Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison is the ironwoman who’s going to take you on a thrill ride, so buckle up. Ion Fury is a nonstop retro trip. It’s a cornucopia of old-school action, synthesized bops and beats, powerful color and lights, groovy guns, and gnarly action. There’s also healthy doses of charming easter eggs, secrets, suggestive humor and cheesy one-liners. Ion Fury is surging with blissful 90s FPS energy. It’s not flawless, but it’s tons of fun and provides all the bang for your buck that you need.
High Energy Start
At the start of Ion Fury, the flavor of the mayhem to come bursts forth in a flurry of neon and action. Player-character Shelly is having a drink at the Illuminaughty, a club in the night-life district of future D.C. Evil Dr. Jadus Heskel’s army of cyborgs interrupts Shelly by wreaking havoc on the city streets. Thus you begin your adventure, amidst flashing neon signs and advertisements, energetic electronic beats pulsating in the background, and a futuristic city skyline all about you. First playing Ion Fury is like popping open a can of highly caffeinated soda for a refreshing and bubbly first swig.
The ride never lets up. From the streets of D.C. to the tunnels beneath, to the suburbs in the distance and cybernetic horrors beyond, Ion Fury gives you good-pacing, variety, and ingenious level design. It’s much like its Build-engine predecessors, with verticality, walls to blow up, and objects to interact with. Here in 2019, you can thrill with joy when bathroom faucets, desk lamps, and microwaves react to your touch. It’s like all the wonders of old games are new again! I excitedly took a couple of screenshots when I first saw my character in a mirror. Even if you purchase a digital copy, you’ll swear on your desk sits a big game box and booklet. You may also think your LCD monitor has suddenly become a CRT. Ion Fury doesn’t play with your nostalgia, it takes you back in time.
Additionally, Shelly’s one-liners and monologues place her proudly among other Build-engine protagonists. Speaking of, real-life Duke Nukem John St. John voices Dr. Heskel. You won’t recognize the Duke in his voice, which proves that St. John has versatility beyond his most beloved role.
The Places You’ll See
The levels do a good job of keeping you in the action. I think only two occasions stumped me, and that’s impressive. Tedious tasks like keycard hunts never bogged me down. This was an area where Duke Nukem 3D grates often, searching for peskily well-hidden colored keycards. In Ion Fury, moments of searching for the next place to go never lasted too long. Before I knew it, I’d be back to taking in new scenery and popping my Loverboy revolver at enemies.
The level variety does a great job of avoiding monotony. I won’t give away too much in this review, but – minor spoilers – there’s a train level! There’s also a sojourn out to the suburbs, which you may already be familiar with from the “Heskel’s House of Horrors” level in the early access version. Unfortunately, there’s also a level set in the sewers, complete with underwater tunnels. Even Duke 3D had its less invigorating moments, though, and thankfully even in the depths of the sewers I never felt any real tedium. Ion Fury moves smoothly.
It looks great, too. There is an energy to the color in each environ. Ion Fury is on the opposite end of the spectrum from action games with too much dull, military brown. You’ll also notice several posters, stickers or signs that offer corny jokes or references. Quite a few nods to past 3D Realms’ titles.
The music is phenomenal. This will be another game soundtrack that can stand on its own as listening music for when you’re working on something else. Most of it is boppy, electric 80s fare, and parts of it reminded me of Unreal‘s soundtrack. That’s about the highest compliment you can pay a game soundtrack.
The Cyborgs You’ll Kill
While taking Ion Fury’s great levels for a spin, you’ll be mauling Heskel’s cyborgs. Some of them appear as standard soldier units, humanoids who shout things like “Stop her!”. Some appear more nightmarish, approaching Quake II Strogg territory, like one enemy who is equal parts tank and humanoid. On their own, each enemy is pretty easy to take down, but in turn, they can take you down with just a few shots. Success is all in the timing and aiming: strafe and shoot just right, and you’ll stomp your adversaries. Miss one vital shot? Run out into the open prematurely? Enemy forces won’t hesitate to make quick work out of you. On the medium difficulty setting, “Wanton Carnage”, the combat never becomes infuriatingly difficult. FPS veterans may want to bump it up one notch – others will find that setting just right.
