There was a time when FPS games were all about just how many guns you could carry and how many enemies you could use them on. Although the genre’s standard has changed significantly since then, titles like Warhammer 40k: Boltgun by Auroch Digital show that the classic style still has a lot of value.
Boltgun is a DOOM-style FPS game where everything looks pixelated but in a 3D environment. You’re free to run around on any flat surface you can stand on as you make your way through levels with multiple pathways and crowds of enemies. The cover is there if you want it, but you’re also wearing armor that could double as a tank. So, does the formula work? Put simply, yes.
Why the Boltgun?
The Warhammer 40k universe is filled to the brim with lore, so it’s interesting to see how a studio can boil it down to just one weapon. However, Warhammer 40k: Boltgun does just that. You play as an Ultramarine, one of the few factions in the universe attempting to uphold order in a universe filled with chaos.
While on a ship, you are tasked with investigating disturbances on certain planets connected to the unstable and dangerous forces of the Chaos realm. Your mission is simple: Touch down on the planet, secure any potential power sources, and wipe out any hostile forces you encounter. You’re an Ultramarine, so you’re free to make use of anything you have at your disposal to deadly effect.
The Beauty of the Boltgun
When it comes to a boomer shooter, a big chunk of the appeal is based on the arsenal of weapons you can unleash upon bad guys. In Warhammer 40k: Boltgun, the Boltgun is just the tip of the arsenal. After getting it, you learn that it functions similarly to an automatic pistol to devastating effect. It quickly fills the role of a reliable sidearm that you can fall back on whenever you run out of ammo for more powerful weapons.
Then you’ve got other firearm classics like a Shotgun which makes you want to run into a group of enemies and do a 360-round of blasting. There are also Plasma weapons for extra power, grenades that you can lob around for crowd control, and your trusty chainsaw sword for close combat.
Don’t forget that you’re wearing Power Armor, which means you also can plow your whole body into enemies as an acceptable form of attack. The excitement of collecting a new weapon is so genuine that you hope armies of enemies are just waiting for you to pick it up.
Paced To Perfection
Then there’s the overall pace of the shooters that this game is trying to emulate, which it does without any difficulty. The whole intro is slow and long enough to build things up the right amount before you get the Boltgun. Then, it’s nonstop from that point on. Whenever you enter a room, you’re almost guaranteed to find some form of resistance, and that’s exactly what you want. Health pickups are literally everywhere, so you’re encouraged to be as reckless as possible no matter how many enemies may be around.
There’s an overwhelming variety thanks to the richness of the Warhammer 40k universe. The forces of Chaos range from human cultists in masks with guns to Chaos Space Marines who struggle to be as chunky as the hero and a whole mess of demons (sorry “daemons”) who are also fond of the “run up and hit you” tactic, but they don’t always have the advantaged of high-powered forearms.
It becomes a game of trying to get into a slide where you’re always constantly moving forward with the goal of taking out enemies in your way as they pop up like targets at a carnival booth. However, there are also clearly defined areas where you can’t get too cocky or you’ll quickly be humbled. There are plenty of Health and Armor pickups, but areas with high-enemy density are usually clearly defined so you’ll know when you’ll need to be a bit smarter with your blasting.
What’s even more enjoyable is the over-the-top nature of the game. It may take place in a grim universe, but the actual content of the game is so ridiculous that it could fit into a Grindhouse movie. And yet, it works. It accomplishes exactly what it’s trying to do and it has the barrier of colorful pixel style to help create distance between you and what’s happening.
Every enemy explodes into red mush at the slightest attack and there’s almost a comical degree of attention to detail. You can shoot a cultist in the stomach and then seconds later see half their brain sliding down a nearby wall. With that in mind, don’t worry about missing anything since all sprites will automatically rotate to face you, even the deceased ones.
There’s also the spectacle of important collectibles such as new weapons and power-ups which can catch your eye even if yours are closed. They’re all sparkly, shining, and in some cases will literally be standing in a shaft of light as if the heavens themselves are bestowing upon you the chance to kick chaos butt.
The whole game is fast and tense, but also low-pressure. You can turn it on, play for a few minutes, and still feel like you’ve made progress. Levels can be deceptively long with plenty of checkpoints along the way. Still, this doesn’t really matter since you can literally start each level all over again and reach where you left off in a matter of minutes.
Scuffs on the Veneer
Even a game made to be quick and satisfying can have nicks in the casing. For Warhammer 40k: Boltgun, these nicks are small but noticeable. The biggest issues are in terms of replayability and legacy. The game’s details describe it as being inspired by shooters from the ’90s, but this can be a problem for players who didn’t play those. Just going through it myself, there are certain elements that I had to learn are staples from those types of games and spent some time running around Boltgun like an idiot because I didn’t know that.
Also, unless you take your video game playing seriously, you’re unlikely to revisit this game once you’ve beaten it. Sure there are different difficulties, but the novelties and sparks will have lost some of their shine by the end of your first playthrough. This isn’t a demanding game, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it a casual one either, since it does require a fair amount of sharpness and reaction time on your end.
The level layouts are also a point of friction. It’s not long before you’re introduced to sprawling underground environments that have a lot of paths that all look annoyingly similar. If only you could leave markers or something. But no, you have to rely on your own memory. The placement of some of the secret collectibles is also strange. It’s common to find them after the fact of a huge battle only to learn that they’re temporary power-ups that would’ve been very useful seconds ago.
Bolting Toward Action
Warhammer 40k: Boltgun is a modern take on the traditional style of FPS set in the Warhammer 40k universe. It does exactly what it set out to do in terms of tons of weapons, squishy enemies, a fast pace, low demand, and over-the-top game and Grindhouse stuff. It does seem to rely on people being familiar with this type of game, along with some confusing level layouts to navigate on a whim. If you can get past that, make sure you take your Boltgun with you.
This review is based on a copy of Warhammer 40k: Boltgun played on Steam. It is available for purchase now on PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox.