FBT chokes back tears as he gets to play on the Build engine again in Ion Fury
*originally reviewed when Ion Fury was Ion Maiden, before Iron Maiden showed they have no sense of humour*
Shelly ‘Bombshell’ Harrison has the kind of convoluted history only 3DRealms could come up with. Conceived in the mid-nineties alongside Duke and Lo-Wang, Bombshell was an ultra-sexualised Barb Wire meets Tank Girl shooter hero - without a shooter.
Shelved while 3DR fannied about with Prey and Duke Nukem, Bombshell was eventually downgraded to sidekick status and bunged into an early version of Duke Nukem Forever. Although it’s good Bombshell was spared the DNF debacle, a female sidekick kicking Duke into the next century might have been just what that game needed. Homeless again, Bombshell went through various school-boy fantasy iterations before losing the Jenna Jameson look and becoming a more typical ‘sexy but fatal’ type. And then was benched again.
Meanwhile, as Gearbox polished the DNF turd, Interceptor Entertainment were busy on Duke Nukem 3D Reloaded. When Gearbox shut it down (allegedly out of fear it would eclipse DNF), Interceptor refused to learn a lesson and along with 3DR, began work on another DN title, Mass Destruction. When Gearbox killed that too, Interceptor and 3DR weren’t about to sack off the work yet again, and set about reskinning it. All they needed was a kick-ass, takes no shit hero. It might have been a hand-me-down, but Bombshell had her game.
And it was awful. Bombshell herself was great; now an ex-bomb disposal expert with a robotic arm and a DGAF ‘tude, but the game was beneath her; it was mauled by critics and avoided by gamers. But Bombshell wasn’t going down without a fight.
As part of Bombshell’s marketing campaign, 3DR created a mini prequel game, Ion Maiden – in the Build engine for old-times’ retro-savvy sake. The response was ballistic. Suddenly 3DR had something. A cool kickass female lead in a Doom-clone from 3DR (and indie devs Voidpoint) on the Build engine? I am home. Please be good please be good please be good.
Set in ‘Neo D.C.’ in a near future, Bombshell works for the Global Defence Force who send her to investi - oh hell it doesn’t matter this is Doom-era! Some mad scientist-type has invaded the city using nasties he’s cooked up (ranging from various bad guys to bad guy's heads on spider-legs…) for reasons explained in a text backstory we won’t read.
Ion Storm, sorry, Ion Maiden, is … pixelated beauty. It’s not simply because it’s on the Build engine. That doesn’t make it automatically cool; just try Extreme Paintbrawl. Not every game from that era stood the test of time, even Duke and Lo-Wang are fairly cringe now, and it’s not like this is the first time I’ve seen Build in 20 years. So what makes IM so special?
Playing something genuinely old school instead of pseudo-retro like Hard Reset, suddenly everything that’s wrong with modern shooters is exposed. This is how shooters are supposed to go. Mad, frantic, confusing, so much fun; kicking dismembered heads, 2D Sprites, keys to progress, baddies hiding in random secrets and slightly messy level design. We’re running through offices or streets, using vents, tapping everything for secrets, finding weapons in odd locations. No level-ups, add-ons, moral choices, there’s no over-complication to it – realism doesn’t matter. It’s just here to show me a good time.
But it’s not just a throwback, it’s a reminder of why the Doom era is the Golden era; modern games can do pretty much anything, and devs nowadays do stuff just because they can, but this is retro in reverse; the id and Build engines might have been bleeding edge at the time but they were still restrictive. Those devs found creative ways to get around the engine’s limits, imaginative ways to get across what they wanted to achieve – and you too had to use imagination to fill in the gaps; that’s what made the Doom era so good – a meeting of imaginations. You don’t get that with modern games; they may look photo-realistic but you don’t make a connection, that feeling that us and the devs are on the same page. It’s a game that’s been freed by its limitations rather than freed of it’s limitations only to become a samey shooter.
Hang on. What does any of that mean?! Did I really start the review by describing Ion Maiden as ‘pixelated beauty’? Do I really believe this game, built on a 20-year-old engine and memories is really all that? Yes. I’m having more fun in Bombshell’s levels than I have the last four or five modern shooter releases and that’s all that matters. I did just pay top-dollar for what is in essence a 20-year-old game. But it’s the essence that I enjoyed so much; it’s our era. Ion Maiden isn’t a nod to the Doom era, it’s from the Doom era; a game you missed the first time around.
I am so pleased they dropped Bombshell from DNF and eventually unleashed her to show the big boys how it’s done. Duke Nukem should be her sidekick.
2018 | Developer Voidpoint | Publisher 3D Realms