Official Review: Ion Fury (Nintendo Switch)

By Ben Sellwood, May 16, 2020 (updated May 21, 2020 at 10:48 AM) 16 8

May 16, 2020
  • Release Date (NA): May 15, 2020
  • Release Date (EU): May 15, 2020
  • Publisher: 1C Entertainment
  • Developer: 3D Realms
  • Genres: First Person Shooter
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: PlayStation 4
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Retro remakes and rose-tinted glasses have always been a thing, but can fresh new 2D/3D shooters survive being made in 2020?
Ben Sellwood

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3D Realms are synonymous with gaming in the '90s, bringing us such fantastic experiences as Duke Nukem, Terminal Velocity, Shadow Warrior, Blood, and even Max Payne. I for one grew up on PC games and cut my teeth on these FPS experiences that were, for me, far more interesting than Doom or Quake thanks to their real-world grounding, and unapologetic adult themes. Duke Nukem was a particularly groundbreaking title, with witty quips, adult humour, and a style that fused 3D environments with the 2D sprites we knew and loved. It wasn't quite Half-Life yet, but you could feel the evolution of gaming happening in your CRT monitors. I was entirely hooked on the FPS genre, and I think it was only Goldeneye 007 on N64 that drew me away from playing PC titles more.

Fast forward to 2020 and we find ourselves confronted with Ion Fury, coming at us in all directions, on all formats. With a true, old-school, 2D first-person aesthetic we thought had been lost to the sands of time, nudged out by 3D, HDR, 144hz, 8k, Raytraced shenanigans of the latest titles, my first thoughts were mixed. Perhaps this shooter would miss the mark, show us what relics those games actually were and ruin my rose-tinted reminisces. Perhaps it would prove to me, and reinforce, that those games were amazing and that they still hold water today with their simplicity and elegance. I was keen to indulge, and in a way, this would be a make or break moment for my memories, and I really wanted it to be the latter--but could it really live up to my mental impressions, or should it be left long behind with my childhood?

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Firing up Ion Fury, I was instantly met with a zing of excitement seeing the 3D Realms logo in all its glory. This logo epitomises '90s quality, it screams retro and it honestly brought me to lean forward in my seat, intent and ready. As with its ancestors, Ion Fury is set in a Cyberpunk metropole of Neo DC, in a dystopian future, fraught with danger thanks to the transhumanist Dr. Jadus Heskel, and it's up to you to slay his inhuman hordes and destroy his evil plans. In a twist to the conventions, you play as a female protagonist: Cpl. Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison, who has the perfect glib comedic timing and verbal gusto to match all of her predecessors, and then some. Harrison Ford was probably the inspiration for her surname, given the similarities to settings and style of Blade Runner, which is a nice nod to the cyberpunk classic. But that's where it ends as Shelly vocalises her unquestionable Duke Nukem heritage, but gives us a modern, female adaptation of his character. She feels like a badass, lone-wolf equivalent of Joanna Dark, with no one in her ear to hold her back and a fantastically unreserved, poignantly hilarious, dark sense of humour.

Controls are typical of the swathes of FPS games now available on the Switch, with options to enable or disable motion controls sprinkled in to give it another method to play. I have to admit that, on the move in handheld mode, the motion controllers were a blessing, with some very handy aiming finesse coming into play. However, in docked, I had to turn them off in order to get back any semblance of normality. It's not that it's overly bad, but it seemed to lose itself at points, needing recalibrating too frequently and it wouldn't quite track turning left and right as well as it would on the vertical axis, though this can be adjusted to your liking. I just simply prefer not to use motion controls during my TV experience. Along with various tweaks you can make in the settings I noticed a field of view option which I took for a spin, cranking it from the standard 95 degrees to the full 110 degrees. Personally, the distortion of the 110-degree FOV made me a bit queasy and the lower spectrum of 70 degrees seemed a little too narrow to be useful, so whether these settings pertain to some specific widescreen or curved monitor setup that the average user will not have remains to be seen.

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Difficulty ranges from "First Blood" to "Wanton Carnage" through to "Ultra Viscera" and finally "Maximum Fury." I initially opted for the middle grounds of "Wanton Carnage" and found it far too easy, so I highly recommend cranking it up and going for the harder difficulties. I feel that these tougher settings are actually how it was meant to be played and the lower difficulties are tacked-on, scaled-down incarnations of the stages, as they are just simply too straightforward and don't offer any challenge at all. If you really want to dig into this title, jump in with a "no guts, no glory" approach and you will not be disappointed. Pro tip for the tougher difficulties: save your game manually throughout, as I found certain areas with hundreds of baddies entirely unforgiving and I had to redo sections multiple times in order to blast through it. Forgetting to save is my personal weakness, and if there is one piece of wisdom I can impart on anyone reading this, it is to remember to manually save at key moments. Once you get some respite, reload your gun, make a manual save point, then feel free to pick up everything you can, explore every corner, save again and move on. if you don't do this you could trigger a secret with some more bad guys just as you have relaxed, and boom, you're dead and have to redo that entire section, including picking up all the ammo drops and goodies, all over again.

