Phantom Fury review – Bloody, messy, and buggy retro anarchy

I’ve played a few games in my time that lacked personality. Phantom Fury is not among them. Never in my gaming career have I played a game so unapologetically committed to an identity. Fast-paced shootouts, interactive environments, over-the-top violence and weapons – this a boomer-shooter through and through. However, some obnoxious bugs, incredibly obscure level design, and a subpar soundtrack puts a massive damper on the experience. It’s a shame – I really wanted this to be great.

It’s no surprise that Phantom Fury is an energetic first-person shooter since it was developed by Slipgate Ironworks. Slipgate Ironworks has a few FPS titles in their portfolio, most notable being 2020’s commercial and critical success Ghostrunner. Though they did not create 2019’s Ion Fury, Phantom Fury is its pseudo-sequel. The two share the same game world, continuity, and protagonist, but don’t think of it as Ion Fury 2; Slipgate Ironworks has said Phantom Fury is more a spinoff. It should also be noted that Phantom Fury was published by 3D Realms, creators of the original Duke Nukem 3D back in 1996. Safe to say that this partnership knows how to do a retro shooter.

Slipgate Ironworks claims to have taken heavy inspiration from games like Duke Nukem, Half-Life, and Quake. This is immediately evident in the retro-inspired art style, reminiscent of dozens of late 90’s shooters from Doom to Shadow Warrior. The distinct style and overall tone of Phantom Fury’s world is a brilliant homage to its predecessors, capturing the classic blocky look through its environments, animations, and designs. The art is similar but different from Ion Fury, which embraced the old school shooter look more wholeheartedly than Phantom Fury, using more 2.5D textures and static animations. Phantom Fury is fully 3D, being intentionally designed at a low resolution within Unreal Engine 4. However, every texture is incredibly detailed despite being rendered at such a low-res. It is clear that there was genuine care put into each space, and I applaud the art team for realizing their vision so well. Phantom Fury wears its inspirations clearly on its sleeve. At times I genuinely felt like I was playing the older Duke Nukem games all over again. 

I will say that I was not a fan of the soundtrack, however. Soundtrack and sound design are extremely important to me when playing a game, as they are supposed to help fully immerse yourself in the setting and atmosphere. Sound design in Phantom Fury is great – weapons and environments sound powerful and lived-in, with hard-hitting gunshots and technical beeping and whirring populating almost every scene. But for an aggressive shooter with tons of action setpieces and explosive gameplay I found the soundtrack to be strangely somber. Most tracks sound like menu music, which took me out of the more action-packed moments. Though there are a few exceptions, I was disappointed by the overall package.

Performance was commendable on PC. Playing on a RTX 4060 I experienced generally stable frame rates with a few hiccups here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary for an indie title. Lighting and particle effects also looked great. I did experience a few crashes – which I will discuss later – but in terms of raw gameplay performance, I was pretty happy.

When it comes to gameplay, Phantom Fury follows the tried and true boomer-shooter formula to a T: a nonsensical story filled with frenetic gunfights, interactive environments, and an extensive armory to choose from. The story follows the cross-country journey of Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison as she tracks down the mysterious Demon Core, a hellish technological marvel capable of mutating humans into powerful monsters. Shelly works alongside the Global Defense Force, or GDF, a paramilitary organization in search of the same device. The GDF also serves as the main enemy faction throughout the story (there was definitely a throwaway line explaining this that I missed somewhere). Shelly’s quest, which takes place in a futuristic United States, sees her travel to military installations, twisted laboratories, the Grand Canyon, war-torn Chicago, and more.

Do not go into this game looking for a deep story. Hell, don’t go into this game looking for any kind of story really. There are around four characters, all of which are essentially caricatures of more well known archetypes. Actually, that is exactly what they are: archetypes. These are not characters; they are simply cardboard cutouts of stereotypical badasses built specifically for tired action hero one-liners. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, I actually found the voice acting quite good. The military general character believably delivers his lines in a dutiful tone, the soldiers getting torn to ribbons speak like your average grunts, and the main character Shelly, dishes out mid-combat insults like it’s nobody’s business. It is a shame the voice cast was given essentially nothing to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking for the next The Last of Us here, but at least a little bit of agency would have gone a long way. I honestly found myself lost story-wise, constantly reminding myself to not even think about what was going on. My advice: just shut up and shoot.

