Review – Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is the kind of game that just feels right. The way it controls, the way you move, everything just feels how you know it should. As someone who’s sunk hundreds of hours into classic DOOM titles, I KNOW how a boomer shooter should feel. While I’ve been excited for Boltgun since it’s announcement, not in 40,000 years did I think it would be this good. That it would feel this natural to play. That it would be more then just another ode to classic DOOM, but instead a proper modern replication of that style. The level design, the gunplay, the dialogue, this is a game that knew what it wanted to be and absolutely nailed it.
So there’s a story, but it doesn’t matter. You are a Space Marine, on a mission to investigate the Forgeworld Graia. Which was the setting for the original Space Marine, meaning Boltgun is essentially advertising for the upcoming Space Marine 2. Captain Titus is even mentioned, but only in smallest passing. Most of the time the story is largely nonexistent, and there’s nothing here that’s intent on setting that game up. What matters as far as Boltgun is concerned, is that there’s daemons and heretics running wild. And as one of the Emperor’s Angels, you will not suffer them to live. So wielding sword, and gun, and faith, you alone shall purge the Chaos filth. One Space Marine versus a legion of Chaos. Poor Daemons won’t know what hit them.
There’s three core aspects to a classic boomer shooter. Level design, gunplay, and atmosphere. Unlike most modern FPS campaigns, the classic weren’t just corridors linking together arena setpieces. They were labyrinthine levels, almost like dungeons in classic dungeon crawlers. No maps, pre-set enemies around every corner, and tons of secrets to organically find. Gunplay is pretty much the same, but there was no obsession with balance. People don’t remember the Doom Shotgun because it was a balanced fair weapon, it’s remembered because it turned anything in front of it into mush. Finally, atmosphere. DOOM, Quake, Unreal, they weren’t about dialogue and cinematic storytelling. What story that wasn’t told in a exposition paragraph was instead told through the environment. The “story” was more focused on being visceral instead of emotional. These things shaped the gaming industry, and Boltgun is an example each being done right.
For starters, Boltgun’s twenty-four levels are among some of the best I’ve ever playing in a FPS. Seriously. From visual design to layout, each one was a genuine joy to explore. Plus the variety; way more then something you’d see in the 90’s. There’s not just long large levels, but also ones that utilize the 3D space for a surprising amount of verticality. Nowhere near something you’d see in Quake or the newer DOOMs, but still more then you’d see in Classic DOOM. And while most levels use the same classic hunt for the colored key mechanic, the level design greatly reduces potential monotony. One potential hangup for modern players is the total lack of a map, but I personally loved it. It really took me back to the days of being lost in a labyrinth full of monsters, with only your weapon and brains to keep you alive.
Gunplay is old-school and feels great. While each of the weapons available are fun and exciting in their own way, the titular Boltgun is the star of the show. What takes this to the next level is the game’s fantastic and detailed gore system. The way bolts from your gun turn your enemies into chunky red paste never gets old. Chainswording enemy after enemy, leaving behind a trail of glorious gore in the name of the Emperor feels fantastic. As was the case with the classics, movement is as much a part of combat as gunplay is. Like everything else, movement and most importantly movement speed feels perfect. A bit too perfect, as I defaulted to my DOOM days and tried to pull off maneuvers that controllers just weren’t meant for. More on that later.
Atmosphere is the final bit of the puzzle. Level design and gameplay may make a game, but the wrapping is what sells it. And Boltgun’s is fantastic. The music perfectly captures the feeling the game’s going for, unashamedly channeling DOOM. The graphics are a throwback, but use modern tech and 3D gamespace to do more then older games ever could. Then there’s the small things, the things that make a game feel like more. Like how weighty you feel. You’re a mountain of a being, wearing the armor of gods. So it’s only proper that the ground should literally quake under your feet. And if you should land on top of a Daemon or heretic, their unpure form should be crushed under your gloriousness. You are one of the Emperor’s Angels, and Boltgun makes you feel like one.
Sadly nothing’s perfect. Boltgun does have a few issues, though nothing too critical. The biggest one, at least for me, had to do with controls. Specifically Boltgun‘s movement speed and using a controller vs a mouse. This is a much faster game then modern FPS titles, and to be clear it feels and plays great. The game is built to be played and enjoyed fast, there’s even a button to turn sprint on and never turn it off.
The problem is that sometimes the controller couldn’t handle it. This isn’t saying the game is impossible or anything (though it’s definitely harder), just that while I was starting out a mouse was missed. Even once I got used to it, there were still times I felt like I wasn’t able to play Boltgun to it’s fullest potential. I will definitely be picking it up on PC before attempting a hardcore run. Although I’m sure there’s plenty of controller players who will quickly acclimate and have few issues.
Other issues are more general. For example, Boltgun does have a healthy enemy roster. You have filthy heretics. You have the traitorous Heretic Astartes, the Chaos Space Marines. And you have Daemons of Tzeentch and Nurgle. The Lords of Change and Plague. That being said there’s twenty-four levels and before you hit the halfway point, you will have seen every enemy type. And while I didn’t feel there was an issue with enemy repetition, there’s two whole missing Chaos Daemon rosters. We’re missing half the Chaos Daemons, and there’s half a game with no new enemies. It feels like our old friend budget rearing it’s sad but realistic head. And while I’m happy with what we got, there could have been more. Maybe DLC? I’d happily pay for it.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is that rarest and most beautiful of things. A great original Warhammer 40K game. It has a solid sense of what it wants to be, and the developers had the skill to nail what they went for. A classic boomer shooter, that doesn’t just copy the classics but replicates and even improves what made them work. The level design is genuinely genius, with so much variety and visual style. The gunplay is fast, hectic, and deliciously gory. And the music and graphics blend classic and modern styles together beautifully. Much like Total War: Warhammer, this isn’t just a good Warhammer game, it’s a game that does it’s genre proud. And all for twenty bucks? I’ve already bought the game again on PC, and fingers crossed there’s DLC on the horizon. As the Emperor wills.
Boltgun reminds me of Octopath Traveler II with a classic pixel aesthetic backed up by modern animations, models, and lighting to look gorgeous.
Movement is lightning fast, gunplay visceral and brutal, with a large variety of enemies and guns to purge their tortured existence with.
Just straight up heavy metal, as it should be.
Fun Factor: 8.0
Controller vs mouse issues aside, Boltgun is an absolute blast to play and a reminder that they genuinely don’t make them like this anymore.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is available now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun was provided by the publisher.