Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is the latest in a long line of video games based on Warhammer. While incredibly hit or miss, the franchise has been on the up lately with the fantastic Warhammer 40,000: Darktide & Warhammer 40,000: Chaosgate. Ignoring the mess that was Blood Bowl 3, is the team at Auroch Digital able to swing that hammer further?
One Man Army
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun puts you in the weighted boots of Malum Caedo, a veteran Space Marine. His task? To retrieve a power source from a planet infested with the forces of Chaos
Your drop pod is damaged on your way down to the unknown planet. As luck would have it, you are the sole survivor. It’s a good thing you have your trusty chainsaw, the skills to get the job done, and an unquenchable thirst to praise the emperor and turn the forces of Chaos into meaty chunks!
The story is mostly told through beautifully designed sprite-based cutscenes. These just ooze with the feel of that DOS-era of first-person shooters that Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is aiming to emulate. Aside from that, you’ll get a little blurb at the start of levels and occasionally from your assistant the ever-handy Servo Skill.
While I’m positive there is a bunch of lore here for longtime tabletop warmongers. Unfortunately, I am insanely casual when it comes to Warhammer and generally just stick to playing the games, so the bulk of it just flies over my head. Fortunately, being touted as a “Boomer shooter”, these types of games are generally narratively anemic. You can get by armed only with the knowledge that you’re a badass Space Marine with a job to do and an army to get through.
Back In My Day
As I just touched upon, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is being pitched as a “Boomer Shooter“, also known as a throwback shooter. These games are First Person Shooters but follow the designs of games like Doom and Quake over more modern FPS titles such as Crysis, Far Cry, and Call of Duty.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun doesn’t just achieve the “Boomer Shooter” title by employing a retro style of graphics. It’s the copious amount of enemies, key hunting, and sometimes maze-like areas with little to no setpieces keeping you in control of the handy Space Marine at all times.
The key to Boltgun is its controls and just how good it feels to mow down hundreds of Daemons and cultists. You have this sense of weight as you’re plodding around decaying ruins and military outposts, yet have a surprising amount of speed when it comes to dashing and jumping. A slight delay in turning or stopping from a dash reminds you that you aren’t The Flash and instead wearing a giant suit of armor.
You’ll initially start with the chainsaw/sword melee option which is more than capable of making quick work of weakened or fodder enemies. It isn’t long though until you get the titular Boltgun and the game shifts gear very quickly.
Over the next batch of levels, you’ll find yourself finding a Shotgun, Plasma Rifle, and Heavy Rifle. That is just in the first chapter of the game with even more dropping through the following 2 chapters. While the weapons feel fine, the Shotgun feels rather underpowered which is a Boomer sin. More often than not I kept with the problem solver known as the Boltgun.
That said, to try and keep you from just sticking with one gun throughout, enemies are weak to certain weapons. This is indicated on their health meter by a green up arrow or a down red arrow. Learning which enemy type falls quicker with each weapon is part of the deadly ballet this game offers.
Alongside your weaponry, you also have power-up items you can find, usually in secret areas. These either seriously power up your boltgun or can upgrade the damage value of whatever weapon you have hold of when you pick it up.
Outside of that, you have the usual health and armor numbers to worry about. Killing stuff with your Chainsword will usually drop armor. You’ll need it as the game is more than happy to throw hordes at you like it’s going out of fashion.
The levels are brilliantly designed and have some genuinely impressive areas from around halfway into Chapter 1. They rarely feel maze-like so you spend less time getting lost and more time planting your sword into the head of chaotic forces. Each has a decent run time, usually clocking in at around 20 to 30 minutes per level on your first run-through; more if you’re secret hunting.
While it’s great for the most part, there were times when it felt like areas were getting too reused or I hadn’t come across a new enemy or weapon type in a while. This started to dampen the pacing at points.
The Toll Of War
Sadly Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun commits one of the worst modern habits of FPS games; it tends to put you into arenas quite often. This is furthered by the fact the arenas are usually unlocked by killing X amount of a certain enemy rather than all the enemies. As such, it has often led to drawn-out battles, as well as one section which took a matter of seconds as I was already facing the enemy it required me to take down.
Previous gripe aside, Boltgun provides a mostly successful homage to shooters like Doom and Quake with its addictive combat loop, brilliantly designed levels, and that older than old-school key hunting gameplay.
Back in Vogue
Graphically Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun goes for a “retro” look with the cutscenes mentioned above. The use of basic textures and pixel sprite-based enemies, fused with the voxel 3D effect on weapons used by the Space Marine add to this.
It’s not the greatest in terms of pure visual fidelity but it took the assignment of Boomer Shooter and understood it to perfection. As previously mentioned, it also has some great-looking areas such as the Cathedral sections. I honestly had to take a second to look around at times and wonder how the developers managed to pull off such grandeur with an art direction inspired by the original Doom and Star Wars: Dark Forces.
There is plenty of the red stuff pouring down in battle and the enemies all look great, even though at times some look like they fell out of classic Warhammer instead of 40K. What did irritate me though was in the Arena sections of the game the screen would gain a tint of red throughout. This does have the purpose of letting you know you’re locked into that section, but it annoyed me. Still, at least it wasn’t as egregious as the Virtual Boy.
The voice acting in the cutscenes is great and matches the tone for Warhammer 40K, stiff accents and all! The music is a whole beast ranging from the title track inspired by classic rock, ranging to techno and heavy metal and then coming back with some almost angelic music when needed. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide nailed its music, and Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun has followed suit with another absolute banger of a soundtrack.
All in, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is exactly what I expected when it was announced as “Boomer Shooter” and that is a damn good thing.
When it comes to this franchise, you usually have to go into it expecting certain levels of jank much like Necromunda: Hired Gun. Fortunately, here the developers have put out a jank-free, high-quality product that should bring Boomers and Gen Z kids together in a bloody ballet in the glorious name of the Emperor.
WARHAMMER 40,000: BOLTGUN IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Focus Entertainment for a PC review code for this title.
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