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Ion Fury (PS4) Review – Duchess Nukem

Not so much a throwback as a straight imitation of classic "3D" shooters, does Ion Fury pay worthy tribute or is it a pale knock-off? The Finger Guns review:

Bulletstorm, at least its remastered version, presented us with a version of the game with a twist. Instead of playing as one asshole, you got to play as the epitome of asshole-ism, Duke Nukem himself (voiced by John St. John) himself. That’s not a negative at all, but both Grayson Hunt and Nukem aren’t the most likable of characters, are they?

Ion Fury, then, asks a different question: what if you played Duke Nukem 3D but, like, as a woman…?

Because that, dear reader, is Ion Fury in a nutshell: a reskinned version of the Duke’s breakout game, warts and all, with the mantle passed on to an another character that loves the sound of their own voice. So, am I pissing on it this early on, or do I actually quite like it? Let’s find out, shall we…

I Came Here to Do Nothing Different and Chew Bubblegum…

Set as a prequel to 2016’s Bombshell, Ion Fury once again puts us in the boots of Shelly ‘Bombshell’ Harrison. Unlike Deus Ex’s elaborate and considerate look at transhumanism and the impacts on society, Ion Fury goes for the “robots bad, kill them all” approach.

This is largely in part due to the main villain, a Dr. Heskel, who attacks the city of Neo-DC with an army of robots and cyborgs. There isn’t really much more of a premise than that, to be honest. As the story progresses, the only main story beats you come across are Heskel popping up on screens telling you that your attempts are useless, despite the contrary.

On one hand, it’s a fitting throwback to this era of shooters that relied on their gameplay to sell them and not tonnes of exposition. On the other, it would be nice to have a bit of a reason to carry on rather than just mindlessly shooting and collecting keycards.

Out of all of Ion Fury’s biggest influences from the Build engine-era titles like Shadow Warrior and Blood, it’s definitely Duke Nukem that draws the main inspiration here. The game practically starts verbatim: there’s an explosion, you grab your gun and start shooting everyone and everything that looks funny. As in, 2D shapes against a 3D environment, funny.

Guns, Guts and Girl Power

Ultimately, that’s what we’re here for. Ion Fury is going to appeal to you if you’ve ever played the aforementioned titles, and it being no surprise what’s in store for you.

As I said, right from the off, you’re blasting through waves of Heskel’s henchman with a variety of weapons you collect along the way. Starting with Shelly’s default pistol, an 18 round, triple barreled revolver dubbed the Loverboy, it’s not long until you’re finding shotguns, electric crossbows and miniguns to cause carnage with.

And much like its contemporaries, ammo isn’t necessarily scarce, but you have to keep on the move and checking different levels and platforms for more. It’s not quite the frenetic pace of Doom Eternal, yet it does actively encourage you to not get stagnant either. You do have an electrified baton as a melee attack, but this is more for smacking and stunning things as you vault past, not relying on in a tight corner.

But unlike the shooters of yore, there’s more to Ion Fury than “the next gun is the best until a better one comes along”. There’s an element of tactic in switching through several guns on the fly, as well as utilising their secondary fire options. For example, the Loverboy has a lock-on function that is handy against drone enemies, whilst the shotgun converts to a grenade launcher. Effective on most things, it stops the little spidery bastards that nip at your health a treat.

The submachine guns fire incendiary ammunition as a default, which is great against the cyborgs that have flammable skin still attached to them, whilst the crossbows does a decent job of stunning what it doesn’t kill outright. Or, if you’re feeling saucy, its alternate fire is a volley of bolts that will drop most things in one, at the expense of more ammo being used.

There is a bevy of incendiary devices too, from grenades to mines to make a mess of whatever gets in the way. Whilst they are satisfying, they’re also quite fiddly, especially in the middle of a gunfight. It would have been nice to have a dedicated button for them, instead of having to cycle through them as a main weapon. A grenade as you flee should be a muscle-twitch reaction for an escape plan, not having to scroll through your expanding arsenal and possibility overshooting.

But again, this is fittingly thematic, as the purists will tell you that “You couldn’t do it in the older games, why would it be a feature introduced now?”. Of course, if you’re playing on PC, this isn’t usually an issue anyway. It’s more for us console peasants that have the agony of scrolling through weapons.

