The Doom/Quake inspired retro-modern shooter certainly isn’t a new thing anymore, and with games like Dusk, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, Amid Evil and Project Warlock existing in the same sphere, there’s plenty of good competition. Ion Fury is bizarre in that it’s actually a prequel to the poorly reviewed top-down action game Bombshell, and why they decided to pair this title with that one and not create a new IP I’ve no idea. But regardless of its relations, the retro-shooter makeover was a good choice, and with some misgivings (some more related to the platform I am reviewing it on than anything else) Ion Fury does a decent job next to its peers.

The story sets off as a maniacal cult leader deploys his army of ‘cybernetically-enhanced’ solders into Neo D.C – a fictional dystopian city. You play as Shelly Harrison, a member of the Global Defence Force, and therefore tasked with taking on this leader and his forces. As you might expect, that’s essentially as far as the story delves when giving an explanation, though the context is clearer to see from actually playing – that you inhabit a run-down futuristic city, which somehow this cult leader has managed to overrun with little resistance, and you being the sole responding opposition must wade through the battle torn city to try and foil his plans.

The game is more comparable to Quake than it is to Doom, with its control scheme offering more freedom of movement – leading to an ability to quickly jump around and explore your environment – and having more of a linear path to the end of each level. Areas are of course open to exploration, and backtracking is necessary to unlock doors with keys (colour coded, I might add), but levels are less circular in their design concept and there’s always the feeling of pressing forward to a new area.

Cybernetically-enhanced foes litter the levels as you explore for keys and ways to press on to the next area. Each with their own weapon and degree of threat, there’s a decent variety to tackle and none of the enemies are to be taken lightly. As you bound around the levels you will find health, armour and ammo, and if you’re eagle eyed or lucky enough may reveal a secret to give you an extra edge – and in some instances you’ll really feel you need them.

Ion Fury is a challenging game, and dealing with a room or street full of enemies takes some thought as well as twitch-based skill. If you determine there’s a few shotgun enemies further on, you may feel the need to roll bombs around the corner to deal with them, as these foes are both accurate and do a tonne of damage. Your more standard enemies are less worrying, but still can catch you off guard and take a chunk of your health, and then you have Ion Bow wielding enemies which are deadly at longer ranges, little spider-like creatures which can swarm you and evade easily, using up a lot of your ammo if you’re not careful, and a host of others – including mechanical centipedes, flying drones, etc. The enemy variety encourages you to utilise most of the weapons in your inventory over a favoured one, and it’s easy to be thrown off by a mixed group even if you are decent at strafing. It’s interesting, as it makes the game feel more tactical, despite its inspirations, and you won’t be forgiven as easily for rushing around carelessly.

There’s a few weapons on offer in the game, and while not a huge variety they are each distinct and provide use in different circumstances. You have an electrified baton for close quarters, a revolver, a shotgun which doubles as a grenade launcher, a crossbow which fires energised bolts, small bombs that can be rolled or lobbed, cluster mines, a chain gun and machine pistol which can be dual wielded. The weapons pack a punch, and while the enemies may be deadly, with all your weapons, perhaps with the exception of the baton, you feel you can deal with any of them if you have the ammo for it. Enemies collapse and splat in a satisfying manner, and if you get a good hit with a bomb or grenade from your launcher you will also be rewarded with armour shards. Dashing about, circle strafing and switching weapons on the fly while blasting your enemies is punchy and exciting, and there’s regular switching between long and close range encounters to keep it interesting.

That latter point is a result not so much due to areas being very large, but that they are more open than you might expect. Areas aren’t just corridors or open rooms that you have to fight through, but structured segments of a city. So there’re streets, rooftops, shops and apartment blocks that you find yourself fighting through – often some of each in one area – and as such you are constantly switching your approach and weapons. This also gives the game plenty of opportunity to hide secrets. This will be very familiar to fans of the genre, and secrets can be found by destroying walls, diving into water, switching buttons and just bumping endlessly into walls and objects. I actually found these unusually difficult to discover, suggesting they’re better hidden than in most games like this, and often would finish a level with the game telling me I had 7 or 9 secrets left to discover. It’s not the end of the world, but completionists will certainly have plenty to go back for.

Having said that, when you come to fight the game’s various ‘end of level bosses’ then you might be wishing you had found a few of those secrets. The boss fights in Ion Fury are pretty cool, though there are only a handful, and an example of the first two you face off against are a Warmech and an airship. They have their set attacks that you must figure out and work around, all the while avoiding or killing the waves of normal enemies that drop in from time to time. The game, despite being of retro stylings, knows how to present its set pieces and there’s some cool lead-ups to these fights and also just throughout some of the levels in general. The ground shatters, buildings fall, and with the air ship you find yourself running through a building as it shoots through the windows before actually taking it on. I was pleasantly surprised to find these little set pieces throughout. The bosses are tough as nails as well, and I found myself having to reload numerously with each encounter, though of course once defeating them the pay-off in satisfaction being significant.

This was of course frustrating as well, but the frustration came from more than just the bosses and enemies being difficult, and I think if I were playing this on a PC (which the game is also available on) then this wouldn’t have been the case. Unfortunately, Ion Fury in this instance encounters the irreconcilable issue of just being on the wrong platform. Console shooters like this simply don’t work unless you have your Xbox One hooked up to a keyboard and mouse, which most people won’t, and while there are some efforts made to accommodate for this problem it ends up not being enough. Your shots will have some minimal auto-aim applied, meaning that firing just to the left or right of an enemy usually means it will hit anyway, and your revolver has a cool feature which allows you to lock on to an enemy – and this not just being a handicap, will consume more ammo automatically. However, I really think the whole game needed to be dialled down to avoid this issue.

Circle strafing, though a staple of games in this genre, is clunky and dizzying, and the controls being so woefully inaccurate with a controller means that the already fairly limited resources for your weapons/health/armour are used up quite quickly – spending a load of ammo trying to take out just one weak spider is very annoying. I suppose it’s an inevitable problem when porting a decidedly PC genre of game to a console, but there could have been more effort to make this enjoyable with a controller. Additionally, the game features frame rate issues to the point of noticeable lag and slowdown, and even crashed on two occasions during my time with it.

Thankfully the most egregious of these situation is with the boss fights, and so much of the game is still relatively enjoyable, though it is a constant stain on the overall experience. Ion Fury otherwise has a really cool world and, you could imagine on PC, has some excellent fast paced shooting to enjoy. The environments are well designed, though could have done with more interactivity, and surprisingly for one of this genre, the story is well paced as well.

It’s difficult to rate as a result of what I feel is an inherent problem which is quite difficult to avoid, but it shouldn’t be impossible and in this instance I don’t think its port was handled very well. If you could get this on PC then I would absolutely recommend it, but for Xbox One you’ll likely encounter a lot of frustration unless you’re already used to this style of game on console and/or are willing to play it just on its easiest setting.