All the nuke none of the Duke.
Ion Fury is, to its very core, a ‘90s first-person shooter. Down to the Build Engine itself, made famous by the likes of Duke Nukem, Ion Fury is truly a blast from the past. While this seemingly time traveling shooter brings with it plenty of nostalgia, a few issues of yesteryear come along for the ride.
The plot of Ion Fury is simple, though you’ll need to hop into the readme option on the main menu to get the details. You play as Shelly Harrison, who works for the Global Defense Force and must fend off the cyborg creations of Dr. Jadus (played by Duke Nukem himself, Jon St. John). Honestly, the plot doesn’t matter much, and is usually just an excuse for the hero and villain to yell dated quips at each other. My favorite of these is easily when the villain taunts the hero saying that “Despite all your rage, you are still just a rat in a cage.” Shelly herself regularly blurts out one liners in classic ‘90s style that range from dumb to downright cringey in all the right ways. It should be noted that there are multiple points in Ion Fury where the humor is far from politically correct by modern standards. While myself I viewed this as further commitment to the ‘90s aesthetic, others could easily find it downright offensive. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and your tolerance for the humor may vary.
Gameplay is straight forward. There is no tutorial and you’ll have to hit the ground running. Shelly starts with nothing but a pistol and an electric baton. For a starting weapon, however, the pistol is extremely useful. It has an alternate fire mode that allows you to quickly pre-target enemies before unleashing a flurry of rapid fire shots. Even late into the game as my arsenal grew, I found it incredibly helpful for taking out agile or small enemies. The baton can be used for melee attacks, as well as breaking open garbage bags and cans to potentially find health and ammo. It is also occasionally required to activate electronics, because hitting things with a stun baton is how you provide them electricity, duh. Although additional weapons will gradually fill out your selection, ammo is scarce enough that you’ll find yourself using all of them. Proficiency with each is key as Ion Fury does not skimp on the difficulty. From the start, enemy layouts are challenging and they only get tougher. Luckily the controls are excellent, particularly the gyro aiming support available on Switch. This is certainly one of its best implementations and feels remarkably intuitive to use.
Given its use of a twenty-five year old engine, it’s no surprise that Ion Fury is incredibly accurate to the time period it is emulating. The entire world is realized in a way that seamlessly blends ‘90s limitations with a few modern bits of polish. Enemies are all flat sprites and environments are suitably blocky. The only downside here is that Ion Fury uses a high degree of verticality in its level design. The 2D enemies will always rotate along the Y axis to face the player but not the X axis. This means that when viewed from directly above, they essentially become a straight line. While it doesn’t crop up constantly, it happens often enough to be noticeable. There are also occasional voxel-based 3D models that blend in incredibly well with the environment. Things like switches are fully modeled in 3D, though at a glance, you’ll swear they’re just a 2D sprite. They can be deactivated from the options menu to provide a more authentic experience, but they’re so well used that I strongly recommend keeping them on.
Ion Fury is not only an incredible love letter to ‘90s first-person shooters; it’s a great first-person shooter in its own right. It leverages a classic engine in new and exciting ways and is only very rarely hampered by it. While the humor may rub some players the wrong way, it’s arguably worth suffering through for a game that is in many ways better than its source material. This is a ‘90s shooter the way you remember them, rather than perhaps how they actually were.