Warhammer 40K: Boltgun review - More than a gimmick

Warhammer 40K: Boltgun review - More than a gimmick
Images via Focus Entertainment

Written by 

Dave McAdam

Published 

23rd May 2023 16:00

You know when you see an idea and think "That is so perfect, I cannot believe it doesn't already exist"? That is exactly how I felt when I saw the reveal of Warhammer 40K: Boltgun. A combination of the boomer shooter, a nostalgia-driven subgenre of first-person shooters that harkens back to the classics of the 90s, and Warhammer, a tabletop gaming property synonymous with the 90s.

GGRecon Verdict

In a time when retro graphics have been done to death, Warhammer Boltgun still manages to impress with its visual style. Better still, it feels amazing to play. Your Space Marine feels weighty, but also extremely quick. You get to be just as deadly as an Ultramarine should be, and you will need to be to take on the horde of classic Chaos monsters this game throws at you.

Many fans regard Warhammer Space Marine as the gold standard of games from this setting, and I can say wholeheartedly that this game belongs in that conversation. The upcoming Warhammer Space Marine 2 will have to fight to get my attention away from Warhammer Boltgun, because I cannot imagine it having as good a Boltgun as this game does.

One for the dads

Fighting several Blue Horrors in Warhammer Boltgun
Click to enlarge

If you are unfamiliar with the term "boomer shooter", it is a play on elderly people like me who see a newly-released FPS with the colour density of a muddy puddle and a lower pixel count than the hairs left on my head and think yes, that is what I want to play. If your game is mostly brown and has visible seams, my aged eyes can be tricked into believing they're seeing Quake III again.

Sincerely, the lovingly titled "boomer shooter" subgenre has produced some absolutely stellar works over the last number of years, namely games like Dusk, Ultrakill, and many other great games, some of them not even developed by New Blood Interactive. As a fan of these games, and of Warhammer, I was understandably excited for Warhammer 40K Boltgun.

Above and beyond

A ship in orbit above a planet called Graia, where Warhammer Boltgun takes place
Click to enlarge

I will say though, my expectations were not high. Warhammer games have a pretty notorious reputation for being hit-and-miss. This is largely down to the vast number of Warhammer games made by many different studios that have licenced the property, leading to a wide variety of games with a wide variety of quality.

A Warhammer game done in the style of a boomer shooter feels like a no-brainer, an easy win. As such, I hoped for something good, I felt like there was little chance that this game could be really bad. When the game arrived on my desk and turned out to not be good, but in fact be absolutely fantastic, suffice it to say I was pleasantly surprised.

For a game that feels like such a gimmick on paper, Warhammer 40K: Boltgun completely over-delivers. In it, you play as a Sternguard Veteran of the Ultramarines, the big blue boy scouts of the Space Marines. You are tasked with investigating a forge world called Graia which is suspected to have fallen into the corrupting hands of Chaos.

Boots on the ground

The main character punches his hand and claims to "give his life willingly" in Warhammer Boltgun
Click to enlarge

Your squad drops onto the planet and in true Warhammer 40K fashion, your drop pod malfunctions and you are the only survivor of the crash. Alone, you must continue your mission and root out any and all heretics.

Your first steps on Graia tell you a lot. 90s shooters were known for their incredibly fast-paced movement, something that was gradually phased out as the genre progressed. In Boltgun you do move very quickly, but with a heavy step.

If you aren't overly familiar with the setting, Space Marines in Warhammer are a bit like if you fed Brock Lesnar nothing but red meat and human growth hormones for a hundred years, then strapped a skyscraper's worth of steel to him.

Space Marines are hulking giants, but also genetically engineered to be extremely fast and agile. I was not expecting Boltgun to convey all of that in the way your Space Marine moves, but the game pulls it off. You feel the impact of every step you take, yet can move at incredible speeds.

...there is only war

Blood and gore strewn across the ground after a battle in Warhammer Boltgun
Click to enlarge

You begin the game with just your Chainsword, which is a sword with a chainsaw for a blade because everything has to be extra in Warhammer 40K. Further on, you encounter resistance in the form of Chaos worshippers. The locals have indeed been corrupted, and it is your duty as a holy knight of the Emperor to stomp on them with your sedan-sized boots.

As you might imagine, introducing a chainsaw-come-sword to some lowly humans can be a graphic affair, and Boltgun does not hold back in that respect. Kills in this game are bloody and violent.

