Ion Fury review: Nuking 'em like Duke

The latest Build Engine game from 3D Realms is a nod to Duke Nukem 3D, while creating its own massive experience. Our review.

10

It has been some time since the heyday of the Build Engine, but 3D Realms has not given up on the technology that powerd Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, and Blood back in the 1990s. With Ion Fury, the team has created a modern FPS with the old school vibes that 90s players remember fondly. Does the game hold up in 2019? Our review.

Fun with guns

This is my boomstick!
This is my boomstick!

Ion Fury features some very fun weapons. Starting with the Loverboy pistol, the game's weapons just feel good. The weapon names are definitely a call back to the funny names of 1990s FPS guns. Players will be able to use an Electrifryer baton, Disperser shotgun, Penetrator semi-automatic gun, Chaingun, Bowling Bombs, and a few more weapons that show up later in the game.

These guns are flat-out fun to play with, and I have a special place in my heart for Ion Fury's Disperser shotgun. If an FPS game has a weak shotgun, I usually lose interest, but that certainly wasn't the case as I gibbed quite a few enemies with my handy dandy shotty.

Building a grand stage

Shelley is the first female protagonist in a Build Engine game.
Shelley is the first female protagonist in a Build Engine game.

Ion Fury takes advantage of 2019 PCs in a way never-before-seen in the Build Engine. In the very first level, players witness a skyscraper come crashing to the ground. This is not the first time that a Build Engine game featured destructible environments, but it was the biggest moment I had ever witnessed across all of the games made with the tech. Bigger doesn't necessarily always mean better, but in the expanded level size is a welcome improvement in the case of Ion Fury.

Another way that Ion Fury builds the story in a whole new way is with the female protagonist Shelley "Bombshell" Harrison. She earned her nickname as a a bomb defuser for the Global Defense Force. Tasked with defeating a cybernetic cult, Shelley turns from defusing bombs to setting them off.

Same old song and dance

Ah yes, keys!
Ah yes, keys!

Ion Fury expands on the formula that made the classic 3D Realms games great, but it does lean on some very old systems and level design procedures. The game is overflowing with secret areas that can be found by crawling through an air duct, searching for a stinking key, or even pushing one of the many buttons in the game.

It is here where Ion Fury will not land for some players. Old school FPS gamers will understand that sometimes you need to double back to find a key or look around for a button to progress in a level, but I fear that players new to the Build Engine may be frustrated by these gameplay mechanics.

Too many times during my playthrough of Ion Fury I found myself stuck trying to find a key or my way out of part of a given level. It is frustrating and can mess with the otherwise fun and fast pace experience that comprises most of the game.

I had hoped that 3D Realms would have figured out some new ways to progress through levels, much like Doom 2016 did with the gore nest and demon infestation mechanic. Instead, Ion Fury falls back on the same old Build Engine techniques. These moments in the game were a bit easier to handle in Duke Nukem 3D as the levels weren't nearly as massive in scale, but Ion Fury's expansive level design sets players up for frustrating moments that are solved by simply pushing a button or finding a key by wandering through the level until you stumble upon it.

These old Build Engine tropes do not break the game, but they will certainly provide a barrier to entry for younger players who may not have played Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, or Blood. After a bit of playing through the game, players will start to become conditioned to look for secrets, keys, and buttons, but there will definitely be a learning curve for newbies.

"Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto."

Some of the cheesy lines in Ion Fury are even cheesier than Duke's one-liners.
Some of the cheesy lines in Ion Fury are even cheesier than Duke's one-liners.

Ion Fury takes the Duke Nukem 3D formula and expands it in ways that are only possible in 2019. The resulting game is the biggest Build Engine game with the baddest explosions. The game does try extra hard to convince players that Shelley is a great protagonist with a ton of one-liners. Some of them are kind of lame and don't exactly land like our buddy Duke's classic lines, but the game does a good job of tipping its cap to the King.

One example is an ATM that says "shake it baby" when you press the use key. There are a lot of attempts to remind players that this game comes from the same lineage of Duke Nukem 3D, but it is incredibly hard to catch the lightning in a bottle in the exact same way the studio was able to in 1996. This is especially true of the enemies in the game. While there are a diverse amount of enemies with different AI and weapons, none of them are as fun to kill as the piggy cops in Duke3D.exe. There are some pretty rad boss battles like one inspired by Robocop's ED-209.

There are not a lot of flaws in Ion Fury, but it is hard to not compare the game to its Build Engine predecessors. The game definitely succeeds in carrying the torch from the Duke series, and little details like ultrawide monitor support and a jazzy soundtrack will go a long way to winning players over.


This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Ion Fury is available on Steam now, for $24.99. The game has been rated M by the ESRB.

