Well, since I’ve been distracted from reading the next book I plan to review (“Warhol’s Prophecy” by Shaun Hutson) for the few days before preparing this article, I thought that it was time the review the game responsible for this. I am, of course, talking about the one and only “Ion Fury” (2019).
This game was previously known as “Ion Maiden” but, alas, the best modern game referencing the best heavy metal band of all time was just too awesome for the miserable trademark lawyers of the music industry to handle. Hence the name change.
Anyway, when a new 1990s-style “Build Engine” game was announced a year or two ago, I pre-ordered a copy on GOG as soon as I had a modern enough computer (and, yes, “Ion Fury” has higher system requirements than actual 1990s games do) and played the preview demo more times than I could remember. And, even though the game’s release was delayed until August 2019, it was well worth the wait 🙂
Note: Since I prepare these reviews very far in advance, this review will cover V1.00 of the game – since it is the one I played. So, although I’ll mention a technical bug I found (with the “chapter select” screen), it has probably been patched by the time that this review goes out. Even if it hasn’t, the presence of manual saves means that this small bug isn’t exactly game-breaking.
I also played the game using software rendering, rather than Open GL, since I’m using integrated graphics. So, if you’ve got a graphics card, the lighting will probably look better than the screenshots here.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Ion Fury”:
“Ion Fury” is a spiritual successor to “Duke Nukem 3D”. Set in a vaguely “Blade Runner”-inspired cyberpunk future, you play as a bomb disposal expert for the Global Defence Force called Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison.
She is relaxing in a neon-lit bar when suddenly the window explodes and she spills her drink. Robed cyborgs suddenly start marching the streets. On a nearby viewscreen, the cackling face of the maniacal cyberneticist Dr. Jadus Heskel appears and announces that he is taking over the city. In retribution for her spilled drink, Shelly swears to spill Heskel’s blood.
One of the first things that I will say about this game is WOW! If someone made a FPS game specifically for me, it would look a lot like this one 🙂 In addition to lots of cool cyberpunk stuff, an actual personality and robed cultists like the ones from “Blood“, this game is a hell of a lot of fun to play too 🙂 Seriously, it’s so good to see a modern FPS game that is firmly focused around actual gameplay and old-school level design too 🙂
And what gameplay it is! As you would expect, the bulk of the gameplay revolves around combat and this feels suitably dramatic, responsive, fast-paced and impactful.
On the “Ultra Viscera” difficulty setting, the combat is also brutally unforgiving in the best possible way 🙂 Even the “weakest” cyborg monster is still a mortal threat to you, and you’ll need both quick reflexes and a tactical mind if you want to survive. And, wow, what a thrill ride it is 🙂 There is something inherently satisfying about getting through a tough battle by the skin of your teeth, relying on nothing but your own skills and quick thinking.
But, if you haven’t played any actual mid-late 1990s FPS games before, then I would strongly recommend choosing one of the lower difficulty settings (“First Blood” or “Wanton Carnage”) for your first playthrough. These difficulty modes are probably what is considered “fair” by modern standards, with fewer enemies (who do less damage) and more supplies for the player. But, “Ultra Viscera” is closer to the “normal” difficulty settings of actual mid-late 1990s games like “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Shadow Warrior”, “Blood”, “Final Doom”, “SiN” etc…
This challenge is complemented by a brilliantly balanced health and ammo system. Unlike modern FPS games, there’s no regenerating health here and you’ll have about nine weapons (eight of which have separate ammo types). This adds a strategic element to the game, forcing the player to not only manage their resources but to balance caution and bravado too.
Unlike many modern games, the levels here (about twenty-seven of them), are complex non-linear things that require both exploration and backtracking 🙂 This is an integral feature of the game. Not only will you be required to search for switches and keycards in pretty much every level, but exploration is pretty much the only way to get a decent amount of health and ammo on higher difficulty settings too. Each level contains more than enough of both to see you through, but only if you actively go and look for them 🙂 In other words, there are lots of cleverly hidden items and areas that are there to both encourage and reward exploration 🙂
Literally the only criticisms I have of the level design are a lack of visual variety in some levels (for every cool-looking location, expect at least one extremely generic-looking “lab”, “office”, “sewer” or “industrial” level too) and a slight over-reliance on small spider-like robots that are difficult to hit. This aside, the level design here is absolutely superb 🙂
In a vague concession to modernity, the game also includes an “auto-save” feature. But, fear not! There is no checkpoint saving here 🙂 Yes, the auto-saves function like checkpoints but – like in any proper computer game – you can also save literally whenever you want 🙂 Interestingly, the game also includes a “chapter select” feature – however, it didn’t work properly in the version (V 1.00. Again, I write these reviews very far in advance) that I played, but this might have been fixed by the time this review goes out.
