Despite being someone with only surface-level knowledge of the Warhammer universe, Boltgun quickly caught my eye. I’m a boomer shooter aficionado: when a game’s promotional material so willingly embraces Doom, it puts the game on my radar.
As a big fan of ripping and tearing, Boltgun taught me a new lesson in kicking pixelated ass: We suffer not the heretics to live. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is absolutely oozing with style, and there’s satisfying boomer shooter gameplay to back it up… but is it enough to keep the average player invested in finishing its three-episode campaign?
Right off the bat; one of the things Boltgun gets right is the Space Marine “feel.” As soon as the drop pod touched down and I gained control of my character, I felt the weight of the hulking abomination that is Boltgun’s protagonist. Each step taken reverberates with a resounding thud – it’s satisfying tactile feedback that’ll help players truly embody the role of the Emperor’s finest.
The player model quite literally dwarfs most enemies – especially the cookie-cutter cultists and lesser daemons that serve as the cannon fodder in most levels – and details like this help to encourage the very aggressive playstyle that comes to define Boltgun’s encounters.
I always felt encouraged to throw my heft around, to get up in my enemies’ faces. There’s a taunt key bind in the game, serving zero mechanical purpose, that I often used after turning a particularly tough foe into Swiss cheese. Lunging at enemies knocks them backwards, knocking them off-kilter and stunning them so the player can cut them down with their chainsword.
You’re playing as a big ol’ armored zealot, and Boltgun plays best when it encourages you to revel in that power fantasy.
Of course, some baddies are a little too big for the reliable shoulder charge ‘n’ chainsword combo. As the game introduces new enemy types, ranged weapons quickly become a necessity. That’s why I’m thankful to report that most additions to the arsenal feel punchy, impactful, and all-around fun to use, which is absolutely imperative to a game like this.
Boltgun holds a true reverence for its titular firearm: when the player finds the “Holy Relic” (my Space Marine’s weapon of choice), it’s bathed in seemingly angelic white light from a hole punched through the ceiling.
Though it’s essentially this game’s version of an average assault rifle, the Boltgun still feels sickeningly satisfying, turning human enemies and lesser daemons into pulpy flesh piles in a few shots.
Other weapons will remain memorable long after the campaign is concluded, too.
The Plasma Gun fires globs of energy that do massive damage on consecutive shots. As the weapon overheats, however, it can also hurt the player, so there’s an on-the-fly management of risk and reward at play. The Heavy Bolter does consistently high damage and doesn’t need to reload, but the player is slow and encumbered while firing it.
The Melta Gun, Volkite Caliver, and Grav-Cannon are added late game, but they’ll stand out as boss killers right away. Each gun in Boltgun has a role. There are enemies they are good against and enemies that lesser weapons will barely scratch.
“Purges” are where the weapon variety really shines; they’re the best sections in the game. Players get locked in a big room with ammo, health, and contempt (armor) pickups scattered about, and the doors don’t unlock until every wave of enemies lies dead.
Whenever I initiated a purge, I would be swapping between weapons every few seconds to deal with the next onslaught. The weapons are tools, and you need the correct tool to dispatch each oncoming threat.
It feels like Boltgun learned all the right lessons from Doom Eternal and their approach to a well-rounded arsenal… except for the Shotgun. The Shotgun is a piece of garbage that kills nothing but the lowliest trash. It should be a crime punishable by death to fuck up the shotgun in a boomer shooter!
Unfortunately, the peashooter Shotgun isn’t the only bone I have to pick with Boltgun because this game has some serious core design flaws that dampen the overall experience. Beware, ye who continue to read this review. Emperor be damned, we’re about to delve into some serious heresy.
First of all – and I must preface this by saying I am not a doctor – but holy shit, I’m diagnosing every enemy in this game with a traumatic brain injury. I don’t know if it’s all of that exposure to the warp, but it really hurts what would otherwise often be very thoughtful enemy placement.
Many, many enemies in this game will not engage you until you come laughably close, and it becomes trivial to two-tap them with the Boltgun at a distance. Even worse, some of the bigger enemies seem to get randomly stunlocked by player attacks… if you keep peppering them with bullets, they just won’t fight back.
I played on Emperor’s Mercy, the second hardest difficulty in the game, and I think I can count the number of times I died on both hands… If you’re looking for a challenging FPS, Boltgun might not be the game for you.
What was frustratingly challenging, however, was navigating Boltgun’s often confusing level design. As with many other boomer shooters, Boltgun uses “keys” for level progression. There are color-coded doors throughout levels, and players must find the matching key in order to progress to the next area.
The best keys in Boltgun are in the middle of a room. These are arenas; you grab the key, waves of enemies spawn, kill them all, and the lockdown lifts. Then, you’re able to take that key and push through to the next part of the level.
With other keys, you’re not going to be as lucky. Sometimes, you wind down labyrinthian corridors, mauling enemies in close combat to make it to the key at the end of a hallway. Once you pick that sucker up, good luck backtracking to the door. Maybe I’m an idiot, but there were certain doors I spent between 5-10 minutes trying to find.
A particularly egregious example was a level around halfway through episode three. The entire level takes place on a massive elevator, but the elevator stops at different floors as the player wipes out waves of enemies. Each floor has a key, but there’s no way to know where to get on-and-off the elevator each time without running around like a headless chicken.
This downtime between fights starts to feel really pointless, and there were times I grew so frustrated I wanted to put the game down altogether and just take a break. That’s not fun. That’s agony.
In the end, I don’t want to make the levels sound all bad, though. There are some standout hits for sure. The finale of episode one features a cathedral being pulled into the warp, and it’s one of the best boomer shooter levels I’ve played since Dusk’s floating farmlands. These levels are just few and far between, and it feels like there are more “misses” than “hits,” especially in episode two.
When it comes to letting players fulfill the Space Marine power fantasy, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is second to none. But poor enemy variety, abysmal AI, and the ever-confusing map design hold this title back from going up there in the pantheon of nearly perfect boomer shooters. Without a doubt, fans of Warhammer and avid boomer shooter players will need to give this title a try, but the rest of you heretics might want to pass over this retro FPS.
I give Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun a 7.5/10.
Have you played Boltgun? What do you think of this title? Would you like to see another Warhammer FPS in this style in the future? Let me know in the comments down below, and stay tuned to Couch Soup for all things boomer shooter!