Gamebox 2.0: Games of August 2019

Summer is winding down but there’s still plenty to play on your PC or console of choice.  This month, we got to check out the retro FPS Ion Fury, explored a haunted house in Silver Chains, commanded troops in Vietnam in Radio Commander and more. Check out everything we got to play this month below.

Ion Fury (Zach): After a name change forced by the hand of Iron Maiden, the former Ion Maiden, Ion Fury, came out this week on PC.  Developed by 3D Realms, the game is a prequel to 3D Realms’ isometric action game Bombshell where you play as Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison. Shelly takes on the forces of the evil Dr. Jadus Heskel (voiced by Duke Nukem himself, Jon St. John) and his army of cyber-cultists, who are trying to take over the world.  Shelly is armed with a huge arsenal of weapons, including her Loverboy revolver and Bowling Bombs, which she can charge and roll at groups of enemies to eviscerate them.  The game was made in the legendary Build engine, which also powered classics like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior, and it looks incredible. The levels are dripping with detail and Easter Eggs and are extremely fun to explore for secrets and power-ups.

The gameplay is also buttery smooth and should feel instantly familiar for fans who remember playing old school PC shooters. Players who have never played a game like this before will probably be surprised at how fast is.  In classic 90s shooter fashion, Shelly defaults to run and the run speed is absurd and you really have to learn how to run and gun to survive the levels. The music is also a highlight, evoking some of the best 90s shooter music, and there’s also plenty of fun one-liners from Shelly, who follows in the footsteps of her predecessor Duke by referencing movies and TV (and also music this time around, I heard a deep cut The Offspring reference at one point).  The storytelling and scripted moments are also done really well and surpass anything the classic Build engine games had done before.  If you’re a fan of old school shooters, or really just shooters in general, Ion Fury is a fun, frantic and fantastic throwback that looks as good as it plays.

(Chris): Bringing the excitement of classic 90s FPS action and a few modern tweaks, Ion Fury is everything an old school PC gamer has dreamed up. Intense combat, characters with quirky catchphrases, and tons of easter eggs to stumble on. It also helps that the game engine Ion Fury is built on is the same one used for 3D Realms titles like Duke Nukem 3D and Blood. The engine has gone through many updates over the last 23 years, but the core code can still impress.

Ion Fury lets you take on the role of Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a Global Defense Force bomb specialist. When Dr. Jadus Heskel begins to terrorize a city with his cyber-enhanced soldiers, Shelly arms herself with an arsenal of weapons and sets off to clean up the streets.  The gameplay is slick and punishing. There is no recharging health, special perks or skill trees to improve Shelly’s abilities. Each weapon can make the difference in tackling hordes of enemies, and picking the right time to reload or switch guns is crucial. Battles will be fought by moving around and dodging enemy fire, standing still in one place is a sure way to get a game over.

There is a satisfying feel to survive a gunfight with smart tactics. Health, armor, and ammo are scattered throughout the level that encourages players to explore and be cautious on every turn. Enemies are placed to ambush Shelly and combat can get overwhelming if you didn’t thin out the numbers. Levels are mixed with tight spacing or open environments that force different approaches. Weapons have alternate fire modes that can help control the flow of combat. The Loverboy revolver has a targeting system that tracks multiple enemies, the shotgun has a grenade attachment, machine guns that can be dual-wielded, and landmines that can be triggered in different ways.

While it doesn’t break new ground on FPS action, Ion Fury delivers an amazing nostalgic trip. The game design follows the similar traditions of 90s FPS titles, like fetching color keys to open doors and fighting to a room to flip a switch. It’s a staple of that style of game design and should be expected when playing this title. The old school mechanics and challenging difficulty is a rewarding experience for gamers looking to test their reflexes and patience. Ion Fury was released for PC August 15th. 

Zeus Begins (Zach): In recent years, especially in games like the God of War series, Zeus as mostly been an antagonist but you’ll get to step into the sandals of the God of Thunder in the new retro beat ’em up from The Dude Games, Zeus Begins.  The game follows young Zeus as he barely escapes being eaten by his Titan father, Cronus.  Zeus trains away from Olympus but is finally ready to take on his father and claim the throne for himself.  There are a number of mythological and Ancient Greek enemies standing in his way and Zeus battles with his way through with kicks and punches.  You can also collect power-ups to charge up his lightning powers and, like one of it’s inspirations Golden Axe, the more you let the meter build, the more powerful of an attack you can unleash.

The game has a fun retro 16-bit look that definitely seems like it’s taking a page from the Scott Pilgrim game that came out with the movie (which in turn was inspired by River City Ransom) and the music is also fantastic.  The main issue with Zeus Begins is that it’s a bit too simplistic.  There are only the two attack buttons and there doesn’t seem to be any combos or additional moves.  The lightning meter also can only build when a little goblin-like creature appears with a bag full of them.  It’s obviously an homage to Golden Axe but, in that classic, you could actually punch the dwarf to get power-ups.  Here you just have to wait for them to slowly drop out.  The game does try to change things up by having top down shooter levels as Zeus travels between islands in Greece but those are also fairly simplistic, as you can only fire lightning shots and the enemy patterns are not very challenging or interest.  If there was a little bit more to the combat, maybe some sort of upgrade system, it would be a no-brainer recommendation but the simplicity holds it back.  It’s still a solid and fun beat ’em up, but there’s definitely been better and more interesting entries in the genre recently.

