Misguided Homage

HIGH Classic fast FPS gameplay.

LOW Has there ever been an enjoyable sewer level?

WTF Did I just hear a line that references… Dirty Dancing?

Whilst modern FPS titles often feature slower gameplay and overstuffed systems, those made in the old-school mold tend to keep things simple and generally offer faster action. This generation has also been one of bloat, so I’ve been enjoying classic-style titles as an excellent palate cleanser. With this in mind, Ion Fury caught my eye because it was developed by Duke Nukem fans using the engine from that game, so I figured it should fit the profile of what I’m after — and on a surface level it did, but in other ways it wasn’t what I was looking for at all.

Ion Fury is a first-person shooter developed by Voidpoint and published by 3D Realms. The player controls Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison in a futuristic setting through seven zones and 28 levels, plus a few bonus levels. The campaign is filled with a variety of cybernetic soldiers and robots as enemies, and the player uses a range of weapons such as a shotgun called the Disperser and a revolver called the Loverboy.

Upon starting Ion Fury, there was a clear sense of being transported back to the ’90s. The look and settings use bright colors, neon lights and basic textures. However, it’s a good-looking title with well-animated sprite-based enemies and offers nice touches — things like enemies on fire carrying on shooting while screaming. The music is a treat too, offering a techno-style soundtrack reminiscent of the era with a few tracks sounding like something The Prodigy could’ve released.

Ion Fury‘s gameplay is smooth and fast, though there were some noticeable framerate inconsistencies near the start of the game. After a few updates, this slowdown only occurred during boss battles, but it was mostly fine overall.

While what I’ve outlined so far means that Ion Fury is great as a throwback to FPS titles from the ’90s, it doesn’t add much to that formula. This is probably by design, but it also means that it can be a repetitive experience as enemy variations take a while to be introduced and some levels lack imagination. For example, the too-similar floors in an office skyscraper, and in particular the samey tunnels of the sewer levels. These outstayed their welcome, and I felt frustrated to be navigating an overlong labyrinth of pipes.

There is some variety in Ion Fury‘s weapons thanks to their alternate firing modes, though most aren’t exactly surprising. That said, I did enjoy the Penetrator (which sets enemies on fire) and its dual-wielding alt mode. After more enemy types are added to the mix, combat becomes more enjoyable since it pays to adapt to each situation with the appropriate weapon. The Loverboy has an alt that locks on to multiple foes and The Disperser’s grenade launcher alt works well for groups.

For a retro-style FPS the difficulty level is appropriately high, even on the default setting. Keeping multiple save files is recommended — after going through the first two areas with a lack of care, I found myself with a paucity of ammo and health packs against a boss, requiring me to start the second area again while being more frugal.

My initial draft ended here, but as a new reviewer, I refrain from reading about a game before I play in order to ensure that my opinion is not shaped by what I’ve read. However, I started to question that practice with Ion Fury.

In a Twitter conversation with fellow reviewers, I learned of a controversy from when Ion Fury was released in 2019 for PC. The game featured homophobic slurs and after some uproar the devs said they’d remove it, only to go back on their statement, citing that they would not be censored. The controversy was also heightened when the developers were accused of making transphobic and sexist comments on Discord. 

For me, the problem was that if I hadn’t noticed these slurs during my playthrough or was not aware of the controversy surrounding the developers, should I let this color my opinion of Ion Fury?

It seems that the common sense answer would be to review what I saw in front of me, but context is important — games aren’t created in a vacuum, and context has certainly changed how I look at some things.

For example, the one-liners in Ion Fury reflect a level of humor below even the dreck in Duke Nukem, which is one aspect of the ’90s I’m not nostalgic for. This writing made me cringe, used bizarre references, and immature sexual innuendo. It also reminded me why I never liked Duke Nukem as much as other shooters and by adopting this tone, Ion Fury pays homage to something that is no longer welcome in modern gaming. Taken in with knowledge of the slurs and the -phobic, sexist comments, it recontextualizes what I saw and heard, and gives the content a misogynistic feel.

Whilst I found Ion Fury to be enjoyable as an isolated piece of content, it’s impossible to ignore the context it’s in — as such, I find it hard to recommend.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Voidpoint, with console ports handled by General Arcade and published by 3D realms. It is currently available on PC, Switch, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4.  Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The ESRB has rated this game M for Blood & Gore, Strong Language, Drug Reference and Strong Language. Though the retro style means that violence is less detailed, there’s still plenty of blood and gore, where decapitated heads can be kicked around and enemies scream when on fire. The game also features lots of swearing and includes some sexual innuendo and references to drug use.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no subtitle options in this game, so the dialogue and the minimal plot are inaccessible. However, there is a “read me” option on the main menu which outlines the plot, but be aware that this text is relatively small and cannot be resized. Fighting with enemies relies on picking up audio cues of gunfire rather than visual indicators — if the player relies on visual cues alone, it can often be too late to dodge incoming fire. This game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller diagram. Movement is on the left stick. Camera is the right stick. Jumping is X. Using items is Triangle or R1. Crouching is Circle or R1. Shooting is R2. Alternative firing mode is L2. Swapping weapons is up and down on the D-pad. Map is on the touchpad.

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