HardDrive-By: Ion Fury
When I first saw it, I tried to remember when I had first seen it and I couldn’t. Because I hadn’t.
Ion Fury is two things that should NOT exist this deep into the 21st century. A new game built on the 1990s era Build engine and a good old fashioned Doom clone.
For those who would like a gentle reminder, the first wave of Doom clones were the actual authentic Doom clones, which is to say they were built on the Doom engine licensed from id software. The second wave was built on Ken Silverman’s Build engine. Properly speaking the Build engine was really a 2.5d engine instead of true 3d. But it could do a whole bunch of little tricks that made you think you were looking at true 3d.
The Build engine was used to build the most legendary games of the mid-nineteen nineties. Blood, Shadow Warrior, and of course Duke Nukem 3d. That said it was also used to create some of the worst games of the 1990s. I don’t just mean Redneck Rampage, there was a bunch of 90s shooters you never heard of and with good reason. Anything by Capstone games was guaranteed to be the pinnacle of gaming incompetence. Extreme Paintbrawl is usually credited with having killed the engine.
And now Build has risen from the grave. Okay, it actually rose back in 2019, but I only just got around to playing Ion Fury.
With Doom clones proper, you can get away with a POV character that has little more than a name, or in the case of actual Doom no name at all. Ion Fury however is a Build engine game that means a personality is required. In this case Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison.
I know what you’re thinking, she looks like she belongs in a Duke Nukem game. And you are absolutely right, because that was where she was supposed to start life. She was supposed to be the companion character in Duke Nukem Forever and not Dylan. You can see a few shots of her in the 1998 trailer, although she was dropped before the final release.
There is a version of her in the free mod “Duke Nukem: Alien Armageddon.” Note the word “free” meaning Randy Pitchford doesn’t get any money for it.
For some arcane legal reason 3D Realms was able to hang on to her when Gearbox got the rights to Duke Nukem.
Also, times had changed so Bombshell had to become less of a bombshell.
3D Realms released a third person game starring her named, of course, Bombshell. I didn’t play it because the reviews were frankly pretty grim.
Consequently, I wasn’t that excited when I found out she was going to be starring in a throwback FPS called Ion Maiden. I’d also assumed that it had died in development when some British boomer heavy metal band sued for infringement. Personally, I don’t think they had a leg to stand on but it looks like the devs shrugged said, fuck it and changed the name to Ion Fury.
Which brings us neatly to the game itself. I have no idea where they found devs who knew how to get this much of the Build engine. The detail work is gorgeous. Lighting is fantastic. Explosions are incredibly gratifying in the way that only that 90s FPS games could deliver. Except the devs were able to deliver a lot more than you could get when the Build engine was brand new.
Mostly because they were limited by the CPUs. The world Duke Nukem was born into was one where the hottest chip in the world was a Pentium One and most computers were still 486s. Ion Fury on the other hand has finally delivered the kind of 90s era Snow Crash/Akira/Bubblegum/ Crisis/Judge Dredd cyberpunk cityscape we always wanted to see back then but that our computers just couldn’t deliver. Well, they can now, and they do so when they are running Ion Fury.
Look I know there is a bunch of indy throwback FPS games out there all of a sudden and I love all of these defenders of a lost era but that said, a lot of them deliver dead-assed shoddy goods. This is NOT one of those.
This is a game that does its level best to give you your money’s worth. The game doesn’t open with a cut scene because back engineering something to look like it came out of the first generation of Renderman would be pointless and horrible, also a modern one would break the immersion the game is trying to create. So, a title card will do just fine.
“In the near future, the streets of Neo DC (All cyberpunk cities had Neo crammed in front of the name), are wrought with crime. You are…”. Who the hell cares! Hitting play.
It turns out there is a Doctor Proton wannabe out there named, Dr. Jadus Heskel who is the leader of a transhumanist cult dedicated to ruling the world or something. Just start shooting you know you want to. He’s voiced by Jon Saint John, and Duke Nukem’s voicebox chews up the scenery and demands seconds.
After getting a view of the Neo DC skyline you head to (I’m not kidding) Flynn’s Arcade where the kids are playing games like Blake Stone, Bio Menace, Major Stryker and Monster Bash. If you don’t recognize any of those titles, I pity the sad luddite existence you had to live in back when 3D Realms was Apogee.
There are a ton of easter eggs in this game, especially in the first level. The ATM throws coins at Bombshell and tells her to “shake it baby.” If you climb all the way up to the MDK neon sign (don’t know if that is referencing the game or movie) you will find one of Gaff’s origami horses and Bombshell says, “like tears in the rain.” There’s an advertisement for Caco Bell’s $5 Phobos Fillup with a happy, smiling Doom Cacodemon in the background. Another poster advertises a movie called Thy Flesh Consumed. Next to that is an ad for Damn Good Coffee… And Hot!
Okay, I’m done spoiling easter eggs, my point is that this game loves the eighties and nineties.
Game play is what you would expect from something this detail oriented. Doctor Haskel’s minions will hit scan the crap out of you the second you step in a room which is very Build engine, but the doors don’t insta-kill you which I’m glad is no longer a feature.
The weapons are her pistol Lover Boy (which is actually useful).
the Penetrator (SMG).
the Disperser (Shotgun, it’s got plenty of shove, also fires grenades).
Ion Bow (ranged weapon with a nice alt fire).
Chain Gun (they ran out of cute names).
Bowling Bombs and the Cluster Pucks (I guess they didn’t).
This is a game that wants you to explore and you will have to in order to find ammo and equipment. That is my only real complaint with the game, the ammo is handed out with an eye dropper and if you don’t find the secrets you’ll probably run out. Some of the secrets are easy and can be found with wall-humping but some you are going to have to platform to get to so I hope you like doing that.
Also her night stick the Electrifryer is useful for jump starting dead equipment into life.
I wouldn’t try to marathon my way through this game on the first try, it is easily the longest of the Build engine games. A speed run will take you about ten hours.
There was an expansion planned for it called Aftershock but 3D Realms appears to have dropped the project in favor of a sequel using a less primitive engine.
At $25 it’s a steal but if you want a genuine steal then wait for Steam Sale and buy a bundle of Ion Fury and a bunch of other 3D Realms games.
It’s nice to able to review something good for a change.
UPDATE: I hadn’t included anything about the expansion pack, Aftershock, on the grounds that it looked like it had been canceled. It’s not canceled but it is being handled as more of a fan thing by Voidpoint. Which is fine because these guys clearly love what their doing.