I consider Ion Fury to be the best game made on the Build Engine. Between its excellent gameplay, kickass roster of weapons, and terrific level design, the game is easily one of my favourite boomer shooters full stop. Naturally, I’ve been watching the Aftershock expansion with constant interest. There have been some serious delays and I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever see it, only for it to get a surprise release date announcement right before it dropped. I was mostly expecting more of the same, but the game’s developer, Voidpoint, has gone above and beyond, delivering hours of additional content that not only match the quality of the main game, but build upon it.
Aftershock gets into gear a while after Ion Fury ends. Series baddie, Heskel has avoided prosecution and is back flexing his evil muscles. Shelly sets out after him, only for her superiors to tell her to knock it off. What follows is 15 levels (well, more like 13, but more on that later) of secret-hunting and eating random voxel fast food off of counters and tables. Everything I loved about Ion Fury is still clear and present here, plus there are new enemies, a bunch of new enemy variants, a fresh weapon, and more to see while playing. This isn’t a small expansion either, as it’s probably just a little under half as long as the original campaign. If you’re the thorough sort that likes to carefully explore levels and track down their secrets, this can easily takes a good amount of hours.
Simply put, a lot of the levels here absolutely floored me. Voidpoint’s level design has only gotten better. The first mission kicks off with Shelly fighting through a bar, but she soon finds herself on a construction site. The first zone ends with a trek through a huge shopping mall, which ranks among my favourite levels in any FPS in existence. There are so many clever jokes (the gun store, especially) and unique, memorable features to see here. At one point I was blowing up killer robots while running through a grocery store. However, Aftershock really kicks into high gear at the end of the zone when Shelly successfully steals a hoverbike.
Watch me fly
Once you grab the hoverbike, you’re tasked with escaping the mall the way you came in, only you’re going much faster and using more firepower. The hoverbike fires either homing shots or a stronger barrage of blasts that you’ll use to take down hordes of enemies that are now much less threatening with your new toy. The second zone, while still technically made up of a few levels, is a four-minute race on the bike, complete with ridiculous jumps and a lot of carnage. But, Aftershock truly shows its mettle in zone three, paying clear homage to Half Life 2 and tasking you with taking the bike through its two main levels, getting off of it to clear the way forward. This zone ends with a third-person battle against a flying ship that the bike can fight toe-to-toe with. The whole thing is just mind-blowing.
The sense of scale these levels have is just incredible. They’re huge but still ridiculously detailed. The hoverbike changes the experience up so much, while still feeling completely natural. It’s beyond impressive that Voidpoint can give levels made in this nearly 30-year-old engine more scale and wow factor than many contemporary devs can with modern tech. What the team has done with the engine is simply jaw-dropping. Of course, not all the levels are up to this calibre. The fourth zone starts with a level in a cemetery that ends up forcing you into dark caverns. This is all while manipulating color-coded levers to open the way forward in a section that I really didn’t like. Getting surprised by enemies in the dark that can see you when you can’t see them isn’t fun.
This won’t be a huge surprise, I suppose, as Build Engines games have always been famous for having enemies shoot at you the second you enter a doorway, or surprising you with enemies you couldn’t have known were nearby. Just like with the main game, I detest opening a door only to be immediately melted by a grenade. Save states are still around to mitigate all this, which is part of the boomer shooter experience most of the time. Regardless of all of this, Ion Fury: Aftershock is packed with amazing moments in phenomenal levels that do a great job of showing that this subgenre still has life in it yet. I had a truly great time playing this expansion and I can’t wait to see what Voidpoint does next.
Ion Fury: Aftershock: Ion Fury: Aftershock is an incredible expansion that shows that the sky's the limit in terms of what developer Voidpoint can accomplish with the Build Engine. – Andrew Farrell
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