There are boss battles at the end of each zone. One is a mech, another is a couple of cyborg tank twins. A couple of the boss arenas hearken to classic FPS areas: one takes place on an elevator straight out of Half-Life‘s “Unforeseen Consequences” level and another recalls Quake‘s “Dismal Oubliette” ending. Disappointingly, a couple of the late-game boss battles only send several familiar enemies at you in an enclosed area, and the second boss – though really neat in concept – is a bit too easy to overcome.
Shelly’s Little Friends
To dispatch these cyborg crazies Shelly’s got a fun and powerful arsenal. There’s the aforementioned Loverboy, Shelly’s surefire revolver. Then there’s the shotgun, made more fun by doubling as a grenade-launcher. You can carry two uzis at once and completely shred enemies, though you’ll also shred through your ammo. There’s a minigun, a crossbow, bowling-ball-like grenades, and explosive discs. You could also use Shelly’s electrified baton if you’d rather whack everything. Each weapon has a clever or suggestive name, like the “Penetrator” Uzis.
The weapon animations are delicious. As each has an alternate fire mode, you’ll enjoy several frames of Shelly whipping around or charging up each gun. The reload animations, too, are very satisfying. It’s a solid arsenal.
However, it is with the weapons that Ion Fury has its one drawback: they’re a bit overpowered. Now, in a retro FPS, you want to be the unstoppable good guy – or, in this case, gal. You’re a one-woman army. But you also want a challenge. In Ion Fury, I don’t think there was enough of one in combat. Maybe it’s because I’m fresh off the excruciating punishment of Amid Evil’s enemies, but in Ion Fury, I felt like I stomped everything in my path. Later in the game, there were some moments where the cultists would outgun me for a moment. Beyond that, I overwhelmingly had a handle on things. True, I was playing on Wanton Carnage – medium. But it was my first time. I kept thinking, based on the kind of enemies I faced, it should be harder.
The Power of Loverboy
Alt fire on Loverboy is the biggest to blame. This allows you to hone in on enemies two or three at a time, and it’s near flawless in execution. Often I’d easily clear a room of both ground and air-based enemies just by ducking in and out of the doorway using Loverboy’s alt-fire. It’s the baseline weapon in the game, and you can use it to clear a vast majority of combat encounters. This becomes ridiculous.
Some enemies were more protected to Loverboy’s alt-fire – such as one of the flying jetpack monstrosities – and late in the game, you can’t rely upon it as much. Still, I used it far more often than I should have been able to, and it made me sad: I wanted to use all the weapons, but I couldn’t justify switching to them. I rarely used the Ion Bow – crossbow – for example. With Loverboy’s alt-fire, there was no need for anything else long range.
The only thing you need beyond it is the grenade launcher. This thing easily clears a room, too, and like with Loverboy I felt too powerful while wielding it. I never wanted the enemies to be more difficult, necessarily. I just wish these two weapons weren’t so powerful.
Some Save Quibbles
Otherwise, the only other drawback is the organization of the save game files. Typically when you play a game with a quick save function there is a separate quicksave slot. In Ion Fury, it quick saves to your most current hard save. Each time I reached a new level I created a new save file. This then became the same file each quicksave would go to.
Additionally, when I started Ion Fury up anew at my first quick save attempt the save menu would open. Thus I would have to select one of my save files before it would quick save. Then when I did this whatever save file I selected would not go to the top of the save menu. Scrolling down to my most recent save in these scenarios was a hassle.
Ion Fury Review | A Rare Treat
It’s somewhat disappointing that I even have drawbacks to talk about. I was having nothing but a good time playing Ion Fury. Overpowered weapons and annoying save systems really perturbed me. Games that so exceptionally channel retro energy don’t come out every day. I hate seeing an otherwise explosive package marred by these details.
With a little fixing, Ion Fury would be a masterpiece. As is, it’s a great game. A retro trip. A reminder that great design never dies, no matter what the year. If you want a great action game or are an old-school enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to play Ion Fury. Buckle in for a wild ride.
Ion Fury is a high-energy, action-packed retro ride with great gameplay, level design, visuals and audio. It's a reminder that great old-school design is forever.
- Palpable Sense of Energy Throughout
- Variety in Level Design
- Satisfying Retro Action
- A Few Overpowered Weapons
- Quick Save Annoyance