Shut up and shoot is exactly what you’ll spend the majority of your time with Phantom Fury doing: shooting, punching, melting, and cursing at your enemies. This is a retro-FPS title after all. I can say with confidence that Phantom Fury is a genuine blast to play when it comes to gunfighting. You’re outfitted with a mess of weapons to play around with, from your standard pistol, assault rifle, submachine gun, and rocket launcher to more unorthodox weapons, like an electrified foam-launching flamethrower to an actual alien head that spits acid. Some weapons from Ion Fury also make a return, including the robust Loverboy six-shooter pistol capable of the world’s most satisfying lock on mode and the Bowling Bombs, grenades capable of seeking out targets. Shelly also has a robot arm capable of punching bad guys to pieces or generating bullet-deflecting shields. Pretty metal.

There are a surprising number of enemy types for an approximately eight to nine hour game, and each of them actually feels like they fit into combat scenarios well. Most of them run towards you, which is standard fare for a boomer-shooter, using blades, shotguns, and SMGs to try and take you out. Others are more tactical, carrying miniguns, hiding behind cover, lobbing grenades, and more. Though the GDF’s soldier enemies were my favorite to fight, there are tons of mutants and cyborgs to tear into as well, each with their own unique attacks and tactics. Combat environments, like the enemies, are well designed. Each one provides plenty of health and ammo pickups, elevation changes, environmental hazards, the whole lot. Sometimes you will be thrust between two warring factions, which adds an extra dimension to scenarios – should I target this group first, or let them take each other out before I strike? I really enjoy when shooters let you make these decisions on the fly.

I appreciated the variety in encounters. The campaign features many engaging shootouts set in a variety of locations, like a moving train and an underwater submarine base. There are also a few vehicle missions for good measure, which served as a great way to break things up. I did find the boss fights disappointing, however. There were only a handful throughout the entire experience and a few of them were recycled from earlier points in the game. They were also really easy; often, easier than the standard combat encounters. I played on Normal difficulty, and every boss was kind of a pushover.

The remainder of your time in Phantom Fury will be spent interacting with the meticulously detailed environments. This is where the game most strongly resembles Duke Nukem and Half-Life. Every single location is peppered with interactable objects, from dartboards to computers to bathroom faucets and arcade cabinets with fully functioning minigames. You can mess around with anything and everything: pick up boxes and use them as shields in combat, take a break from fighting and play pinball, eat every slice of pizza in the laboratory break room, whatever you want. If it is in the same room as you, there is a 99 percent chance you can interact with it. Though the level of detail here is impressive, I question how necessary it is to the whole package. This is a game about fast-paced combat after all; who is really going to take more than 10 seconds to putz around in a room before getting to the next juicy firefight?

The extent of Phantom Fury’s interactivity is novel, but also detrimental to level cohesion. Some areas are essentially large, multi-room puzzles that require experimentation and interaction to solve. I understand if Slipgate Ironworks wants us to slow down and smell the roses by using our curiosity and fascination to progress through some light puzzle solving. But some of these environments are so infuriatingly obtuse that it makes it impossible to appreciate the finer details. In these exploration/experimentation locked progression checks you are expected to read through every single computer terminal email, log, and operation list, open every single door, and interact with every little nook and cranny until you find the solution. There were at least two points that I admit I spent nearly an hour scouring the environment for the next step. Not to mention the times that objective-imperative items bugged out and straight up did not spawn…

Phantom Fury is riddled with bugs, and I wish they were just another enemy type. Sadly not – this is just a buggy game. Adding to my frustrations with puzzle design were countless enemies running into walls, my character getting hard stuck in geometry, four straight up hard crashes, and worst of all, critical progression items like keycards and batteries not loading in correctly. The two times this happened I spent so much time retracting my steps, combing already visited rooms, reloading checkpoints, and sometimes even entire levels only to find out the game just bugged and didn’t spawn in what I needed. This was incredibly irritating. Because of the over-reliance on interactability and obscure puzzles, I was often led to believe I wasn’t looking for solutions hard enough and would proceed to run in circles when meanwhile half of the time my hold up was just a technical error. 

As I said at the start of this review, Phantom Fury knows exactly what it is. This is a fiery, competent throwback shooter that does combat and presentation well. Those two items are noteworthy achievements for this kind of game, but they are two of the only things that really work here. This game features a laughable story, is frustratingly obtuse at times, and is most unfortunately, a buggy mess. If you are a hardcore retro-shooter fan, I would say wait until some of the technical problems are sorted; otherwise, this is a safe skip.

Phantom Fury launched for PC on April 23, 2024.



Phantom Fury

Review Guidelines

Phantom Fury is an unapologetic boomer-shooter that can definitely talk the talk, but fails to walk the same walk that its inspirations did some 25 years ago. Countless technical problems, obscure level design, and a sad excuse for a story unfortunately make what could have been a good game a middling one.

Nicholas Aguilera

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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