Shelly Harrison has had a hard road as a video game protagonist. Her initial release was Bombshell, an isometric adventure that tried to capture the spirit of the '90s but failed to impress. Her turn in Ion Fury suffered from heavy metal lawsuits despite delivering a stellar boomer shooter campaign. Now, in Phantom Fury, Shelly moves into the Quake era with a 3D FPS that looks to mix old-school sensibilities with slightly more modern mechanics. It's an exciting prospect, and the developers at Slipgate Ironworks seem to have a firm grasp on how to modernize yet another era of beloved first-person shooters.
Much like Ion Fury before it, Phantom Fury isn't precisely a retro throwback. The graphics recall another time, but the game strives for modern sensibilities whenever possible. This could include throwing in mechanics from out of time, like DOOM 3-esque arcade minigames, or venturing to the future with level designs that feel right out of the latest and greatest campaigns. Phantom Fury promises set pieces and moments of exploration on top of familiar shooting, a combination that still feels new. The gameplay I saw lives up to that promise, even if the action looks like it comes from a Voodoo graphics card.\
No FPS with these credentials would be complete without intense shootouts with waves of various strains of named mooks. Phantom Fury delivers that action with weapons fans of the previous game will remember and others that are new to the mix. I'm delighted that bowling bombs are still Shelly's signature tool, mostly because I've been a fan since the Crash Team Racing days. As far as new toys go, the game has a few unexciting additions and one that stood out. Halfway through the demo, a bad guy wields what was later described as an electrified foam gun, and then Shelly finds one while traversing a moving train. Taking one of Prey's best features and making it something that's fun to shoot rather than a novelty is a genius move. I hope there are more surprises in that vein in the full game.
As is the case with many first-person games of the last few years, Phantom Fury puts a strong focus on movement mechanics. In the demo, I saw Shelly slide her way into a group of foes while kneecapping them with lead. I also saw our heroine jump from one train to another in one of the advertised setpieces. I didn't see a grappling hook anywhere, but the 3D engine adds another layer of verticality that will undoubtedly spark some great moments in the minds of those who designed Ion Fury's distinctly unique urban environments.
Of course, the jump to 3D can be a double-edged sword. One of the significant innovations in shooters of that era where puzzle sections that broke up the action in a way that 2016's DOOM and its ilk proved we didn't need. Although I would prefer Doomguy spinning some gears into place over jumping from pillars like in Eternal. In any case, Phantom Fury does feature at least one segment like that, a moment where Shelly has to move a fiddly crane into place to reach a second story. It was great to see her solve the problem with an explosion once her makeshift ramp was in place, but I could feel my own disappointment in the section of the game that seemed less than exhilarating.
Yes, I'm biased when it comes to my own nostalgia. The best boomer shooters go beyond simple fond memories and prove that technology moved too fast back in the day. There are plenty of new horizons for games of this style to venture into, and Phantom Fury follows right along with its immediate predecessor in catering to modern audiences and old fogeys alike. If it reaches the heights of that game when gamers get their hands on it, it will stand alongside both the FPS elder statesmen and the newest generation of action games. It's a great trick, and it will be fascinating to see if the same developer can pull it off two games in a row.