The Build Engine was one of the most influential of the mid-to-late 90s. Games like Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, and Blood were built on its foundations, but as quickly as it rode to prominence, it fell into disuse as more advanced engines emerged.
Gone, but clearly not forgotten, as developer Voidpoint has dusted off this legacy engine and created a new first person shooter that calls back to those halycon days.That game is Ion Fury.
The action kicks off as Neo DC is invaded by Dr Heskel and his army of cybernetics, rudely interrupting the evening plans of our heroine, Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison. Naturally, she just grabs her gun and starts blasting.
The first enemy type you encounter is a brown robed robot that wields a machine gun, the grunts of Heskel’s forces. They’re soon joined by the red robed robot and its ion bow, a shotgun wielding robot, and and spider-like bots that can quickly get in close and prove a nuisance to kill due to their small size. The first act keeps things fairly simple, but more varied and tougher enemies emerge the further you get into Ion Fury.
If you are expecting an easy ride you are in for a rude awakening. Ion Fury is a tough game even on regular difficulty and you will die often, but your weapons make up for it. The starting pistol alone is a great weapon, especially with an alternate fire mode that tags and targets enemies – this makes it especially useful against the spiders and flying enemies. Then there’s a classic shotgun, machine pistols that have incediary ammo, the ion bow that can electrify and take down enemies from range, a minigun to deal with the bigger creatures, and more. They’re all useful in different situations, and each feels satisfying to use.
Even with that arsenal at your disposal, things can quickly go wrong. The graphics are not the only thing that is old school in Ion Fury, and you’ll have to hunt for health packs and armour pickups, as these don’t regenerate. It can lead to hairy situations, like triggering a boss fight with only 14 health remaining and no armour.
Enemies AI can be a mix of both sly and stupid, which in turn makes certain areas a bit easier to manage. On the other hand, tougher enemies are often placed in areas where they can be harder to spot until you get hit, including high up ledges and directly around corners. This does lead to some deaths but the placements do not change so you eventually learn where they’re hiding and get to the them first. There were a few occasions where enemies either ran to cover and got stuck, or literally merged with a wall, making them even easier to pick off.
Ion Fury isn’t purely run and gun shooting, though that is a big chunk of it. Each area is like a maze with environmental puzzles to solve to open doors and keycards to collect to unlock areas. When the levels are full of enemies it can be chaotic and fun while looking for the keys, but they don’t respawn, making it a dull slog when backtracking to look for a doorway or entry you might have missed.
While Ion Fury does highlight areas through flashing lights, there were still moments or aimlessly wandering trying to figure out where in the level had been missed, and going back to check. This kind of downtime hurts the overall atmosphere of the game, shifting it from challenging to frustrating. It also doesn’t help that the low resolution door textures are so similar, making it easy to confuse a locked door for one that can be accessed.
Boss fights can be a hit and miss affair too. For example, the first major boss seems completely erratic and tough to take out because of how unpredictable it is, and that is not helped by having to face a wave of enemies just beforehand. Then there’s another boss whose patterns are easy to spot so it becomes a game of finding cover, shooting a weak point, collecting ammo, taking out small enemy wave, repeat.
This fight also featured a game breaking bug, where if you dived into the swimming pool while avoiding incoming fire, Ion Fury would crash back to the PS4 dashboard. Avoiding the pool to prevent the crash takes off a part of the level that could be useful.