You begin the game in the "Night on the Town" episode, in Neo DC, surrounded by what is the definitive, stereotypical '80s vision of the future. There is neon lighting, concrete and glass structures, holograms, and robotic, drone-like entities patrolling the skies. The bar is themed around the Illuminati and the all-seeing eye, and there are arcade machines you can interact with, and toilets you can run amok in. Out the gates, this game is graphically a stunner. It's colourful, clean, peppered with detail and easter-eggs, and hugely fun to explore. Every facet of every environment contains vast levels of detail. Bars are stocked with bottles and glasses, sketchy places such as "The Playful Noodle" or the "Creamy Stick" have breakable plates and products, streets have ATMs, bin-bags, graffiti and litter scattered around its concrete and chainlink, fenced-off back alleys. Bars have tables and neon lights, arcade machines and bathrooms with the obligatory "Wow, I can see myself" mirrors for you to decimate. It's so encapsulating and so finely crafted it takes you right back to that strip club in Duke Nukem, looking for the power to turn on THAT projector, and hearing "Shake it baby" several times. You will be pleased to hear that those "chauvinistic" slurs made it back into this game, but with a far more updated context, where if you press action on ATMs repeatedly they eventually spit out a wad of cash and robotically exclaim "Shake it baby," which I chortled at and thought was comedic gold (but then again I have been locked down for 8 weeks solid now). Everything except the walls and floors is presented in 2D, which is a look I really dig. Each item that litters the richly-packed environments has the ability to be deformed in a single frame of animation, meaning you can shoot a bin or cabinet and bend it in half in one shot, or blow it to pieces with a second, which usually yields health or armour pickups. You can also locationally shoot any enemy or wall texture to leave a bullet wound or hole. For example, you can headshot every enemy, satisfyingly blowing their cranium to bits, or you can drill them full of bullets for a more '90s feel, where you couldn't specify where you were shooting an enemy.attachFull209358

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The sound effects and thumping true tracked module music soundtrack are also awesome. The soundtrack fits in neatly with its environments, with some rather techy, lowkey chilled vibes flowing throughout and some industrial sounding big-beat with some frisky drum and bass breaks to set the pace for you. The best thing is that it isn't overbearingly fast or distracting when it doesn't need to be, and more importantly, it doesn't become jarring, which is really nice to have in the background. Everything you touch or bump into has a sound effect, and Shelly has a little grunt or quote to give at every turn which some players may find annoying or cringy, but personally, I thought it was a great homage to its predecessors that I really enjoyed. Pop culture references aplenty frequent this game and I really adored the relevance and timing of some of these punctuated moments. For example, as I blew open a room full of Liberators and Greater cultists, lobbed in a few grenades and watched the gibs fly, Shelly quipped "You gotta keep 'em separated," which as some of you will know is a line from The Offspring's 1994 "Come Out and Play" track. Those "gibs" can also be playfully kicked around the environments when you run through them, which was a nice little touch too.

One of the most exhilarating things to do in the '90s was to explore a game knowing that there was no walkthrough available online, there were barely any magazines that covered the entire game you were playing, and thanks to this you were freer to click on walls and expose hidden rooms, hoping to find some incredibly overpowered gun to go kick ass with. The same is true today with Ion Fury. At one point I noticed a fan vent on the surface below me, I stood on it and it clicked and retracted into the ground so I scanned the area to see if any walls had slid open. Scanning around I noticed another fan vent, to which I jumped on it and heard another click and another intriguing sound further on in the map. All told, and without giving away any spoilers, I figured out the logic and found a lot more than I had expected. It was exhilaration at its finest, and it really spurred me on in later levels. When you're nearing the end of a level you get a purple line of text informing you how many secrets you have missed in the current area. This always forces me to turn about-face and go hunting those covert little mysteries. Ion Fury builds on the urban legends you may or may not have heard while at school in the playground about how you can move a bar stool, jump onto a street sign, scale a wall, get on the roof and find mysterious goodies, and makes it a reality. Go exploring, go adventuring, try to get out of bounds, you never know what you might happen upon as there are lots of hidden areas.

