Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun Review
Sprint Loudly, and Carry Several Big Guns
Minutes into Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun’s campaign, the cultist sprites welcoming you with a hail of bullets hint towards something not being quite right on the planet of Graia. These suspicions – shared by the Inquisition on whose behalf you’re doling out the Emperor’s justice – are confirmed to be true shortly after, when you’re not-so-gently lodging your trusty chainsword in the unnatural flesh of daemons.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun successfully taps into the retro nostalgia that has spawned so many boomer shooters in recent years. It has a sense of speed, allowing you to violently mutilate enemies while zipping across its arenas. You are taking on the role of an Ultramarine veteran, but this agility initially feels at odds with the heavy thump produced by your armor when landing from a jump. But, over the course of the campaign, it was a contrast to which I eventually got used.
You start by wielding just a chainsword which slows down time as you charge attacks and lets you close the distance to your foes. One hit is enough to turn regular cultists and weaker daemons into blood splatters, already instilling a feeling of strength that persists throughout the majority of the campaign.
Bigger foes can be carved up by mashing the attack button, although some do fight back and this does render you vulnerable to other attacks.
In true old-school FPS fashion, you unlock more weapons by finding them and picking them up from within levels. First, you get your titular Boltgun, whose satisfying crackle and abundant ammunition pick-ups make it a reliable death-dealing companion.
Complementing your abilities are weapons such as the Meltagun, whose devastating energy waves quickly dispatch even the most formidable daemons. The Grav-gun acts as the Boltgun’s equivalent to Doom’s BFG, while the Vengeance Launcher lobs grenades that detonate after a brief delay.
Your arsenal makes you a versatile warrior capable of taking on all of the Emperor’s enemies. Each weapon feels powerful thanks to satisfying sound and visual effects, and it’s a joy to switch between them even when you’re not constrained by ammo.
They all have a strength rank attached, as do enemies. Lower-rank guns are technically less efficient against higher-level foes. Ideally, you’ll want to switch to the Meltagun or Volkite Caliver when dealing with more dangerous opponents, such as the Bloat Drones, to dispatch them in fewer hits.
At the same time, staying on the move and dodging attacks or using walls and pillars as cover while landing shots with your Shotgun or Heavy Bolter will still bring down these resistant opponents, even if it takes a while longer. A lot of the time spent in battle sees you quickly jumping between targets, assessing which ones to prioritize, before rushing to search for ammo, health, and armor pickups.
For the most part, the intensity of Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun’s combat encounters keeps you in the zone and focused on blasting enemies to bits. Taking a brief moment to admire your handiwork comes with a hefty dose of triumph, as you gaze over rooms full of pixelated gore and enemies carved in half.
That being said, occasional encounters can lead to near-instantaneous deaths that simply feel unfair, although changing tactics, approaching them from a different direction, or simply getting lucky is enough to quickly get past them.
The checkpoint system also worked against me on a few occasions, locking me in rooms filled with enemies and few means of regaining health when I only had 10 HP left.
Needless to say, these were doomed scenarios that forced me to start over. Although individual levels aren’t too long – they range from 9 to some 20 minutes on medium difficulty – restarting because a checkpoint gets you stuck in battles you cannot win isn’t exactly ideal.
As far as objectives go, Boltgun keeps things simple, asking you to essentially reach the end of each level. On the way, you’ll explore a variety of locations, ranging from barren desert canyons to the innards of Mechanicus facilities, lakes of lava, and places twisted by the influence of the Immaterium.
You’ll cull the forces of Chaos as you move along, look for keys of different colors that open specific doors, or clear purge arenas, which require you to eliminate a set number of opponents in order to progress beyond them.
Secrets spread throughout levels act as special pickups that grant bonuses like mega damage or more potent ammunition. An end-of-level screen tracks how many you’ve picked up, giving completionists an optional objective to pursue.
Boltgun’s levels do succeed at capturing some of the grandeur of its setting, making even a Space Marine feel small in comparison to massive industrial equipment. The weapon models and enemy sprites look great, making it easy to distinguish between foes at a glance. On the other hand, the locations are more hit-or-miss.
Some of their textures feel too washed out – even by boomer shooter standards – and, worse yet, can lead to parts of levels blending into each other. This makes it a bit too easy to get lost. On several occasions, I had a hard time finding the path I needed to take in order to pick up a key and get closer to the end.
Your servo-skull companion does offer directions, but they’re only transmitted via text awkwardly positioned in the upper-left corner of the screen, where it’s difficult to read even when you’re not busy shooting stuff.
Boltgun’s level design isn’t excessively complex, which made these moments particularly frustrating, as they only kept me away from the much more enjoyable action. Perhaps the worst offender is one level that relied on using portals to reach its end boss. Although fitting thematically, navigating it was a nightmare.
The enemies you face are quite varied and can be a real threat. You’re often outnumbered and, although you can exploit certain foes by repeatedly peeking around corners or taking them out from a distance, having to deal with multiple types of attacks means that you have to stay on your toes and always pay attention to where pickups are located.
If you can easily kill Blue Horrors with your Boltgun or use your charge ability to instantly turn a swarm of Nurglings into plague paste, facing Aspiring Champions – especially if you allow them to get up close – is much more challenging, thanks to their heavy melee damage and chance to resurrect as stronger, Chosen Champions.
Resilient Black Legion Terminators try to repay you in kind by filling you with bullets, while Plague Toads alternate between lobbing acid vomit and using their long tongues to strike.
Flamers and their Exalted counterparts can quickly melt your armor with their ranged attacks if you stay in place for too long, while the imposing Lords of Change and Great Unclean Ones act as some of the biggest challenges you’ll face, even if you do manage to temporarily single them out.
But despite its enemy variety, Boltgun plays most of its cards early. You’ll see the great majority of opponents during the first chapter, which does make the remaining two-thirds of the game progressively less exciting.
It’s not an excessively long campaign and it does keep things somewhat interesting through some of its environments – riding massive elevators while picking off enemies is surprisingly fun.
Even in its final stretch, it introduces its BFG equivalent while boasting a challenging final boss encounter. But as much as I enjoyed delivering death to the minions of Chaos, by the time the credits rolled, I was looking forward to a well-deserved Ultramarine tea break.
WARHAMMER 40,000: BOLTGUN VERDICT
Drenched in retro nostalgia, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a straightforward boomer shooter with a 40K skin. Its minimal story is as bog-standard as Warhammer gets, but is enough to justify the on-screen slaughter, while allowing for a pure focus on satisfying action.
Crunchy weapon sounds and plenty of pixelated gore make turning enemies into giblets something that doesn’t get old. Its main drawbacks come in the shape of how easy it is to get lost in some of its levels, a handful of frustrating encounters, and its decision to introduce most enemy types during the first part of its campaign.
Yet, even so, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun delivers enough awesome action to keep you engaged and eager to make sure the Emperor has a thousand or two fewer Chaos servants to worry about.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finding the Grav-gun and quickly obliterating a whole room of enemies with it.
Good vs Bad
- Crunchy weapon sounds
- Intense action
- Varied arsenal
- Rich enemy roster
- Washed-out level graphics
- Easy to get lost at times
- Few new enemies after chapter one