Enemies are 2D sprites much like they were in the original DOOM games, so every kill is a hand-drawn fountain of pixelated blood and gore. Enemies are torn to pieces by your attacks, their liberated blood and internal organs splat against nearby walls, and slide down in slapstick fashion. It's pure 90s violent excess, and it is bloody beautiful.

This is my boomstick

Looking up at the gothic architecture in Warhammer Boltgun
Click to enlarge

It isn't long before you enter a room and encounter the eponymous weapon that will carry you through much of the game, the Boltgun. Space Marines, as you might imagine, carry fittingly over-the-top weaponry, and nowhere is this more true than the Boltgun.

These weapons are huge, and fire rounds that have more in common with tank shells than bullets. They explode on impact, and one shot is enough to turn most living things into a fine pink mist.

The Boltgun has appeared in only a handful of video games, even fewer where you get to pull the trigger yourself. It has become the benchmark for a good Warhammer 40K game, like the shotgun in a DOOM game.

If the Boltgun feels good, then the game is good. Well, this Boltgun feels amazing. It has the sound and feel you would want, making it a joy to fire relentlessly at a horde of Chaos-worshipping heretics. The sound, the impact, everything about this weapon makes it feel weighty and an absolute blast to use.

Purge the heretics

Fighting a Chaos Space Marine in Warhammer Boltgun
Click to enlarge

Speaking of, there are more enemies in this game than the regular humans who have been turned by the Warp. Before long, Chaos Space Marines will enter the fray to give you a real challenge. They make for much tougher enemies, but not the even match-up you might expect- being a Space Marine yourself. No, that comes later when the Chaos Space Marine Terminators show up, with their giant health bars and endless gunfire.

Enemy variety is wide, with more and more demons appearing as you make your way through the game. Pink Horrors, Blue Horrors, Nerglings, all demons great and small. Fans of shooters will be kept busy with the many enemies they will have to face, and fans of the 40K universe will love seeing so many classic Chaos demons depicted in low-poly glory.

Believe it or not, there is weapon variety as well. You are not limited to the Boltgun in Boltgun, you will pick up several more weapons throughout the game. As your arsenal expands with shotguns, lasguns, and plasma guns, the game's encounters do too.

Much of the game is the classic "move from A to B, and shoot everything in between", but there are some wider arena encounters with many enemies that will keep you moving and hot-swapping your weapons. There is more than enough variety in the gameplay to keep Boltgun moving at an entertaining pace.

In all its glory

Looking out over a cliff in the first mission of Warhammer Boltgun and seeing a city in the distance, with a Warlord Titan looming over it
Click to enlarge

All of this fast-paced, violent action happens to the tune of a pretty epic score, underpinned with some very 90s-style electronic beats. The music is mostly very good, if a little understated. That might be down to the constant Boltgun fire drowning most of it out.

The only unusual inclusion is the occasional twang of some serious dad rock, which I can only assume is there because the average age of the target audience is close to 40 now. Bet that one stung, didn't it?

The retro graphics serve the purpose of making the game look straight from the 90s but still include some gorgeous areas, views, and skyboxes.

Most levels look like they could absolutely have been taken from a forgotten Quake II expansion, but then you turn a corner and see the foggy outline of a massive gothic city in the distance or the hulking remains of a long-dead Warlord Titan. This game knows exactly how to use retro graphics to instil nostalgia, but also how to include some truly stunning visuals without breaking that vibe.

The Verdict

Finding the Boltgun for the first time in Warhammer Boltgun
Click to enlarge

All in all, Warhammer 40K Boltgun punches far above its weight class. It could so easily have been a gimmick, a quick cash grab to drain the wallets of Warhammer fans over the age of 30.

It is so much more than a gimmick, it is a truly genuine attempt to take the concept of a Warhammer 40K boomer shooter and make that the best game it can be. For my money, I reckon it succeeds. I have played more than my fair share of the boomer shooter subgenre, and I would rate this game among the best of them.

In a time when retro graphics have been done to death, Warhammer 40K Boltgun still manages to impress with its visual style. Better still, it feels amazing to play. Your Space Marine feels weighty, but also extremely quick. You get to be just as deadly as an Ultramarine should be, and you will need to be to take on the horde of classic Chaos monsters this game throws at you.

Many fans regard Warhammer Space Marine as the gold standard of games from this setting, and I can say wholeheartedly that this game belongs in that conversation. The upcoming Warhammer Space Marine 2 will have to fight to get my attention away from Warhammer 40K Boltgun, because I cannot imagine it having as good a Boltgun as this game does.

4/5

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.

Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.

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