Games

Ion Fury review – nuking the duke

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Ion Fury (PC) - it was going to be called Ion Maiden, until Iron Maiden threatened to sue

Ion Fury (PC) – it was going to be called Ion Maiden, until Iron Maiden threatened to sue

From the creators of Duke Nukem 3D comes a retro shooter that looks and plays like its 1996, but is that really such a good idea?

Creating new games in a retro style is by new means a new concept. Its almost become one of the clichés of indie gaming, along with roguelikes and Metroidvanias, but one most people are happy to embrace given the quality of titles such as the recent Blazing Chrome, which was heavily inspired by Contra III (aka Super Probotector). Retro style 2D platformers are commonplace but back in the 90s only four short years separated Contra III from Duke Nukem 3D and yet making a new game in the latters style somehow seems a much stranger thing to want to do. But were glad they did it anyway.

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The they in question is none other than 3D Realms, the original creators of Duke Nukem 3D who, despite all their best efforts, are still going today. But while faux retro games often expand past the limitations of the era theyre paying homage to (Blazing Chrome would never look that good if it actually was a SNES game) Ion Fury has been made using the same Build engine as the original Duke Nukem 3D, by a team of ex-modders called Voidpoint.

In every respect this looks, plays, and sounds like a first person shooter made in the mid-90s. And in a sense thats all you need to know about it. If you remember such things from the first time round youll find this a jarring but enjoyable hit of nostalgia, but if you dont then you might begin to wonder how the genre ever got to where it is today…

When first person shooters first came into existence, they were almost all extremely fast-paced games with little to no tactical nuance. Duke Nukem 3D added much larger and more interactive maps but they were still basically shooting galleries, with no real puzzles or other gameplay elements. Things started to change when consoles became powerful enough to run them, with 1997s GoldenEye 007 introducing the idea of slower-paced, more realistic gameplay – a year before Half-Life changed things forever on PC.

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But its the point before that sea change that Ion Fury is nostalgic for, and so the game casts you as bomb disposal expert Shelly Bombshell Harrison who takes on an army of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers for what can only be described as reasons. The script is as dated as the gameplay, with Bombshell spouting movie quotes and crass insults just like a female Duke Nukem. It wouldve been nice if the script showed a little more self-awareness, but like the rest of the game it has a ruthless sense of historical authenticity.

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Despite what the name implies, Duke Nukem wasnt fully 3D and while you could look up and down (which you couldnt do in Doom) it wasnt until The Terminator: Future Shock in 1995 (Quake was a full year later) that games started to use 3D polygons for both enemies and the environment. Which means that Ion Furys bad guys are all just 2D sprites. Theyre still a wonderfully weird collection of humanoids, cyborg insects, and stompy robots though and despite the technical limitations the backdrops can look surprisingly complex in terms of detail and lighting.

The 2.5D presentation is hardly the only thing likely to upset modern sensibilities though, as the games also extremely difficult. Not just because theres no recharging health or cover system but just generally really hard, in a way that Duke Nukem 3D never was. Theres also often no indication of where you should be going or what you should be doing, leading to the frequent experience of wandering around an empty level – because youve killed all the enemies – looking for some tiny detail in the background that youve missed and which is the only way to proceed.

Ion Fury (PC) - spot the movie references

Ion Fury (PC) – spot the movie references

The only nod to modernity is automatic checkpoints, although thats an option thats turned off by default and its obvious the game wants you to play the old-fashioned way – by jabbing the quicksave button every time you make even the smallest advance.

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If this is all beginning to sound offputtingly perverse then youre not far wrong. Ion Fury is definitely an acquired taste but what saves it is the guns, which are hugely entertaining to use even though theyre also just 2D sprites wobbling about in the middle of the screen.

As we discussed with the makers of Borderlands 3 recently, weapons in modern shooters tend to be boringly realistic but even though Ion Furys arent as out-there as Duke Nukem 3D its range of pistols, chainguns, and a beautifully destructive shotgun-cum-grenade launcher are a joy to use. They also represent the only real nuance in the game, as most are particularly well suited to one enemy over another or have alternative fiRead More – Source