At its best, Ion Fury is a gruesome, retro-styled riot.
This a game where I spun around to face an enemy, only to realise that the noise came from the severed head I’d inadvertently been kicking about. It’s a game where enemies are dumb as rocks but are so heavily armed and flung at you in such quantities that you dread opening every door. Where, blood splatter aside, the levels are bedecked in colours other than grey and brown. But when the viscera and dust settle, Ion Fury’s flaws become more evident.
Ion Fury uses the same game engine as Duke Nukem 3D, and aspires to be the Duke Nukem 3D successor that fans never got. The game doesn’t suffer for Duke’s absence; heroine Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison (drafted in from top-down shooter Bombshell) is every bit as badass as her predecessor and, lacking Duke’s city-sized ego, is more pleasant to play as. The premise behind it is suitably daft and could easily have been ripped from a low-budget 90s sci-fi movie.
It’s your not-so-typical tale: an evil doctor has decided to conquer Washington, DC, and Bombshell’s therefore made it her mission (mainly because he spilled her drink) to divorce the doctor’s head from his neck. There are six distinct zones to shoot your way across, each one packed with his cyber-troops and, lacking any other NPCs to call upon, it’s up to you to get the job done.
Loading up Ion Fury is like stepping back in time, from the 2D sprites that get fuzzier the closer you get, to the midi-style music that accompanies each level. Bombshell’s too busy wise-cracking over the deaths of her enemies (“Clean up on aisle ‘your ass’”) to ponder whether there’s any scrap of humanity left in their cybernetically-modified forms. And to be fair, the foes the game throws at you are a nightmarish bunch; they include hooded mecha-cultists, robotic spiders, skinless corpses and floating torsos, to name but a few.
Naturally, Ion Fury isn’t short on over-the-top carnage, with each enemy exploding in a gory-but-satisfying manner that befits the game’s 90s roots. So you’ll happily bathe in the slaughter, backing off only when you’re heavily outnumbered or one of the game’s heavy-hitters enters the fray. But the weapons you’re given to inflict this carnage are strangely anaemic. Bombshell’s signature bowling-ball bombs are a joy to use but the game lacks any real standout weapon; the most powerful weapon you get your hands on is a chaingun.
Half the fun of Doom (new and old) and Duke Nukem 3D was annihilating enemies with laughably improbable weapons, which are absent here. In fact, as much fun as Ion Fury was, I could never shake the feeling that it had been rushed or, at the very least, stretched out. The level design is a case in point; there’s more to Ion Fury’s levels than just collecting key cards, which means that you can occasionally get lost on your hunt for the next button to push. But it’s the look and feel of Ion Fury’s levels that bring it down; a lot of adjacent levels share a similar theme, so much so that they can become a little boring.
When you first start playing Ion Fury you feel a sense of joyous anticipation; even as you’re gunning down foes, you’re trying to guess what area you’ll explore next. Will you have to blast your way through a restaurant? A prison? Where will Bombshell’s quest for vodka-related vengeance take her? It’s… another city block, like the one you were just slaughtering your way through. Well, maybe you’ll have to take a detour through that nightclub and.. no.
These notes of disappointment pop up throughout the game; you do have the freedom to wander back through levels, but some are so unremarkable that there’s no real reason to revisit them. It’s like having three ice levels after each other. What’s behind this lab door? It’s another lab. Bombshell jokes about this, and a lot of the game’s humour and references do land. But quips or not, the game would have been better served by having fewer, more distinctive areas; instead, you’ve sometimes got one visual theme stretched over four or so levels. Encountering a new monster becomes a high point, even if it takes your face off five minutes later, just because it’s something different.
When Ion Fury works, it’s a gruesome dream. Even if you didn’t wait fifteen years for Duke Nukem Forever and will get nothing from the game’s nostalgia factor, you’ll still get something out of it. Annihilating a group of enemies and coming away with half of your health left is a real adrenaline rush, and the 90s aesthetic works a treat. But there are definitely times when the levels outstay their welcome, particularly if you’re hunting for that one elusive button you’ve missed. A level editor is set to be released with the game, which may give creators the chance to right this.
Ion Fury is flawed, but there’s plenty of gruesome fun to be had here, more so if you’ve got fond memories of 90s shooters. If Voidpoint/3D Realms can tighten up the game for an expansion pack or a sequel, I’d definitely be up for more Bombshell. Just don’t expect this outing to blow you away all the time.