This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Ion Fury and Void Bastards.
Welp, Doom and RE3 and Final Fantasy were probably the last few squirts of mung we're going to get out of AAA gaming's gas-bloated corpse for a while yet. It's been a right pain in the arse, finding things I want to review this week; I thought about just typing the word "fuck" 8,000 times, but I need to save genius ideas like that for the end-of-year roundups. No, I think we're just going to have to go "super-cazh" this week. Heyyyy...! "Did you play anything interesting or relevant, Yahtzee?" Not really; I spent most of the week leaning on jukeboxes and making double finger-guns at the sexy honeys. "Heyyyy, that's cool with me, 'cos I'm super-cazh! So, what did you play?" Well, I did play quite a bit of Void Bastards, because the title drew me in with two of my favorite things: nihilism and swearing. And it just came out on consoles, so hey, this is almost relevant!
Void Bastards is a first-person shooter with retro-style graphics complete with sprite-based enemies, the kind of thing we'll probably keep seeing a lot of in indie games until nostalgia trends move on from the retro FPS era to the age of post-9/11 neoconservatism. Ah, but Void Bastards has something else that helps it stand out as different to all the other indie games: it's also a rogue-lite. I almost said that with a straight face.
Void Bastards concerns a prison transport ship lost in some distant armpit of space where an A.I. voiced by the bloke who narrated The Stanley Parable - who really seems to be cornering the market on faintly sinister budget Stephen Fry impersonations - thaws out a succession of prisoners to go aboard derelict vessels and loot them for resources and crafting materials while fending off a variety of insane mutant humans that keep yelling at them in overdone comedy voices. So tone-wise, it's what you'd get if you locked Borderlands in a succession of small, restricted maps and forced it to listen to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy audiobooks while smashing its fingers with a hammer every twenty minutes.
And at first, I rather liked it; I liked the cynical comedy tone and the way it effectively created this sense of being trapped in a forgotten sub-sub-butthole of a vast, hideous interstellar bureaucracy. But after playing for a while, I had no idea what I was working towards, story-wise; the narrator makes us search the network of derelicts for the specific crafting items that will advance the plot, and the plot usually advances to "find another bunch of specific crafting items". It makes me think of when people told me to give Pathologic a chance, and I said it made me bored and confused, and they said, "That's the idea! It's a game designed to evoke the banality and confusion of being a sad Russian doctor that everyone wants to punch!" In which case, I congratulate the excellent job it did realizing those intentions, but I'm still not going to play it anymore.
And I wonder if Void Bastards has a similar thing going on, that it might be trying to evoke the central theme by making you feel like you're trapped forever in a repetitive bureaucratic purgatory, because well done if it is, but I rapidly get sick of it. The procedural levels get very samey, and after the difficulty ramped up, I'd turn a corner, and somehow, six dudes would've all very procedurally decided to hang around the same coffee machine, whereupon the "You done fucked up!" music kicks in, everything starts darting about yelling at me in hilarious regional accents, I get flustered, cockups keep cascading, I blow my own legs off with a cluster bomb, and frankly, I just don't want to keep playing, as it's upsetting to be constantly reminded of my last disastrous attempt at a workplace massacre. And that's why I didn't play it long enough to review it properly, but I'm sure you'll forgive me, 'cos we're all super-cazh here. Heyyyy...!
So let's talk about another game I still haven't finished, Ion Fury. "Hey, that's also a retro-style sprite-based FPS, and it also just came out on consoles! Is this a theme?" No! We don't need a theme; we're super-cazh. Fuck you. I mean, heyyyy... And besides, playing a retro FPS on consoles is like driving a car in high heels and with socks on your hands 'cos you needed somewhere to put them after you changed into the high heels. Ion Fury used to be called "Ion Maiden", but then the band Iron Maiden got shitty and made them change it to something that doesn't mean anything; I think they were worried, perhaps reasonably, that their fanbase are too old and/or drugged up to notice an "R" going missing.
So do you remember that godawful Bombshell game from a few years back, where 3D Realms were trying to make up for all those female characters in the Duke Nukem games whose tits had higher billing than the rest of them by making a top-down shooter with a female protagonist whose entire personality was still based around being a female protagonist, and then stood around looking pleased with themselves 'cos they finally solved gender relations? Well, they thought that character was worth hanging onto, because here she is again in a Duke Nukem 3D-style FPS about fighting an evil scientist in a cyberpunk city or something, and by "Duke Nukem 3D-style", I mean "literally made in the same engine as Duke Nukem 3D", meaning that the full game has a file size smaller than, say, a really high-definition image of my left bollock.
So we have the classic Build engine environments that so effectively recreate urban cityscapes made out of giant cereal boxes, the usual fast-paced no-frills shooty action of retro-style FPS, and most importantly, all those wonderful dated pop culture references that speckle Build engine shooters like itchy red spots on a dose of the clap. On top of that, I fully endorse 3D Realms, of all game creators, turning back the clock twenty-odd years to try to get a sense of what the fuck's been going wrong since then. Ion Fury brings back lovely, nostalgic memories of my youth, when I would stay up long into the night carefully airbrushing the nipple tassels from a screenshot of a pixellated stripper, so in theory, it's a game I should like. But then again, in theory, my dog's butthole has no nutritional value and doesn't taste very nice, but he seems determined to test this theory every chance he gets.
I think I like playing Ion Fury, but I still haven't finished it, and every time I load my last save, I advance one corridor and decide I haven't re-cataloged my porn folders in a while. Why is this? My conscious brain goes "This is fun and quite visually impressive for an engine that looks like paper cutouts sliding around in cereal boxes!", but maybe that's it. Making a game in an obsolete engine is rather blatant gimmickry, like making a sex doll out of toast: impressive, yes, but a more fitting material wouldn't leave so many crumbs under my foreskin. And Build engine games have plenty of qualities that I'm quite glad we've left behind, like maze-like samey levels based around key-hunting and the inability to look down at things from above without the graphics bursting into tears like an unprepared spelling bee contestant being thrown "maneuver" at the end of a long night.
Oh dear, listeners! It seems that throughout the course of this video, I suddenly became over nostalgic shooters! That's how quickly it can happen, kids: one moment, you're innocently playing with your stuffed badger thinking girls are icky; the next, bam! You're waking up to a sticky patch on the bedsheets and your mum angrily demanding to know what you did with all that toast.
- One dimensional character: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And another thing Ion Fury has in common with my dog's butthole is that I spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for something interesting to come out of it
- I suppose it's cooler to be a fury than a maiden