Ion Maiden preview: An excellent '90s-style shooter with modern twists

Blast from the past

Credit: IDG / Hayden Dingman

We’re barely two months into 2018, but I’m already going to shortlist Ion Maiden for the biggest surprise of the year.

When I heard 3D Realms was back with a new game, I had lower-than-zero expectations—the publisher’s previous outing was 2016's Bombshell, which started life as an isometric Duke Nukem shooter-slash-Diablo hybrid, then (after some legal trouble) finished life as something much, much worse. Even if it’d run perfectly at release it would’ve amounted to a shrug at best, but it was so busted I literally couldn’t finish it.

So...yeah. Not the best coattails to ride.

And yet 3D Realms’s new game Ion Maiden ($20 on Steam) is fantastic so far. Simple maybe, and definitely riding on nostalgia, but I’ve had an excellent time with the Early Access “Preview Campaign” released last week. It’s billed as a prequel to Bombshell, and yet the two couldn’t be any more different.

Ion Maiden IDG / Hayden Dingman

Where Bombshell was an action-RPG, Ion Maiden is a straight-up late-’90s shooter. And not just a lookalike, either—Ion Maiden was built on the famed Build Engine, the same engine that powered Duke Nukem 3D, the original Shadow Warrior, Blood, and so on. Think of it as “As Close To Duke Nukem As 3D Realms Could Get Without Being Sued,” essentially. A true spiritual successor.

Perfect timing. Nostalgia for ‘90s shooters is at an all-time high, a trend that started with the Rise of the Triad remake a few years back, continued through the Shadow Warrior and Doom reboots, and has reached a fever pitch lately with Strafe, Dusk, and so on.

Ion Maiden leans into the genre tropes. You’ve got the classic low-poly level layouts, the surprisingly-detailed 2D sprites for basically everything else, the usual blood spatters and hidden secrets and big explosions. Oh, and one-liners of course.

Ion Maiden IDG / Hayden Dingman

But as with Gearbox’s recent Duke Nukem 3D remaster, Ion Maiden looks better than it has any right to, and definitely better than the Build games of old. Everything is crisp, clean, and with a lot of nifty lighting tricks layered on top. It’s uncanny—the right style, but with a lot of tricks borrowed from modern engines too.

The campaign as it currently stands is only one “zone” out of seven planned, but it’s a generous chunk of content. I spent over an hour playing and only found a fraction of the secret areas. It also takes you through a few different environments, from an army base to an office building to the sewers to a labyrinthine subway station. Classic ‘90s shooter environments, basically.

Some familiarity with the subgenre probably goes a long way. Ion Maiden moves fast. There’s a lot of circle-strafing, a lot of hoovering up ammo and armor and health packs from every corner of every room. I found it a lot more forgiving than Duke 3D proper, but it still feels punishing compared to modern shooters and definitely encourages a different style of play.

Ion Maiden IDG / Hayden Dingman

The style of level design is harder to slip back into. Duke 3D was less labyrinthine than predecessors like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, but there are still times where you’d run around in circles for five minutes trying to find the next door. Ion Maiden carries that aspect forward too—I got lost at least twice, once for a good long while when I thought I’d found a way forward and then realized it was actually a shortcut back where I’d been. The corpses were the giveaway.

Point being: It’s the kind of game where you shoot every vent, try to open every door, because occasionally that’s exactly what the game needs you to do to move forward. I don’t mind. As I said, Ion Maiden relies on nostalgia, and I’m somewhat nostalgic (or at least have patience for) those design tropes. Actually, I think it can add something to the game insofar as I love hunting down secret areas. My favorite in Ion Maiden came when I pressed the only bright-red book on a bookshelf and the nearby fireplace swung out to reveal a secret area behind. Great stuff.

But will everyone have the patience? Will everyone take the good with the bad? Probably not.

Ion Maiden IDG / Hayden Dingman

Those who do will love Ion Maiden though, I think. It’s an excellent example of the ‘90s shooter revival scene, and while there’s still a lot of work to be done I’m at least excited to see where it goes. More one liners are needed, more weapons and more enemies too, but it’s a solid proof-of-concept.

And one hell of a surprise.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Hayden Dingman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments


Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >



Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >


Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?