok with that.

Before we start, you can check out our Ion Fury review that we did for its original PC release – which you can buy here on Steam. Or thoroughly peruse the Ion Fury Trophies and Achievements to see what you’ll need to do to fully master the game!

Story – Less Story Means More Fury

Dr. Heskel is everywhere.

Dr. Heskel is everywhere.

The story of Ion Fury can be covered in the time it takes to say the game’s name itself. Shelly “Bomber” Harrison is a badass, no-nonsense bomb disposal expert for the Global Defense Force. She’s tasked with unenviable goal of bringing down the tyrannical scientist, Dr. Jadus Heskel, and his creations. Using supersoldiers infused with cybernetic augmentations, Dr. Heskel wants to conquer the futuristic city of Neo DC because…yeah sure? Duke Nukem’s eponymous character returns with his voice actor, Jon St. John, playing the role of Dr. Heskel. 

The game’s story is marketed on the fascinating buzzword of “transhumanism”, meaning the advocacy of human modification. The deeper you get into the game you get, the closer to Heskel you get. You learn about his research and sordid methods he uses to try and end Shelly, and Neo DC, using his man-made robots. And that’s your lot folks!

Gameplay – Great Gore, Punchy Guns, and… A Glitch

Dual-wielding is always cool.

Dual-wielding is always cool.

Duke Nukem 3D is etched in history as a contributing factor in the surge of FPS games. It’s blend of edgy themes, expansive levels, and exciting gameplay made it a must-have shooter. It paved the way for many similar games in the future. Ion Fury, with all due respect, is a basically a continuation of Duke Nukem 3D, in a good way. The familiarity is evident with the weapons at your disposal as Shelly can be kitted out with a fun selection of shooty sticks designed to titillate even the most twisted of individuals throughout a whopping 28 levels, plus bonus levels. 

A revolver, a shotgun, a machine gun, a crossbow, and even bowling bombs are some of just some of the handy tools you’ll have at your disposal – bowling bombs make it easier to strike, just a spare joke. Each weapon diversifies by offering an alternate mode of fire e.g the shotgun can transform into a grenade launcher and turn an enemy into ready-to-eat mince in a split-second. My personal favourite has to be the “broken” revolver. I say broken, because it has an auto lock-on feature that targets heads and can take down most enemies effortlessly from a distance. You will still need to juggle the full inventory, but fanning the hammer of the revolver could’ve made western duel’s a joke.

The vibrant city, and subsequent levels, are full of interactivity from microwaves to mini-games. It encourages you to explore everywhere and see what hides behind every polygon. By winning the mini-game that I mentioned, I earned myself a shiny reward that benefited me greatly. Oh, and the game is packed FULL of secrets and hidden stashes for you to locate. Check every object, listen out for every audio cue – and you might just be within a chance of finding half of the secrets… 

A shocking encounter.

A shocking encounter.

Further still, you’ll find some of them in Davy Jones’ locker with swimming being very accessible. You neatly transition from underwater, to the surface – instantly refilling your oxygen in the process. Not everything will help you though, I’ve been electrocuted from touching a plug socket (common sense really) and suffered third-degree burns from an active stove. 

More Vintage Than A Fine Wine

As a nod to previous years gone by, there’s no regenerative health. No pussyfooting around the enemy and hoping momentary respite will magically repair your wounds. You have to find it! Health kits and armor are littered around the levels and it’s up to you to seek them out. Now normally if you find food and drink in real-life just lying around, that isn’t yours, you wouldn’t dare touch it. However, you should actively encourage yourself to do so here as you can replenish your health in doing so AND even overload your health for a short period of time.

The pizza will taste incredible, but not as incredible as the fluid gunplay that can help you to paint some truly stylish and evocative blood paintings. Gone are the clunky and questionable mechanics of Duke Nukem Forever, this is how an FPS should handle. More flee-flowing than a Barcelona masterclass, more intuitive than most versions of Windows, and more satisfying than waking up to your alarm – and getting up straightaway.

It's bullet-time!

It’s bullet-time!

Guns feel weighty and pack a bigger punch than Anthony Joshua. This is useful when you’ve got quite a few different threats to neutralize. Well, eventually you do. For about the first half of the game, I feel the roster of enemies is bereft of much creativity. You mainly encounter lowly soldiers that do the same two or three things and a couple of other creatures too. But suddenly, in quick succession, the character selection screen becomes awash with some truly menacing foes that alter the general flow of the later levels due to their increased difficulty.

This thankfully prevents the game from getting stale and it causes you to be extra cautious. A vigilant vigilante. There’s also a surprising amount of variety in the bosses too, something I’m not usually so complimentary of, but each fight feels unique. There’s only one stinker that is basically a repetitive bullet-sponge fest in a tight squeeze. I generally found that with each zone feeling unique, more enemies contributing to the chaos of firefights and the complimentary, en-suite weapon selection – the game gets better and better as it goes on.

A Bigger Bug Than A Titan Beetle

Do people honestly TRAIN for this?

Do people honestly TRAIN for this?

But… but, but, but. 