Like I said, it’s not a deal-breaker. As with all games, it’s something you get accustomed to. Whether you can pick it up straight away or through death and repetition, well, that’s on you. However, that’s not the only relic of the game that’s stuck in the past…

Sigh of the Times

Now, full disclosure, I am not a prudish man. I can take a joke, spot a reference or whatever, and laugh at the occasional outlandish silliness of some that might be questionable. Yet, I can tell when something is a bit too far.

However, it seems that whilst developer Voidpoint knows this too, their staunch defense of some of the seemingly trans/homophobic “in-jokes”, like the one above, are a bit too on the nose. Sure, you could argue that the misogyny in Duke Nukem, or the racial stereotypes in Shadow Warrior were a bit much, and I’m not defending those either. The thing is… the sensibilities of the 90’s were um, slightly different, shall we say? That’s why by today’s standards, Duke Nukem’s humour sits as well as an expired yoghurt in the stomach.

It’s not just the Ogay perfume bottle, though. Signs for the “Washington 4skins” football team, for example, illicit an eye roll over a laugh. But yes, I’m sure someone will find that funny. It’s not that I’m an elitist snob who doesn’t appreciate low-brow humour. It’s just… done to death. We’ve literally had a decade of action heroes doing this verbatim.

Movie quotes are another one. Nukem gets remembered for his “I came to kick ass and chew gum” line, despite that being lifted almost verbatim from John Carpenter’s They Live. Bombshell loudly exclaiming “This is my boomstick” when she retrieves the shotgun is, well, obvious enough. The fourth time she says it, though, that’s too much.

But then… I get it. Whilst some might be a tad too far or repetitive, I can see what they’re going for. It’s the pastiche and nostalgia that we love that brings us back to games like this. If this was a full 3D game (as in, a modern FPS) and they chucked these gags and one-liners in, we’d say they were trying too hard. That they’re in a game paying homage to the era it’s replicating, it’s fitting. I mean, trans/homophobic ones aside. Voidpoint really needs to sort that out.

The Bland and the Furious

There is some charm to be had here, though. It’s not all shamelessly ripping off better titles and movie quotes. There’s ripping off other games too, or at least paying tribute to them.

I did have a little chuckle at a puzzle that involved shipping containers all stacked up in different sizes and colours. It’s only as you pull the necessary lever that you see a descending container being lowered in that the penny drops: this is a nod to a particularly famous Russian geometric shape stacking game.

And yes, the dropped container does indeed form a Tetris, clearing your path to the next objective. It’s not very subtle, but it was an excellent use of the scenario for a visual gag. If only they could all be that witty…

Other than that, I don’t really have much else to say about Ion Fury. Chances are, if you’re a fan of 3D Realms and their lore, you’re already going to be aware of what it’s all about. If you’ve played any recent Wolfenstein or Doom titles and are hankering for more of the bonus level goodness, then this is the game for you.

It’s hard to praise the graphics of a game mimicking those from twenty-odd years ago. Sure, it looks good, but it looks good compared to the games of that generation. Very little has really been done to touch up on them, save a few shinier particle effects. You’re still shooting 2D shapes that rotate accordingly towards the camera against 3D backgrounds, and in that sense, Voidpoint has pulled that off well.

Would it be remiss to call Ion Fury a “relic of the past” and be done with it? Of course it would, but that’s not what I’m getting at. I mean, I had fun with the game at points. There are moments when the progression gets stuck in a bear trap as you backtrack for keys, unaided by the world’s most useless overlay map.

Sure, the story is a passing glance and the meta-jokes are in abundance and repetitive, but I don’t hate the game for it. If you had no template to compare Ion to, you’d say it was trying too hard. Conversely, I’d say modern Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior games are trying to be relevant again, whilst Ion Fury wears its “nostalgia bait” proudly on its sleeve.

The problem with nostalgia is that it can be a fine thing to get right. As I said in my Huntdown review, there’s paying worthy tribute (and Ion has done a bit, as you can see above), and then there’s shoehorning it in to the point of weariness.

To summarise, then, Ion Fury isn’t a bad game. In the conventional sense, it’s a very functional shooter reminiscent of the heady days of all the aforementioned titles, with that modern (albeit minimal) sprucing. But it’s so laden down with questionable and somewhat controversy-baiting humour that lets it down a tad.

A throwback to the “golden age” of early 3D shooters, Ion Fury suffers by bringing nothing new to the table. Well, except questionable “humour”.

Ion Fury is available now on PS4 (reviewed on), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and Linux systems.

Developer: Voidpoint
Publisher: 3D Realms

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.

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