CEO

Asif Khan is the CEO and majority shareholder of Shacknews. He began his career in video game journalism as a freelancer in 2001 for Tendobox.com. Asif is a CPA and was formerly an investment adviser representative. After much success in his own personal investments, he retired from his day job in financial services and is currently focused on new private investments. His favorite PC game of all time is Duke Nukem 3D, and he is an unapologetic fan of most things Nintendo. Asif first frequented the Shack when it was sCary's Shugashack to find all things Quake. When he is not immersed in investments or gaming he is a purveyor of fine electronic music. Asif also has an irrational love of Cleveland sports.

Review for
Ion Fury
8
Pros
  • Impressive textures and graphics
  • Fun with guns
  • Jazzy soundtrack
  • Massive level design
  • New and cool female protagonist
  • Destructible environments
  • Ultrawide monitor support
  • ED-209 boss battle
Cons
  • Some Build Engine gameplay mechanics feel dated
  • Enemies are not as dynamic as Duke Nukem 3D
  • Voice acting is pretty cheesy at times
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 15, 2019 5:00 PM

    Asif Khan posted a new article, Ion Fury review: Nuking 'em like Duke

    • reply
      August 15, 2019 6:20 PM

      Good review!

    • reply
      August 15, 2019 6:23 PM

      Shacknews 2019 GOTY

    • reply
      August 15, 2019 6:58 PM

      lol. Looks like Iron Maiden won the court case :)

    • reply
      August 15, 2019 8:09 PM

      I love the drive to return to an old school engine. 3DRealms isn’t the first to do it, but it’s always a good indication the developers will be focusing on the gameplay rather than just the tech. The end product usually benefits from that focus.

      • reply
        August 15, 2019 8:15 PM

        Definitely not the first to older design principles, but doing it better than anyone else. Dusk was a fun, if slightly generic, return to what shooters did in the 1990s, though it was hampered by vomit-inducing programmer art. Ion is just so ambitious and pulls the whole experience off with aplomb. It helps that I don't think anyone else has shipped a game on older tech in this specific way in a long time. Wrath's up next with the OG Quake engine-supported TrenchBroom

        • reply
          August 15, 2019 8:33 PM

          I wonder if Ken Silverman gets a cut here. Perhaps Build is open source now?

      • reply
        August 15, 2019 9:21 PM

        They also have a Quake 1 project in progress:

        https://3drealms.com/catalog/wrath-aeon-ruin_57/

        • reply
          August 15, 2019 10:07 PM

          I'm signing up for this one too.

        • reply
          August 16, 2019 12:41 AM

          Oh my! That looks amazing.

        • reply
          August 16, 2019 8:21 AM

          "Capped at 666 fps, WRATH will melt your soul and your Voodoo 2... But it's okay. Software Rendering is supported!"

          LOL

    • reply
      August 16, 2019 7:11 AM

      I must wait patiently to enjoy this on the switch (or maybe OSX...some day). But me timbers are shivered, I’m so stoked! We get Doom Eternal (it’s gonna 0wn) and this in 2019 oooooooo god DAMN we are in for some tasty FPS treats baybeeeeeeeeee!

    • reply
      August 16, 2019 7:48 AM

      i'm curious; there was talk of a "bombshell" game way back in the 1990s / early 2000s. a duke 3d spinoff with a female lead.

      i wonder if this started as some pre-alpha / rough content for that game and was found/resurrected over the last couple of years?

      the one-liners and engine choice seem like this is an evolution of that early concept.

      • reply
        August 16, 2019 8:00 AM

        Interesting theory! AFAIK "Bombshell" was supposed to be a side-kick in the late '90s version of Duke Nukem Forever, but when they were already using the Quake II (and then) Unreal engine.

        The only mention of her I've seen in a game is from the Unreal engine-based 1998 trailer. Don't think they found / used / resurrected any Build-engine-era assets for this new game, but definitely inspired by all of it! Would love to hear feedback from the actual game devs.

        Would still love to play that DNF from 1998, even in its broken state.

      • reply
        August 16, 2019 8:00 AM

        It's the same character, yes.

      • reply
        August 16, 2019 9:16 AM

        They released a game called bombshell with the same character. It was a top down shooter and it sucked.

    • reply
      August 16, 2019 9:14 AM

      The game is good and all but it's not great, it lacks many aspects, it feels really generic where enemies are generic, weapons are boring and generic and the character is generic and boring as well.

      Yes it is nice to see something from 3drealms but they should have learned more from competitors such as Brutal Doom.

    • reply
      August 16, 2019 9:17 AM

      They should release their first iteration of Duke Nukem Forever.

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