The range of weapons in this game is superb. I always remember one of my school mates exclaiming "you always know where you are in a game when you get a shotgun", and he was right. Ion Fury gives you a relatively antiquated-looking Loverboy sixshooter, the Electrifryer electric baton, to begin with, but almost immediately you will happen upon the high-quality, six-round Disperser shotgun, and then all hell breaks loose as following on from that you quickly find a machine gun that you can dual wield called the Penetrator with badass incendiary rounds which is an absolute blast to mow your enemies down with, leaving them a burning pile of guts on the ground. Other weapons you'll obtain include the Chaingun, Bowling Bombs, Grenade Launchers, Ion Bow, and the Cluster Puck. As you can tell from the weapon names, the in-game advertising and graffiti and the witty japery, the developers behind this title have a tremendous sense of humour. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode, except for the grenade launcher, which is actually cunningly the yellow-reskinned secondary fire mode for the "Disperser," but each of them offers unique abilities. For example, the Ion Bow can fire singularly in primary mode or in an obliterating row of five as its secondary, the Bowling Bombs only usually explode if rolled directly into an enemy whereas its secondary mode uses a lit fuse to cause explosive mayhem, and Loverboy's secondary function gives you a close-range lock-on effect that can destroy a whole group of enemies similar to the Dead Eye target marking in Red Dead Redemption 2.

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There are a couple of bones of contention with this title, and though they don't in any way ruin this stellar title, there is clearly room for improvement. Firstly the text size in handheld mode is far too small to be legible, and let us be honest this would be a simple fix, but it's something the devs should have thought of for a hybrid console that switches to a 6.2" screen for on the go action. When the action gets going, overall there is a healthy frame rate, but occasionally you will witness a slight screen tear here and there, especially when you hit an autosave area, or when the next area loads in. Another odd thing is that there was a lack of a straightforward melee attack. I feel that though you have the Electrifryer, it should have been put on a melee button, ready to strike things or if you get in a bind. Instead, I found I had to switch to the baton to electrify items, or to hit enemies when I ran out of ammunition. There isn't even a boot or a knuckle duster that pops up to vanquish a stubborn foe in close quarters, you instead have to quickly switch to the nightstick, then beat them down, then switch back to another weapon.

Ion Fury is a standout piece of art which lives up to the hype. It encompasses everything that is right with this sub-genre of FPS, with its 2D/3D aesthetic, its ability to infuriate, its hundreds of secrets and nods to pop culture and its inspirations. As a stand-alone game, it is visually beautiful, with such intricate detail it's hard to believe the developers managed to capture so much interactivity and creativity into one little package. Ion Fury carries the mantle of this style of game and runs with it into success-filled oblivion. The fact that Ion Fury manages to build upon its own legacy, differentiates itself and yet manages to poke fun at itself and its contemporaries is hugely commendable. If you were ever a fan of Duke Nukem, you simply have to get your hands on this game, as it will bring back all those fond memories and reinvigorate your love for classic FPS games without a contrived storyline or microtransactions getting in the way. Sheer simplicity at its best!

Verdict
What We Liked . . . Wonderfully retro aesthetic, packed with modern interactivity and detail Heaps of weapons, secrets and areas to discover Banging soundtrack to keep you pumped Cameos are a nice touch Konami code unlocks higher frame rate What We Didn't Like . . . Difficult in sections, often unforgiving Tiny fonts in handheld should be rectified
8 Presentation
Unashamedly retro yet with a flair for all things modern; this game pushes all the buttons and throws everything at you with its gritty neon cyberpunk dystopian facade. The level of detail is immense and perfectly captures "the way it was" back when you first played any 3D Realms games back in the '90s. Apart from a few small issues, everything is just perfect to capture and relive these vibes.
9 Gameplay
Modern meets retro in this shoot 'em up for the ages. It's got everything you remember and melds it with everything modern. Headshots, physics, blood, gore, humour, secrets, and a simple yet compellingly insane techy story to boot. It's thrilling and infuriating, but it drives you to play more!
8 Lasting Appeal
with seven huge and unique zones to explore there are tonnes of weapons to play with, hundreds of ways to eviscerate your foes and with boatloads of secrets to discover; you won't get bored anytime soon. If there was a multiplayer mode or even coop, then this would have been the perfect package to reinvigorate this superb style of FPS.
8.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Rocking the original BUILD engine to full effect, this love letter to the classics is more of what you always wanted but couldn't quite get growing up. It brings back all those memories and actually reinvents this style of game, better than it ever really was. The switch is a great platform for this to shine with its motion controls and docked or hand-held play schemes, and even portably, it stands up as a solid game for you to play on your travels too.

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