“I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all outta gum”. This legendary phrase from John Carpenter’s They Live is a perfect way to sum up Ion Fury. It captures the old-fashioned fast-paced action of Doom along with the brash one-liners of Duke Nukem and polishes the classic first-person shooter formula to perfection.
Believe it or not, but Ion Fury runs on a turbocharged version of the Build engine. The same engine that served as the basis for games like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior. But wait, doesn’t that mean Ion Fury looks and plays like a game from decades ago? Well, it does. But that’s why I said — turbocharged.
Ion Fury does indeed look like a game you could’ve played on the MS-Dos back in 1996. Think geometrical levels, simple interior design and flat enemy textures. Nonetheless, you’ll quickly appreciate the more detailed weapon models, especially the fluid reload animations and the vibrant special effects.
Its story doesn’t stray far from classics either. Bomb disposal expert Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison takes it upon herself to stop transhumanist Dr Jadus Heskel from unleashing a mob of cybernetic super-soldiers. It’s a narrative as simple as they come. That said, the excellent work of voice actors makes each and every dialogue fun to listen to.
Possibly best known for voicing Kikyo Konoe in the Bravely Default series, Valerie Arem does an outstanding job at portraying Shelly. She speaks with authority and makes Shelly sound like a badass female lead capable of overcoming any obstacle. Including the obstacle in Dr Heskel, who’s voiced by Jon St. John, aka the original Duke Nukem. He sounds nothing like his signature character and embodies the sinister nature of Ion Fury’s de facto villain.
Her mission takes Shelly all over the futuristic ruins of Neo D.C. From crumbling urban environments and highrise office buildings to abandoned sewers and even a running train. Ion Fury focuses heavily on action, on dealing with hordes of different enemies, solving the occasional environmental puzzle and collecting coloured keycards to progress. It rarely gives you a room to breathe, unless you wish to take a break by looking for hidden items.
Each level hides a plethora of secrets. Some of them are fairly obvious, hidden behind obstructed vents. Some require you to shoot a fire extinguisher in order to blow up the wall and reveal a secret room behind it. But most of them are so well hidden that you’ll be left scratching your head when viewing the end results for a level. A carefully hidden secret could hide behind an inconspicuous painting or a random computer terminal interaction.
Occasionally, these rooms contain a temporary powerup, one that increases Shelly’s damage output or allows her to perform a double-jump. More often than not though, they contain additional armaments that will greatly assist you in whatever the next encounter brings. While finding secrets rests entirely on your own flair, accessing security cameras often allows you to scout the areas ahead and pinpoint the exact placement of each foe.
On average, you’ll face off against hundreds of enemies. Most of the time you’ll fight against Cultists and Liberators, cybernetic humanoids who wield various conventional firearms. Tiny skulls on cybernetic spider chassis known as Mechsects will cause you trouble in cramped ventilation shafts due to their size and erratic movement.
Eventually, you’ll encounter someone like the imposing Skinjob. Terrifying, with a skull engulfed in a blue flame, they become invisible and teleport to you, unleashing a powerful force wave. Similarly, Deacon is a macabre skeleton-like torso which glides through the air, chants in a creepy voice and launches numerous devastating missiles at you.
These foes often drain a significant chunk of your accumulated firepower. And once introduced, they appear at an ever-increasing rate, challenging your skills throughout the rest of the story.
Thus, Ion Fury encourages you to use all weapons at Shelly’s disposal regardless of the difficulty level. Disperser, the shotgun, devastates enemies at close range, especially in tight corridors. If you survey a small room with a number of enemies, prepare the Bowling Bomb. It tracks the target, rolls toward it and explodes on impact. Submachine guns not only set regular enemies on fire, but make quick work of speedy security drones.
Certain weapons have an alternate fire mode. For instance, charging up the Ion Bow will unleash a barrage of bolts at whomever you chose as the unfortunate target. Arm the Clusterpuck before throwing it at an enemy and the little mine will release a bunch of shrapnel upon explosion, dealing damage to anyone in the vicinity.
Enemies react to your attacks accordingly. A quick shot to the head might decapitate them. But lob a grenade at them and they explode into a gory mess covering floors and walls with their guts. If you go through a level after dealing with all of the enemies in it, you’ll seldom find anything aside from pools of blood and scattered limbs.
As another nod to the original Doom, Shelly’s portrait deteriorates whenever she sustains damage. On the contrary, she exclaims with a confident one-liner after almost every kill:
“Imagine the future… cause you’re not in it”;
And my favourite… “Domo arigato mister roboto”.
Words don’t work against some of the tougher enemies though and Ion Fury doesn’t give you firepower for no good reason, either. One moment, you might feel invincible with weapons and health maxed out. A minute later, you’re thrown into a boss fight against a humongous mech with mounted chain guns and grenade launchers.
These rare yet climactic encounters feel both exhilarating and rewarding. For one, you get to keep one of those chain guns after coming out victorious and it feels every bit as powerful as it looks. So much, in fact, that the immense firepower of the chain gun will push Shelly back whenever she shoots.
With no shortcuts on a regular controller, switching between weapons can be difficult, especially when you’re in a pinch and need to change tactics on the fly. I found myself in several instances where I wanted to switch from a revolver to something more explosive and had to keep scrolling to find what I need. Firearms like the shotgun and the grenade launcher alleviate this somewhat since they use the same weapon and only switch between ammo.
Other than that, combat feels exceptional, which isn’t the case with some of the platforming sections. Some of them require finer movement which doesn’t always pan out because Ion Fury is designed with fast movement in mind. It’s easy to overestimate a jump and miss the tiny platform you were aiming at. Thankfully, these instances are few and far between, and Ion Fury progresses at a fast and eventful pace most of the time.
Ion Fury has everything you need in a first-person shooter inspired by the genre heavyweights. First and foremost, a badass one-liner spouting heroine and an arsenal of explosive firearms to wreak havoc with. Its story doesn’t necessarily inspire, but you didn’t play Doom and Duke Nukem for the story either, did you? It’s all about action and rarely does anything to divert you from the mindless joy of shooting, blowing up and ripping apart hordes of enemies.
Sprinkle it with an atmospheric synthwave soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a banging recipe. It’s packed with secrets and humorous remarks to other games and movies, including the notorious The Room. Ion Fury makes you feel like you’re playing a highly-polished game from the ’90s and is almost certain to one day become a classic too.