Note: I played and completed the early access preview. The full version of the game will be unlocked on August 15, 2019.
Ion Fury is the rare game that is exactly how it appears at first glance. It’s a well-polished nostalgia trip of a 2.5D first-person shooter. It features a snarky female protagonist who shouts one-liners like it’s her job. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun enough that if you enjoy gunning down droves of enemies while collecting multicolored keycards, then this game was made for you.
Ion Fury looks as good as you remember games like Blood or Duke Nukem 3D looking. Its overturned cars, full bookshelves, busy control panels, and other various set pieces are detailed enough to be impressive. Despite the brightly-colored pixelized look, the game does a great job of making the player feel as if they are traversing areas, instead of self-contained levels. There are secrets to be found everywhere: a building explodes and collapses, and you can climb up its side and into its remains to find medpacks and ammo. A ventilation shaft can be blasted open and entered, leading to an office on an entirely separate floor.
Each weapon has a secondary fire and a really cool effect that comes along with it. The crossbow and bowling bomb, in particular, are simply a joy to unleash upon the endless swarms of foes.
Ion Fury is the perfect recreation of the fast-paced, drink-Mountain-Dew-all-night-and-forget-to-blink shooter you fondly remember playing when you were in middle school. The controls are tight, the enemies are swift and deadly, and the levels are easy to traverse – if a little byzantine at times. And they are packed with extra touches. When I finally reached the elevator and exited the first level, I was greeted with the warning, “you are still missing 19 secrets in this area.”
Ion Fury currently has two chapters and two modes: in Crisis in Columbia, you have to escape a crumbling Washington, D.C. In Heskel’s House of Horrors, you navigate a disturbing mansion and the deadly gardens beyond its walls. Queen of the Hill isn’t really a chapter. Instead, you defend a town square against waves of enemies that increase in difficulty as the announcer taunts you between rounds. “I hope you like spiders.” No. No, I hate the spiders in this game, actually. Finally, Bombardier Trial is simply Crisis in Columbia, but you are equipped with unlimited grenades. And only grenades. It’s an interesting twist for those seeking to replay the short but sweet campaign.
And who wouldn’t want to replay it? Ion Fury oozes fun and personality. It even has cheat codes! You can access them from the Setup menu to grant you the usual FPS superpowers like God Mode, No Clipping, etc.
The soundtrack is great. It’s very typical of the mid-90s heavy-metal-recreated-with-32-bit-synth. It’s the perfect complement for an FPS like this.
The sound is equally great. The booms and blasts from each weapon are quite satisfying. Enemies pop and gurgle as they collapse into heaps of flesh around you. And their heads make very satisfying squish noises when you kick them like footballs. I only wish the enemies had more lines while they were still alive. After the fourth or fifth time hearing one shout “split up!” to his cohorts, I was itching to kill them all just to shut them up.
Protagonist Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison has plenty of fun lines, however. When she gets the shotgun, she predictably, but still entertainingly, yells “this is my BOOMSTICK!” And on more than one occasion, she and I both exclaimed “Holy $#]7!” when we discovered a few of the somewhat disturbing secret areas tucked into the dark recesses of the levels.
Drawbacks and Conclusion
It’s amazing how well Ion Fury’s overhauled Build Engine still holds up after over 20 years. The game is quick and stable, and looks great at 60 FPS. The game’s main flaws aren’t technical in nature, but rather the result of odd design choices. Ion Fury brings just about everything back from the 90s, including occasionally obtuse level design. Just like in Dark Forces or Heretic, there were times when I found myself wandering a level aimlessly while I searched for that one remaining button I had not pressed. One door in particular was open only halfway, not far enough to crawl under. So I began looking for a switch. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes later that I discovered the door itself was its own switch.
I constantly found myself clipping into doors and ladders and boxes. It was easy enough to simply step backward and reposition myself, but this correction proved fatal in more than one firefight. This mild frustration was not quite aggravating, but noteworthy nonetheless.
Finally, as much as I loved the graphics and the gameplay, it might not be enough to satisfy gamers unaffected by such nostalgic atmosphere. Ion Fury isn’t perfect, and it’s not for everybody. It’s short and sweet and, if you’re looking for a rapid-fire first-person shooter, you can’t go wrong here.