Now, this fucking takes me back.
Ion Fury is a 2019 First Person ‘Boomer’ Shooter by the way of 1996. Forget weapon reloading, regenerating health, cover-based shooting, half-arsed ‘play it your way’ stealth, and murky brown military shooter campaigns.
Ion Fury belongs to an era where you would run through a comical recreation of a fast food restaurant, bunny hopping and circle-strafing, whirl round and blow away your enemies with an oversized gun, whilst the protagonist delivers one-liners lifted straight from popular action films. This is the domain of the Build engine.
The First Person Shooter emerged as king-shit of all of gaming in the mid-nineties. The previous monarch, the point-and-click Adventure Game, was kicked to the dirt with typical 90’s ‘tude.
Following the success of Doom in ’93 and Doom II in ’94, along came the Build engine. This saw shooters transcend the samey labyrinths of Wolfenstein 3D’s era, and transfer the carnage into cartoonish depictions of the real world – a real world often filtered through an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head.
You’d charge through porn theatres, grunting “shake it, baby” at a bunch of naked pixels whilst thrusting virtual money at them (Duke Nukem 3D).
Or, set robed cultists ablaze in a graveyard with a flare gun; your murder stiffy growing with each of their agonised screams and flails (Blood).
Or found yourself with countless ‘me so solly’ jokes to make, as you sliced your way through the cast of Big Trouble in Little China (Shadow Warrior).
These sort of skill-based shooting games with their relentless pace, black humour, and cartoonish violence are now referred to as Boomer shooters.
Ion Fury continues the Boomer Shooter trend in that it is a Build engine game – albeit developed on a heavily pushed and retrofitted Build engine – and is steeped in 90’s style ‘fucking about’ humour.
We play as Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a no-nonsense soldier-cop in a bad cyberpunk future. She’s basically Duke -right down to the movie quotes- but she’s a chick, so the machismo attitude comes good again. Think Robocop and Judge Dredd by the way of Ash Williams.
The bad guy is a mad transhumanist scientist/cult leader named Dr. Heskel (and voiced by Duke himself, Jon St.John!). And Ion Fury is the loving story about how Shelly, ever the matchmaker, relentlessly seeks to unite Dr. Heskel with his soul mate: a bullet from her fucking triple-barrelled, 18-shot revolver, Loverboy.
The inspiration the game takes from its forebears, particularly Duke, is patently obvious and not particularly surprising considering 3D Realms published it.
There’s the paper-thin plot, cheesy one-liners, the extensive arsenal worthy of a tooling up in scene akin to the one in Commando, spacious levels filled with sight-gags and fiendishly hidden secrets (some of which possess a difficulty close to trying to find the Christmas presents your parents have hidden without stumbling on their sex stash).
Players are gleefully invited to hop, strafe, and dash through the sprawling levels at the speed of a Sun reporter making their way through Liverpool.
Neon filters illuminate your way, and a synth-heavy soundtrack throbs in your ears. Your eyes searching as you make your way from room to room, arse clenched, and trigger finger twitching – ready to unleash the finely tuned reflexes of a randy teenager tab-alting as he hears his mum knock at his bedroom door.
I’m not gonna lie: jumping gaily in the air, like I’m Billy Elliot, frantically cycling through my guns mid-air, twirling around and gunning down a bad dude away with a revolver that’s longer than a list of Boris Johnson’s lies, is the type fun that I haven’t had in a long time.
The most exact comparison I can make with Ion Fury is Brutal Doom – that ever popular mod for the venerable Doom which updates the aged mechanics and doubles down on the balls-to-the-wall savagery.
Ion Fury is part of recent trend of new Boomer Shooter games that emulate those of the mid-90’s. An unusual choice, really, mostly because the limitations of the format have become part of the retro-appeal. There was Strafe and Dusk emulating the low-res early 3D game Quake; Amid Evil paid tribute to Heretic (I really need to go back and play that one); and now we have Ion Fury.
Of course, Ion Fury has the advantage of actually being made on the same engine as its inspirations. The only way it could be any more mid-90’s is if it feared the oncoming machine apocalypse and believed that getting an oval office blowjob was the worst thing a President could do.
So, in that respect, Ion Fury is as old-school as the amenities of the average coastal town. But it also has the benefit of 20+ years of advances in game development to elevate it from its inspirations.
The levels are complex and intertwining, with multiple routes which require planning and forces the player to use their initiative. Even simple environmental details such as the fanciful lighting effects to establish Neo DC as a neon-soaked city. Exploding buildings, rotating fan traps, a modular soundtrack, and situational enemy damage add to the technical complexity which was lacking in older Build games.
If I have criticisms, it’s that developers Voidpoint spend all this time loving crafting these immense levels (packed to the brim with sight gags such as Homer Simpson’s chair-toilet) and yet the weapons and enemies feel somewhat half-arsed. Especially when compared with the level design, which remains consistently impressive.
There’s the usual military bases and sewers, but the game throws in a few wild cards such as trains, baseball stadiums, and sinister mansions. It’s the labyrinthine mega city levels – with their futuristic skyscrapers, retro shopping malls, obligatory noodle bars, shipping container hotels, and sleazy back alleys, which stand out, however.
By contrast, the guns feel unambitious and a tad overly-familiar. By the half way point you’ll have all weapon types. This has the advantage of allowing you to really learn and fully utilise all of the weapons, including the starting revolver which remains consistently useful.
But for a game set in a crazy techo-future, which has a mad scientist as its antagonist, the gun designs vanilla. A laser-crossbow? Meh. Machine guns which shoot fire? Better. Bowling bombs? That’s more like it. But where are the really crazy guns? Like one which only targets anti-vaxxers and shoots logic bombs.