Ion Maiden – Aims High and Delivers at PAX East

It was a time of innovation. it was a time of pushing the envelope. it was a time of doing things because you could. The 1990s are no stranger to innovations and major happenings within the video game industry. 3D graphics were the new norm. Games were being placed on compact discs. And the platformer genre was slowly fading in favor of first-person shooters.

One of the most widely popular shooters was Duke Nukem 3D, a game that fundamentally changed the way games were made, as well as what first-person shooters could be. It outrageous humor, aggressive action, large level design, and breaking of the fourth wall became a cultural phenomenon and put the publisher, 3D Realm, on the top of the world.

Now, 22 years later, a team of passionate designers is joined with the house that started it all in a brand new game, Ion Maiden. Ion Maiden was one of the biggest highlights to come out of PAX East in Boston Massachusetts. I had the special opportunity of playing the game, as well as talking to one of the game directors, Frederick.

Ion Maiden is a joint project between 3D Realms and Void Point Studios, a development team comprised of extremely passionate programmers and designers. Void Studios have become the masters of a classic game engine called the BUILD ENgine. In the 1990’s the same engine was used to power games such as Duke Nukem, Blood, and Shadow Warrior.

The engine allowed for large levels, high destructibility, and unparalleled gameplay experience. Players would have to move fast and shoot faster, facing hordes of bad guys and dangerous bosses. Over the past few decades, the team has been constantly looking at the inner working of the BUILD engine. They have squashed bugs, made refinements, and run experiments to see what has worked and hasn’t. With years of experience, the time has come to put their honed skills to the test with the new game.

From a story perspective, Ion Maiden is a prequel to the 2016 top-down shooter Bombshell. Players take on the role of Bombshell, a former special forces and E.O.D expert, who loses her arm to an explosion. Her arm is replaced with a cybernetically augmented mechanical arm, which gives her super-human abilities and allows her to wield deadly weapons.

When an evil cyborg army raids Washington, D.C, the President calls upon Bombshell to defend the capital and eliminate the threat. As for the character, 3D realms and Voidpoint made the protagonist the very embodiment of every female badass of the 1990’s and 80’s. From Sarah Connor in the Terminator films to Lt. Ellen Ripley in Aliens, Bombshells pack serious firepower and is not afraid to let enemies know what’s coming for them. Bombshell packed a variety of one-liners for my demo, and they made me chuckle from time-to-time, as the game was clearly aware of what it was, and wasn’t afraid to have fun. With that, I was thrust into the demo and into the chaos.

The game took some getting used to, as I was playing with keyboard and mouse. I had to use the tried-and-true WASD format for my left hand and the right hands for mouse-led aiming. Once I got the hang of it, the game took right off. From the start, an out-of-control trck smashes into the Global Defense Force Headquarters. Cyborg enemeis begin pouring out of the woodwork to take you out. Of course, the proper thing is to take them out.  Bombshell dons her trademark weapon, a massive revolver that can fire three-rounds at once.

Ion Maiden

Shooting and combat was classic and fast. This wasn’t a game attempting to emulate a feeling in video games from long ago, but instead, was the feeling. The combat, the speed, the challenge, the sense of carnage and action is something that many have done well to replciate, but VoidPoint unmistakably understands the kind of combat that came from 3D Realms in the late 90’s, Ion Maiden feels like a game that was locked in a time-capsule from the era, and just unearthed. This is the fantastic trait the game has.

I proceeded through the level, and son, I was locked onto a street. An automated gun turret was firing at me and multiple cyborgs, some that were draped in red robes, were targeting me. I did die a few times here, but then I figured out that speed was everything. I grabbed an SMG and ran circles around the metal-heads, spraying bullets and making explosions. As I drew the weapon, Bombshell shouted: “I spray, you pray!” Bullets flew and classic action-movie style explosions ensued. It was a wonderfully good time!

Further, in the level, I entered an office complex for some cubicle chaos. I acquired a special shotgun with a cylindrical firing magazine. Wielding the weapon was fierce, and each thud from the weapon felt genuinely powerful. The weapon was perfect for getting up close and personal with the enemy, but ammo was scare. During my time in the office, I came across a secret area behind a bookcase, grabbing ammo and items. The developers at the booth encouraged players to keep hunting for secret within the game, a that is the classic style of old-fashioned 3D realms.

With that, the levels in Ion Maiden are expected to be large, and in the case of the level Iw as playing, it was already surprisingly deep. I got lost several times, trying to procure key cards and find my way to the end of the level. There were many rooms and sub-levels to uncover, each yielding secrets and necessary resources.  Even though I played on the easy difficulty, finding these secrets will be essential for survival. After slaying the final foes with bouncing betty grenades and knocking them down with electric batons, the demo came to its conclusions.

While this was only a demo, Ion Maiden is everything I could have ever hoped for. The game has a nostalgic charm, but most importantly, it represents what games can and still do from a cultural and technological perspective. Ion Maiden as built on a 22-year-old engine, but felt so remarkable and fresh, it felt like an innovation. The game truly was a classic game brought into a new world, but still retaining the cardinal principles of shooting games. The gameplay was tight, the action was vicious, the violence was brutal, and the speed was extremely polished. I cam away from Ion Maiden extraordinarily impressed. As I walked away, I reached into my pocket to find some gum. And then I realized, I was all out of gum.

Ion Maiden will be launched for steam in 2018, with consoles to follow shortly. As for what consoles, the team assures me that the sky is the limit, meaning that handheld versions are not ruled out.