In search of 90’s shooters
Do you remember the nineties? You know, big CRT screens, laptops of 10 kg and lots of floppy drives? Magnetic things that regularly fail to read data? How about a bit later, Windows 95? That era produced so many good (and extremely gory) PC shooters that I don’t even know where to start if I wanted to list them. I did try to list them in this quick look at retro shooters and their engines.
Every single game was a big step forward and had me completely hooked during my childhood. Since Jefklak’s Codex is a retro codex, and since retro gaming is becoming more and more popular, I thought, “hey, why not cover the resurgence of nineties shooters?”
For each of the above generations, there have been lots of recent re-imagines and re-releases - but some are quick moneygrabs, so naturally I was a bit hesitant. For Wolf3D, there’s Project Warlock, for Quake and Redneck Rampage, there’s DUSK, and for Duke lovers, there’s Ion Fury, also published by 3D Realms.
“Talk shit? Get shot.”
Besides the returning lovingly cheesy one-liners ("Some assembly required!", “HOLY SHIT” when dismembering heads, “Talk shit? Get shot.”, …), there are plenty of (hidden) references to the older Duke3D game. Even within the first five minutes of playing, you come across a bar. Remember Duke’s rooftop explosion? Check. Bar in the cinema? Check. Pinball machines? Check. I love this kind of stuff.
It gets more subtle: cameras with the main antagonist talking shit (see above screenshot) are a throwback to Duke Nukum I, the original DOS game. I got through the trouble of replaying the first few levels (via The Internet Arhive MS-DOS games, play here) just to prove my point:
But wait, I saved the best one for last. Listen carefully to this logo sequence, shown when booting the game:
Did you hear that retro squeak when the 3D Realms logo was displayed? I after a bit of digging - both in my memory and on the internet - I came up with this:
The original splash screen of Apogee, appearing in Crystal Caves, a great DOS game from 1991. 3D Realms still keeps their legacy game website online with Crystal Caves still in it! What a fantastic start.
Clever level design and excellent music
As soon as you finish one of the first episodes of Ion Fury, you will start to appreciate the effort Voidpoint put into the game to make it really click. Especially the level design is great, with clever use of verticality, even more than what I remember form Duke3D. It’s easier to navigate, and it’s huge. There are still three key cards involved, but sections of levels are color-coded in case you get lost (I do often). The mini-map is useless though.
Sound effects and music design are top notch too, perfectly contributing to the murky atmosphere of this steampunk shooter. Streets are filled with litter (you can destroy with your baton to scrape together a few healthpoints), more than 20 secrets are scattered across each level (I only manage to find at most five), and it’s full of graffiti with winks and references.
The only downside are the obligatory boss battles. I hate these in shooters like this - why do they have to be present? Duke’s shootout in the football arena wasn’t particularly great either: simply circle-strafe, empty your bazookas and hope not to get hit in the process. The “Warmech”, the first real boss I encountered, was a pain in the ass. I’m not great on the aiming part, even with gyro controls enabled. After seven attempts, I learned quickly unloading my crossbow bolts into his back did the trick.
Remember the 1997 game called Blood, also running on the Build engine? Ion Fury’s hooded enemies remind me of those enemies. They also decapitate as easily. One of the new perks of the engine: headshots. Oh, and enemies are still moving 2D sprites that rotate depending on the camera of the player. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Here’s a quick video of the alternative firing mode of the pistol. It auto-kills enemies at range (a skull appears above their heads). That does mean that I whip it out more often than I let Duke use his stupid pistol once I got my hands on the shotgun. Another clever design option. Ion Fury’s magnificent and extremely satisfying shotgun can also shoot grenade shells.
Yes, I decapitated the poor guy, and yes, I started kicking his head around. A Blood reference, indeed. The video also gives a sneak preview of the awesome retro-vibe-feeling soundtrack. I’m starting to like this game even more than the original… Go figure.
So… Is this “one doomed space marine”?
In all honesty? The complete opposite. I’m very happy to have stumbled upon the game and I’m looking forward to replaying it. I don’t miss Duke Nukem, but I do want to use my keyboard and mouse instead of a Nintendo Pro controller. And maybe then I can ease things by typing in DNSTUFF and DNGOD.
Hail to the king, baby!
Addendum, 11/06/2020: Just to prove that I finished the game:
The last boss sucks even harder than other bosses. And yes, I played on the lowest difficulty setting, because my aiming also sucks. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun with Ion Fury. Definitely recommended! Lots of secrets yet to discover…