Written by - Livid
Updated: July 21, 2023
Posted: May 26, 2023
Loyal warriors of the Emperor, it’s time to don your power armor… We’ve got some heretics to burn. The Warhammer 40K franchise is one our entire team always enjoys jumping into, and it was fun to experience the world re-imagined in a unique way. With Boltgun apparently being a narrative sequel to 2011’s Space Marine, and Space Marine 2 slated to release later this year, the game dropped at the perfect time to fill that giant 40K void in our hearts.
For those that aren’t aware, Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is a boomer shooter, looking and playing like other retro titles from the past such as Doom, Quake, and of course the OG Duke Nukem.
Developed by Auroch Digital and published by the indie branch of Focus Interactive, you play as an Adeptus Astartes; a battle-hardened Space Marine, whose sole mission is to protect humanity and rid the universe of all xeno threats in the name of the God Emperor himself. This time around, you’ll be picking up where Captain Titus left off, purging heretics and the forces of Chaos from the Adeptus Mechanicus Forge World, Graia.
It’s clear everything in Boltgun was created by a studio that both values and loves the source material. Space Marines are big and they’re heavy, 1000+ pounds heavy, but with so many bio and cybernetic enhancements, they’re also agile and borderline unstoppable killing machines.
Your Space Marine walks and runs with appropriate weight, and that experience carries over into combat as well, which is surprisingly fluid. It all falls in line with other games in the boomer shooter genre, but there are several modern improvements that make this feel like more than just another entry in a retro 90s lineup.
The sprint is responsive and can be used not only to gain a quick burst of speed, but you can leverage it to cross large gaps or even utilize it in combat to body check enemies around you, making them explode into tiny little bits of goodness.
You can also mantle up ledges, and I know, that’s pretty much a staple these days for games, but nothing feels more frustrating in a boomer shooter than making that jump and falling to your death because you didn’t clear a ledge by a pixel. This also allows the team to hide secret power-ups on every map that often require you to use these movement systems to reach them.
Finally, you have your trusty Chainsword. As a Space Marine, you should never leave home without it, and here, it actually plays a vital role in both combat and movement.
Holding down your melee button within generous range of an enemy will highlight them and slow time for a short period, allowing you to lock onto a target. Releasing your melee button will send that massive 1-ton suit of armor barreling toward said enemy, carving them up, and sending bits flying all over your screen.
In an even more satisfying notion, if the enemy has a large enough pool of health, common amongst the more elite units in the game, you’ll actually need to mash that melee button in order to keep revving your Chainsword, grinding away their HP with each passing second.
All together, this makes movement in Boltgun feel extremely satisfying and you can quickly go from carefully peeking corners and ranging down enemies to stringing together a symphony of close-quarters death with.Just your chainsword and body alone. It’s seriously satisfying.
We also have to point out the armor system in Boltgun is called Contempt, a very appropriate piece of 40K terminology that basically amounts to, the more Space Marines hate what they are fighting, the more resilient they are to them in combat. It’s a small detail, but a great one.
Then we get to the weapons, and I have to say, yet again, the team managed to nail not only the look, but also the feel of these iconic 40K weapons in fantastic, pixelated fashion.
Honestly, the Boltgun is the best feeling of all the weapons in the game… and I mean, with the title literally being Boltgun, I sure hoped that would be the case. It’s a solid weapon that performs at any range, and the team here nails the lethality of the weapon. For those that don’t know, Boltguns and Bolters fire, what are essentially, rockets the size of large bullets. In the lore, a single shot from one of these bad boys will explode the average human into a million pieces. In Boltgun, that’s no different, and oftentimes a single shot will take out humanoid threats, and that, to me, feels as iconic as running around with the shotgun in Doom.
There are also some other deadly offerings like the shotgun for more close to mid-range engagements, the plasma gun for taking on large hordes of Nurglings or armored opponents, the Meltagun for dumping on just about anything in your way, and the heavy bolter, which is just perfect.
The sound design and hit feedback across the board is just spot-on here. It’s what makes the combat oh-so satisfying.
Some may argue that you can just use whatever weapon you want to get the job done, making the combat somewhat simple, and while that is partially true at times, we did find plenty of situations where specific weapons dealt with certain enemies far better than others, and not having ammo for these enemies on the harder difficulties, such as the Chaos Champions or Terminators, could cause the situation to quickly get out of control. So there is a bit of depth and game knowledge to be gleaned in this regard.
Boltgun isn’t perfect, and where the game falls just a bit flat is in its level design. Overall, the objective in nearly every level boils down to:
This is how pretty much every level in the game plays out, and while some bosses do break up the monotony, or a myriad of branching paths throws you off your game, this is pretty much what you’ll be doing up until you finish the game’s roughly 8 to 10 hours of content.
Boltgun isn’t perfect, and where the game falls just a bit flat is in its level design.
There were times where we genuinely got lost navigating to find keys or our objective, due to both the lack of a map and the overall sprawling nature of any given level. You might hate this or you might love it, so it’s one of those things you’ll really need to judge for yourself.
I will say the team did a solid job ensuring there was enough variation within the levels. Tightly cramped corridors would often open up to larger, more ornate spaces, and this kept things feeling fresh for a time. But overall, the level design was the most boring part about the game. There was more room to grow here, and the game would have benefited from some more unique objectives or even increasingly elaborate puzzles to break up the heart-pumping Boltgun action.
There is a small bit of redemption here as the enemy variety is good, and that helps keep things interesting. From run-of-the-mill Chaos Cultists to hulking Chaos Terminators and Warp Demons, seeing all these iconic Warhammer 40K enemies in pixely goodness was a treat I think any 40K fan will come to appreciate with this title.
Now, I can’t say that with great power armor comes great replayability this time around. If you’re a 40K fan, you might get a few extra hours replaying certain levels just to take in the visuals and enjoy a bit more combat, but that 8-10 hours of gameplay is likely all you’re going to get with Boltgun.
Even though the game is simple by many standards, I don’t honestly believe a game needs to be complex to be good. There are plenty of those types of games out there; not everything needs intricate skill systems, gear with stats, end-game loops… you get my point. Sometimes mindless fun and extremely polished systems are all you need in a solid game, and here I think Boltgun hits it out of the park.
It’s not everyday we get a new, good 40K game, and this time around, we think Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is absolutely worth checking out.