The year is 2095 and Betamax Tapes are back in fashion. Cyber punks have gone rogue on the streets, somehow overthrowing the police, military, the CIA and all the world’s power structures by strafing left and right and looking intimidating. What else is back in fashion? Old school build-engine FPS games. Ion Fury takes all the nostalgia and design structure that make classic FPS so great, and unchains them with modern console technology. This allows for massive levels, more defined gunplay, accurate hitboxes, and significantly more objects on screen at once. Does all of this make the game more fun, however?
At first my answer was no. This game took a little while to grow on me. It just felt like a bad imitation of Duke Nukem, with less funny dialogue and an uninteresting scenario. The story doesn’t have any hook to it, the protagonist is bland, and the gameplay just decent. Sure it was bigger and looked pretty, but what was the point? Halfway through the second level I couldn’t figure out where to go. Then I got it.
I was lost and it felt amazing. There were doors everywhere, huge open areas, tunnels, secrets, ladders. I didn’t know where I was or where to go, and it finally felt like I was actually there. My wits became sharper and my eyes took in more detail to learn what everything means. There was a switch I missed that turned off a fan and allowed me to crawl through the vents. Brilliant.
There are five different ways to get into this mansion. Switches, ladders, explosions, broken windows, tunnels, all valid puzzle mechanics that make this world interactive. If you can’t figure out what to do there are usually solid visual cues. Follow the “69% off” sale signs on the streets and you might find more than a bargain.
The combat is satisfying and fast paced. Shots register consistently and enemies have some kind of reaction, whether it’s a visual recoil or sound effect. Usually the reaction you are looking for is death though. You have to be smart about positioning because there’s no regenerating health here folks, just plain old medkits. You gotta love that feeling when you’re on 8% health and you find a medkit you didn’t see before. Sweet salvation, a feeling that is robbed from us when a game has regenerating health. The game has an easy difficulty mode if this does bother you, however. There’s plenty of health around, a good reward for exploring.
The combat is up there with the best old school FPS in terms of the mechanics. Everything feels really good and it’s accurate. The more I played however, the more weaknesses exposed themselves. The enemy designs don’t offer much variety. It’s just weird dudes in robes, little annoying robot spiders, and flying mechanic things. Hundreds and hundreds of the same enemies, sometimes all at once. The worst combat takes place in large open areas when you have no cover and you’re just running around like a headless chicken.
The levels start to drag a bit later in the game too, when the beautiful neon city lights turn into bland sewers and warehouse rooms. This would be fine for a small area but not two straight hours of rooms that look exactly the same.
Getting lost and exploring is fun, but eventually the shit dripping from the wall starts to smell and you want to get out.
Aside from the repetitive enemy and level design, there’s a few minor control issues with the Switch version. Firstly the motion control was unusable for me, nothing like the excellent one in the Duke Nukem 3D port I reviewed. It just doesn’t feel natural at all and it’s very slow. Another issue is the run button on the Switch version is mapped to clicking in the left stick. It’s just awful, especially when you are clicking in the same stick that you’re also trying to move upwards like a drunk. It makes no sense since the controller has plenty of free buttons like L and R. You can also toggle an “always on” option for running but then you’re going to get a headache real quick. The run speed is damn fast and I was happy with the walking speed most of the time. You can technically fix this issue by remapping the controls from the Switch’s operating system, but have fun turning them back every time you play a different game.
The music impressed me overall but had some real grating annoying tracks thrown in there occasionally. The futuristic techno theme is very consistent and suits the game well, with some really nice hype tracks and surreal effects. The quality of the songs however is not consistent with just a few being amazing, some bad and some average ones. The game does use sound and music in a very creative way too, with jingles in elevators and malls that overlay the existing level music. The sound design as a whole is very good, and the game even has a playable piano.
It’s worth noting there was a bit of controversy about this game’s lewd and insensitive advertising. Some is harmless, but there are advertising posters making fun of mental retardation, suicide and the one that caused a stir was a bottle of “Ogay”. It’s not even that funny but it incites a stereotype about gays so there was a big backlash. The company removed it, apologised and donated $10,000 to a charity that supports LGBT mental health. Then a different group of people boycotted and review-bombed the game on Steam because they didn’t like the censorship. It was a lose-lose situation for them simply for having the issue exist in the first place.
No matter how they responded there was a backlash, and I’ll just add my two cents to this. I don’t like some of the ads personally and I agree that they are poor taste, but sometimes I also like seeing stuff with poor taste. This game is set in a neon apocalypse where dead bodies are hanging from rooftops, and we’re worried about some gay shampoo. The world is a little bit fucked up and it caused mass violence and destruction as a result. I don’t have to like this world to like the game or see where it’s coming from. I don’t have to like the developers or their views to enjoy the game, the same way you don’t have to like a politician’s personality but it still makes sense to vote for them if they have good policies.
Boycotting this game in a competitive gaming market doesn’t send a message that you’re pro LGBT rights or anti-censorship, it sends a message that you don’t want retro-style FPS with good design. That’s what 99% of this game is. Cancelling the devs, doxxing, and review-bombing is not going to change anybody’s mind either. It’s just going to make creative people more scared to say anything remotely expressive, and it’s going to make racist and sexist people double down and join extremist groups. We can’t go down this path, we need to listen to each other and allow for conversations we don’t like. You make a difference by being a better person than them, not by being worse. Of course at the end of the day, everyone has the right to weigh up their priorities and make an informed decision. I’m also open to listening to other views about this in the comments.
This guy said Donkey Kong sucked so I had to kill him. Pretty crazy, huh? Is there ever a conversation about how we murder hundreds of people in each FPS we play? Nah, they probably deserved it. No need to think too hard about it, we’re here to appreciate FPS gameplay.
All in all Ion Fury impressed me with its quality, with some even better gameplay and level design than the classics at times. Unfortunately it lacks that extra bit of soul compared to games like Duke Nukem and Doom. What does it even mean to have more soul? Personality, scenario, and writing. They are all fairly uninspiring. When your sense of purpose is weakened it makes you question your sanity at times in the gigantic levels. For the most part though, Ion Fury rocks a cool aesthetic with great gameplay, there are some lows but much more highs. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to catch some sleep in my new room. Looks nice huh? I just cleaned it.