Silver Chains (Zach): Silver Chains comes from Cracked Head Games and Headup and it’s an FPS horror game where you are trapped in an old mansion and have to solve puzzles and avoid the evil spirits within to escape.  You plays as Peter, who gets into a car crash around the turn of the century in England and wakes up in a creepy old mansion.  As Peter explores, he starts to get the sense that he’s actually been here before but his presence awakens the evil presence of Mother, a hideous spirit who will instantly kill you if you are caught in her grasp.  If you’ve played similar games like Layers of Fear or Outlast, you’ll know what the deal with Silver Chains is.  You make your way through creepy hallways and rooms, collect objects that can be used to solve puzzles and gather keys to unlock doors to move into another area of the house.

It doesn’t really do anything to different from those aforementioned games but it’s a very solid entry in the genre.  The graphics do a great job of establishing a creepy atmosphere and there’s plenty of creepy sounds and voices that, especially if you are wearing some good headphones, will keep you on edge.  This might just be me, but I ran into a few areas where I was kind of pacing back and forth because I missed some puzzle item that would let me move on but that can happen in a lot of puzzle based games and doesn’t take away from the game.  If you’re a fan of the horror/puzzle genre, Silver Chains is definitely worth checking out, as it’s a solid and creepy entry in the genre and should give you a spooky few hours of exploration.

Storm Chasers (Zach): If you ever wanted to get your Bill Paxton on (RIP) and chase twisters, Storm Chasers from Little Cloud Games may be the game for you, although it’s a little rough right now in Early Access on Steam.  As the title suggests, you are a storm chaser and your main goal is to get pictures of tornadoes as they form and cause destruction.  You want to be sure you get all of the storm in the picture as well as showcase debris and you also want to try and get as close as possible without getting killed.  You get a car that’s equipped with radar and other equipment, so your first goal is to track the twister and then jump out and document it when you find it.  If you’ve played any of the Simulator games, like Farming Simulator or Euro Truck Simulator, there’s kind of a similar vibe and feel here.

You can definitely tell the game is very early right now.  The menus and objective text don’t really feel finished and there’s really not a lot customization options yet for your car or character.  The most important part, the twisters, do look pretty great though and they seem to form and move in a fairly realistic fashion.  There’s multiplayer where you can enter levels with other chasers and try to beat them to the best photo spot but you have to beat the first four missions in the game before you can enter multiplayer.  The idea is very cool but it seems like it still needs a lot of work.  I would keep an eye on it on Steam if it seems like something you would be interested in and see how it progresses before jumping in

Battle Planet – Judgement Day (Preview) (Zach): Coming in September from Wild River Games, we got to check out a preview build of Battle Planet – Judgement DayBattle Planet is a top down, twin stick shooter that takes place on fully 3D spherical planets that you can fully walk around.  Think Super Mario Galaxy or Super Stardust HD.  The game is also a rogue-like, so you are doing runs and trying to survive for as long as you can.  If and when you die, you can use collected currency to get some permanent upgrades that will help you last longer in the next run.  The plot has you playing as a colorful and dangerous convict, who escapes from the authorties and is trying to outrun the law.  It appears like there will be at least three different characters to play as but only one was available in the preview.

You move around with the left stick and aim with the right, using the right bumper to shoot.  There are other weapons to pick up that last for a limited time and you also have a special ability that you can trigger but then will need to wait for it cool off.  There’s also a jetpack that will let you zip around the planet and get out of jams.  The missions range from taking out a certain amount of enemies to defusing bombs and eventually you’ll take on a boss.  If this is just the preview build, it already feels extremely fun and polished and seems like a great new entry in the top down shooter genre.  The full game is out in September on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

The Forbidden Arts (Zach): The Forbidden Arts is a new side scrolling action platformer from Stingbot Games that is out now on PC, Xbox One and Switch and later this year on PS4.  You play as Phoenix, a young adventurer who discovers he has the ancient power of pyromancy and sets out on a quest to master his powers.  Along with his regular combat skills with knives, Phoenix can launch fireballs, but the fireballs drain his energy and he has to recharge by draining any nearby sources of fire, like campfires.  The game is mostly a 2D side scroller but there is also a fully 3D overworld that Phoenix can explore and is used to travel to each new 2D section.

I’m not sure what it is but I found The Forbidden Arts kind of bland and uninteresting.  The combat and platforming didn’t really feel that great, there’s a really annoying section extremely early on where you have to climb vines and avoid spikes that pop out of the wall that was not fun to try and get through and combat feels pretty simplistic.  The graphical style also didn’t really wow me either and the music is pretty generic as well.  There’s been so many great 2D platformers in the last few years and the bar has been raised, for me, and The Forbidden Arts really doesn’t meet that mark.  Check out the trailer and see if it might be something you would be interested in but it’s not one I would personally recommend.

Radio Commander (Preview) (Zach): Coming from Serious Sim, Radio Commander is a completely unique and interesting take on the RTS genre.  You plays as a commander in Vietnam and have to coordinate missions but the catch is that you are back at the base and you are communicating with your troops via radio.  You never see what your troops are doing, you only hear them and will have to base your decisions on you gut and your map, which is the only visual aid of the battlefield you have.  You issue orders to your troops and then wait for them to play out and radio in updates.  There’s some narrative beats in between your troops getting into position or moving that lets you get to know the men under your command better by letting you pick dialogue choices.  There were five missions in the preview build and there will be nine in the full game and they can all be tackled in numerous different ways.

The game is extremely unique and really puts you in the shoes of a commander as you try to figure out the best moves for your units and try to coordinate them and the way you use the radio adds to the immersion, as you hold the space bar to bring up the dialogue options and then you let go when you have everything picked, so it’s like you are clicking the radio button on and off.  It can also get frantic as your troops get into combat and you have to get status updates and also possibly coordinate a medevac if there are wounded troops.  If you’re looking for a wholly unique and interesting miltary simulator, definitely check out Radio Commander, which should hopefully arrive on Steam next month.

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