Words can’t describe how much this section pains me to write, but from an objective standpoint, it’s my duty. I was roughly two-thirds of the way through the game. Everything was fine. It was seamless and I was hurtling towards the final act… until my momentum train was derailed. The game provides a most delightful luxury in that you can save and load your game at any point. It’s super-quick and barely disrupts your rhythm. If you’re one of those freaks that reloads after every shot and saves after every enemy, like me, then you’ll be in your element here.

But this trusty ally betrayed me. A couple of times I tried to load my game towards the end, and the game crashed. Unfortunately, I then got to the last three levels…and my save files became infected with a game-breaking bug that ended my progress. Just like that. I couldn’t load any of the saves in. Manual or auto-save. 

Will this bug happen to everyone? Probably not. But did it happen to me? Yes. After investing 10-14 hours into the game by that point, I was crushed to say the least.

Graphics and Sound – Retro Is Definitely In

The city is big and scary.

The city is big and scary.

Rocket jumping our way to a more positive note – for a game stunted by graphical limitations, it looks great. The game boots you straight into a seedy club popping with more colors than a packet of Skittles. The first level dispenses with the pleasantries and trivial platitudes that usually opens games; it explores every inch of the axis’ and has Great Escape tunnels everywhere. It’s also immediately evident that satire is the name of the game for Ion Fury as the opening level – and the rest of the game – has a pun or pop culture reference plastered on many walls

Knock-offs of popular banks, parody posters of TV and film, and DOOM. Lots of DOOM in fact. From “Thy Flesh Consumed” posters to everyone’s favourite fast-food restaurant – “Caco Bell”. I guess it’s a nod to arguably the most influential FPS series of all-time. However, some of the pop-culture references feel dated – an issue rife in Duke Nukem Forever – and out of place. Breaking Bad and Die Hard are a couple of franchise that feel the love in this game. Shelly constantly utters the words “and the quarterback is toast” and “Yippee-Ki-Yay”; both lines from Die Hard. There’s self-indulgence, and there’s using multiple lines from a film that came out over 30 years ago, repeatedly. 

Oh Shelly…

This leads onto another problem I have with the game. Shelly. Is. Annoying

Instead of coming across as a bonafide badass, she just reeks of a flagrant attempt to recycle Duke Nukem for a newer generation. Instead of relishing the feeling of overcoming some suped-up, walking Terminators, I had to repeatedly shout at Shelly to shut up. She genuinely must’ve said, “say my name” (a la Walter White) 4 million times!  Give her some personality that doesn’t feel contrived and make her seem like this holiday season’s new Woody action figure, boasting 7 whole catchphrases to annoy your parents with. I’m all for pop culture references, but only when they’re done right. After the likes of Tifa, Aerith, Aloy, Celeste as strong women in recent years, I have perhaps become accustomed to greater individuality in lead females. 

Shelly is better when's she silent as her words are deadly.

Shelly is better when’s she silent as her words are deadly.

Soldiers aren’t much better either as their apparent tourette’s mean they can’t go five seconds without shouting “fan out” or “over here” to make sure you know they’re out and about. Fortunately, this is more forgivable when I’ve caused them to explode into a sea of chunky red pieces that could be misconstrued for a hunk of rare steak. It’s honestly something out of Nightmare On Elm Street when you obliterate someone as the blood comically drenches the room. I love it. Credit also needs to be given to dismembered heads; the sight and sound of Shelly kicking one whilst walking around is hilarious and was still funny late-game. It reaffirms the game’s identity.

The game does get dark in places though, and this affects your range of vision. I’ve found myself getting hit when I can’t even see where the enemy is. In addition to this, the frame rate has a tendency to drop harder than some of the tunes in the game; stuttering more than a nervous kid in the school play. The frame rate disturbingly dropped to, what felt like, single-digits during the game’s second boss. There just didn’t seem to be a middle ground, it either ran smoothly or resembled stop-motion. Just a side note: I played this on a PS4 Pro.

Ion Maiden - Official Console Reveal Trailer [Xbox One, PS4 and Switch]

With the PC port being a year old now, I wonder how this port managed to be such a technical challenge

Going back to the game’s identity though, the fast, synthy, trancey, ravey – and many other words ending in y – music never gets repetitive. The soundtrack is chock full of incessant, pulsating beats that made me want to strut my unfunky stuff. It also nicely compliments a faster play-style.

Ion Fury was reviewed on the PS4, and the review key was kindly provided by 1C Publishing.

Despite some of the complaints I have, Ion Fury is still a fantastic game that can hopefully kick-start a resurgence in classic, FPS games. The bug that corrupted my save files certainly won't happen to everyone, and will therefore leave your playthrough untainted. Regardless of some frame rate issues and Shelly not being my cup of tea, it was easy to ignore these reservations and not let them hamper what is a fun, solid package overall that will take you many hours to finish.
  • As good as gunplay gets
  • A fabulous collection of levels and zones
  • Banging soundtrack that murders your ears
  • Good mix of enemies and weapons
  • It never runs out of ideas
  • Shelly, and her dialogue, are annoying
  • Potential game-breaking bug
  • Stuttering frame rate

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