Sunday, 4 March 2018

First Impression: Ion Maiden (Preview Campaign)

GAME: Ion Maiden
DEVELOPER: Voidpoint
Year: 2018

What's up, kids. Today I'm taking a look at Ion Maiden, a new oldschool FPS by Voidpoint, and published by 3D Realms. I wanna stress though that this is less of a review and more of a first impressions deal, and the game is in Early Access at the moment so it is subject to change in the future and might not necessarily reflect the final product and shit. Specifically what I'm looking at is the Preview Campaign that is available to early backers and owners of the Bombshell Digital Deluxe edition.

So a couple of years ago, specifically 2016, 3D Realms released a little top down shooter called Bombshell, developed by Interceptor (a game I've been planning to review since 2016, so a review is coming, although delayed lol). Much like the team's previous effort, the 2013 remake of Rise Of The Triad, it received criticism for being generally buggy, unbalanced and lacking polish, though has received more support since its release, but is generally considered an average game. The game's main character, Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison was based on a character cut from Duke Nukem Forever that was intended to be a female sidekick to Duke. The plan was for Bombshell to earn her name together with greats such as Duke Nukem, Caleb and Lo Wang. And it seems that Ion Maiden has come along to do just that.

Ion Maiden is technically a prequel to Bombshell, set in a futuristic cyberpunk-esque city called Neo DC. The setting heavily reminds me of Shrapnel City from Duke Nukem 1 and already I'm in love with the game. The level design and graphics ooze mid-90's charm and the level of detail is insane given it's using such an old engine. I especially love the colour palette of the game, which seems to focus on a mix of red and blue (possibly to symbolically reflect the heroine's police background). It's definitely on par if not surpassing the detail seen in Blood. The game also pulls some rather impressive scripted sequences that wouldn't look out of place in a Call of Duty game (albeit with the graphics of a mid-90's game engine), giving the game a very high explosive "Michael Bay" feel that I absolutely love.

The streets of Neo D.C.
Scope is really the key word of Ion Maiden. Instead of going for a linear "level to level" approach, the game is structured into multiple zones (with the preview campaign having only one zone) which could be considered the equivalent of an episode, except in this case you can go back and forth between the levels as you see fit, similar to games like Quake 2 and Half-Life. The game will warn you when you're about to enter a part of the zone that closes off the rest behind you though by warning you that there are still secrets left to find in the area if you haven't found all of them, a useful tip for OCD players like myself who want to find every secret before moving on and very much appreciated. This makes each zone feel like one big hub of levels, and given the size of some levels (especially level 2 of the preview campaign is an enormous level with impressively large buildings), it's safe to say the game's scope will be pretty big.

The game's weapon selection consists of what you'd expect. A melee weapon (Shelly's electric baton), a revolver (the Loverboy), a shotgun (the Disperser) and an automatic SMG (the SMG-9000) in addition to Shelly's signature bowling bombs (essentially heat-seeking grenades). All of the weapons feel really satisfying to fire, and i don't really have any complaints about them. The sound effects are really good as well and give that "oomph" feeling that I love about oldschool shooters.

Easter eggs and references galore
The game definitely does a great job at feeling like a lost game from 1995 that's been polished up. Shelly's character portrait constantly sits in the lower left corner, looking left and right while also becoming increasingly bloody and damaged as you receive damage, similar to games like Doom and Quake, a small detail that further emphasizes the game's mid-90's tone. Her one-liners are cool and ooze confidence and charisma and I'm happy to see Shelly's voice actress from Bombshell return here and given she doesn't really have to do any dramatic acting, she does a great job just spouting one-liners, which I think fits the character more than the amount of dialogue she was given in Bombshell.

Control-wise the game controls well, although some people have reported issues with the mouse aiming (a common issue with build engine games). If you have played other build engine games, you'll feel right at home in this game although interestingly the game does not have any inventory system like other Build games. You have an inventory for medkits but pretty much nothing else, which makes me wonder if there will be one in the full version.

The soundtrack is done entirely as mod music, which explains the game's low file size, but is generally really well done, sounding somewhat industrial and techno'y and perfectly fits the game's aesthetic.

Now to the negatives... the game is really unoptimized. Severely unoptimized even. Running in OpenGL mode, even with some of the performance tweaks the devs have listed on the Steam forums I ran into severe hitching/stuttering and the framerate going into slideshow territory repeatedly during gameplay, especially during heavily scripted sequences or just looking around certain parts of the levels (particurarily level 2). Running the game with the Classic renderer fixed most of these issues but the game still runs somewhat badly. I would attribute this to the fact the preview campaign is essentially a beta though and hope they will make it more stable in the full version. I also experienced the game crashing repeatedly on level 2 after playing for a while, though the devs are working on a fix for it.

So that was my thoughts on Ion Maiden. It's definitely an excellent game so far and is shaping up to stand up with other Build engine classics. My only concern really is the lack of optimization and the stuttering problem, but other than that, this is definitely a game to look forward to.

If you feel like supporting the development of this game or simply trying out the preview campaign for yourself, you can find the game on Steam:

Cheers~ <3

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