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Phantom Fury is a Soft Reboot That Channels Early 2000s Shooters

Phantom Fury is a Soft Reboot That Channels Early 2000s Shooters - Preview

by Evan Norris , posted on 27 March 2024 / 2,236 Views

Eric Lesperance was a busy man this past weekend at PAX East. As the Social Media Manager for 3D Realms, he was responsible for staffing the booth for the upcoming FPS Phantom Fury, managing a long line of convention-goers eager to see what the game is all about, and coaching them through the extensive demo. Still, he was all smiles. "Lots of positivity," he said. "People are really into it."

It's easy to see why. As the sequel to Ion Fury, a retro-inspired FPS designed in the Build Engine and influenced by 90s action games like Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, and Blood, Phantom Fury carries with it a certain amount of blood-splattered credibility among shooter aficionados. Yet that's only half the story. Part sequel, part soft reboot, the game aims to move out of the 90s and into the early 2000s, thus tapping into the mechanics of the subsequent generation and potentially ensnaring a new group of fans with no allegiance to the first title. "We're basically setting it up so new players can jump in and they're not going to miss a whole lot," said Lesperance.

If Ion Fury was a tribute to Duke Nukem 3D, then Phantom Fury is — at least based on the demo — sort of like a mélange of Half-Life 2 and Duke Nukem Forever, or, more accurately, what Duke Nukem Forever would have been like had it launched in 2001. That means lots of blood, gore, level interactivity, and Easter eggs, but also slower-paced, methodical gameplay. In the tavern/mines level, for example, you can pulverize zombies with a shotgun, but also stop to play an arcade game or slow down to scout the environment for clues and keys. The results are, unsurprisingly, a touch inharmonious. At times the game wants to be a fast-moving FPS like Painkiller, mowing down dozens of shuffling monsters at once; at other times, it wants to be something more cerebral.

When asked if this new approach would endear the game to fans of the first title, Lesperance responded in the positive. "There are definitely going to be some people that prefer that 90s-style shooter, right? But the dev team approached the making of this like an evolution of [Ion Fury]. We wanted the shooting to feel like that game, but then add to it the other elements. We wanted way more interactivity, way more puzzles. There are still elements for fans of Ion Fury to enjoy. It's just that we're expanding upon it for this game."

As for the shooting and gunplay, it's fairly good. There's a certain heftiness and punchiness to the weapons, which feels nice. The shotgun in particular has that throaty roar you're looking for. Best of all, each weapon has a secondary function. If you use the left mouse button with bowling bombs, for example, they'll explode on impact. Use the right mouse button, though, and you'll activate a timed grenade. The best secondary fire might just belong to Shelly's signature sidearm, Loverboy. You can lock on to multiple targets and then unload several simultaneous head shots. It's something to see. 

As for level designs and enemy AI, the jury is still out. Some areas, like the opening bar area, are packed with things to do and see, while others, like the mines, are made up mostly of generic rooms and corridors. Sometimes enemies will surprise and flank you, as they do in the desert section, but other times they'll stick slavishly to a certain pre-programmed script, putting themselves in danger. Now, to be fair, I saw only a thin slice of the game, which has over 16 levels and should last, according to Lesperance, between 10 and 15 hours, depending on how much exploring you do.

I can comment with confidence on one thing, however: the graphics. The game benefits from thick 3D assets, chunky models, and an angular, plated aesthetic that instantly recalls classics like Unreal Tournament and Quake II. It looks terrific, both in still shots and in action. There are some pixelated textures and uncanny faces, sure, but they only add to the nostalgic vibe.

Phantom Fury arrives on PC on April 23, with console versions due at a later date. You can wishlist the game on Steam now.

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curl-6 (on 27 March 2024)

Looking forward to this one; looks like a fun mix of retro nostalgia and modern QoL. I like how these kinds of games eschew a lot of the fluff of the modern AAA sphere for good ol' back-to-basics entertainment

  • +4
Leynos (on 28 March 2024)

I love Doomer Shooters but Ion Fury sucked.

  • 0
G2ThaUNiT Leynos (on 28 March 2024)

Tbf, Phantom Fury is being developed by a different studio than Ion Fury. So I'm cautiously optimistic.

  • +6