In terms of weapons and monsters, this game is brilliant. Earlier, I mentioned how even the “weakest” monsters can be a serious threat and, as you would expect, there’s a decent variety of monsters to fight here.
Like in “Blood” and “Shadow Warrior”, the most common type are basic “soldier” enemies with different types of weapons. But, there are also small robot spiders, acid-spitting robot centipedes, two types of zombies and a variety of both larger monsters (including one inspired by the Fiend from “Quake”) and bosses to keep you on your toes. These all have different attack patterns and each one has an optimum tactic and/or weapon you’ll want to use to defeat them. Seriously, this adds a lot of depth and variety to the almost constant combat 🙂
The weapons are really good too – with even the basic pistol being a thunderously powerful three-barrelled revolver and the default weapon being a futuristic electro-baton that is literally called “The Electrifryer” that can also be used to recharge generators too. Although many of the other weapons are fairly standard “classic” FPS weapons (eg: Shotgun, minigun, SMGs, grenade launcher etc…), they still have enough quirks to set themselves apart from the crowd.
In addition to genuinely useful alternate fire modes and really dramatic sounds/animations, literally every weapon in this game is useful. Whether it is the “bowling bombs” that auto-target enemies or a seemingly useless flat grenade called a “Clusterpuck” – which suddenly becomes very useful when you realise how incredibly powerful it’s alternate fire is (provided that you’re far enough away to use it safely), the weapons here are really well-balanced.
Even the “boring” laser crossbow suddenly turns into something truly spectacular when you hold the alt fire button down for long enough. My only criticism of the weapon design is the lack of a rocket launcher. However, this limitation does make you play more strategically and also helps to focus the gameplay on more intense and frantic close-mid range battles too 🙂
As well as this great gameplay, this game actually has personality too 🙂 Seriously, I miss when this was an integral part of the FPS genre. Not only will Shelly shout out all sorts of hilariously badass one-liners during combat (including a couple of Offspring references and the “Yippie Ki Yay…” line from Die Hard 🙂 ), but Heskel’s villain monologues – voiced by none other than Jon St. John- are gloriously cheesy in the best possible way too 🙂
This humour also extends to the game’s visual design too. Like in “Duke Nukem 3D”, the lavish pixel art environments are absolutely crammed with small visual jokes, parodies and pop culture references. I’ve probably missed at least a few of them and there are far too many to even think about listing here, but almost everything in this game has some level of creativity or humour to it.
Yes, there are one or two outdated “jokes” that aren’t really funny (eg: the controversial “moisturiser bottle” sprite that appears in at least a couple of the levels) and may briefly lessen your enjoyment of the game. But, most of the time, the game’s humour works reasonably well.
Plus, so many objects in the environment can also be interacted with and/or are made from voxels (anyone remember those?) too. And, unlike “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Shadow Warrior”, there are a lot more voxels and interactive items thanks to slightly more powerful modern computers. Seriously, I’d love to see the parallel universe where this was the visual direction that “AAA” FPS games took 🙂
In terms of the music, this game includes lots of dramatic 1980s-style synth music which really fits in with the retro sci-fi atmosphere of the game. Whilst is it less distinctive than the famous music of actual 1990s FPS games like “Duke Nukem 3D” or “Doom”, it fits in really well with the game’s world and really helps to add some extra atmosphere.
All in all, although this game has a few flaws, these things are easily eclipsed by the sheer awesomeness of almost everything else. This is a modern 1990s-style FPS game that is filled with personality, humour, enjoyably challenging gameplay and creative level design 🙂 It is like “Blood” meets “Duke Nukem 3D” meets “Final Doom” meets “Blade Runner” meets “Ghost In the Shell” 🙂 It is a low-mid budget game that puts most “AAA” games to shame 🙂
If I had to go through the formality of giving it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five 🙂