Ion Fury is a Good Build Engine Game with a Lackluster Console Port
Run to the hills!
Throughout my 28 years on this planet, I have played a whole bunch of first-person shooters. Ranging from the original Wolfenstein to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), I have seen the evolution of this genre before my very eyes, and it’s among my favorites next to fighting and racing games. Lately, there has been a trend of smaller studios developing retro-inspired shooters, and Ion Fury seems to be the one that has been living in the limelight.
Originally launched in August 2019 for PC, Ion Fury (once named Ion Maiden) is developed by Voidpoint and published by 3D Realms. Notably, it is the first commercially released game in 20 years to use the Build Engine; the last was World War II GI in 1999. For those unaware, this is the engine known for bringing games like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior to life. So, for retro shooter fans, this is a pretty big deal.
Now, Ion Fury is available on home consoles. You can kick ass and chew bubblegum from the comfort of your own couch, on a television screen. But is this the optimal way to play? From my experience, absolutely not.
As mentioned, Ion Fury is a retro-styled first-person shooter similar to Doom or Duke Nukem 3D. It uses the Build engine, which arguably helped revolutionize the genre more than 20 years ago. But its the year 2020, and retro 3D games don’t usually age super well. However, Voidpoint and 3D Realms manage to use this old engine in a way that feels reminiscent of those old games, yet doesn’t feel antiquated.
If you’ve played a retro shooter, you’ll feel right at home with Ion Fury. You’re runnin’ and gunnin’ through the cyberpunk-inspired dystopian environments as Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison. The story is one-note, as your only task is to take out cybernetically-enhanced soldiers attacking Neo D.C. Like many retro shooters, the story is just a backdrop; it gives you a reason to why you are just shooting random enemies. It is really the gameplay that is drawing you in.
Ion Fury plays exactly as you’d expect, which is great. Retro shooters are known for tight controls and brilliant weapons; Shelly’s adventure is no exception. Every weapon I’ve used feels pretty good.
My personal litmus test revolves around the shotgun; if the shooter has a good shotgun, more often than not, I’ll love the game. Doom Eternal‘s super shotgun, Halo: Combat Evolved’s M-90, and Gears of War‘s gnasher are a big part of why I like those games. While I don’t think Ion Fury‘s shotgun is among the greats, it has a cool design and was fun to use making it a go-to weapon for me during my experience.
Another awesome addition to Shelly’s arsenal is the bowling bombs. As the name implies, these are bombs that you roll on the ground like a bowling ball; they will also can home-in on enemies. It is one of the more unique weapons from Ion Fury, but is still incredibly useful, especially when you are being overwhelmed by enemies.
“Ion Fury plays exactly as you’d expect, which is great.”
While Ion Fury does feel like an authentic Build engine game from the 90s, it does improve a lot of problems with its predecessors. Namely, its environments and visuals. Now, Doom (1993) is one of my favorite games of all time, but I would be lying if I said the environments were not confusing. That was never really the case in my time with Ion Fury. I always felt like I knew where I was and where I needed to navigate too. A lot of that is due to the art direction, with distinct environments that look pretty great despite the Build engine’s graphical capabilities.
Now, this all sounds great. However, what isn’t great is the console port.
Playing on Xbox One X, performance is not very good, which is pretty odd as it isn’t graphically intense. It is very much in line with what you would see from a first-person shooter in the 90s. So, it’s jarring when Ion Fury is constantly stuttering. There are moments, especially when there is a lot of action on-screen, where it stutters significantly. It doesn’t make it unplayable, but it is definitely noticeable and can be distracting.
Where most of my frustration comes from is controls. A lot of my previously stated impressions are coming from PC. It really does play great and is how I expect a Build engine game to play in 2020. But using a controller is abysmal.
“However, with this console port, there was never a moment I was having fun.”
The reason why something like Doom (1993) works well on a console is how bullets automatically hit enemies if they are anywhere in front of your gun. You don’t have to worry about aiming too much as you’re zooming through each stage. In Ion Fury, I would have to stop, shoot, then run for cover in almost every combat situation as if I’m playing Valorant. Even with a shotgun, which should be a weapon you could point in the direction of the enemy and get a hit, I was having difficulty with even the simplest encounter.
Trying these same encounters with a mouse and keyboard, it felt infinitely better. I’m not here to spark a PC vs. console argument. I’ve played on consoles for most of my life and enjoyed first-person shooters playing with a gamepad. However, with this console port, there was never a moment I was having fun.
Ion Fury is a solid Build engine first-person shooter, but I recommend playing on PC. It just does not control well with a gamepad, really hampering the experience. The performance, even on a high-end console like the Xbox One X, is really not great. As much as I want this game to translate well for console players, it just doesn’t.