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Platform: PC

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun Review

A retro shooter with a different skin

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There are plenty of older gamers that grew up during the dawn of the medium, and thoroughly enjoyed classic and breakthrough experiences such as DOOM, Civilization, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and others. And while all genres have moved on and evolved overtime, it seems that there was still a certain level of nostalgia for particular experiences. We've seen a variety of 2D platformers over recent years that try to capture the look and feel of those from the 90s, and now the shooter genre is cashing in on its roots. From HROT to Prodeus, a variety of developers have been re-creating the DOOM and Quake-like experiences. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is another such title, offering players a visceral pixelated shooter experience with a Warhammer theme.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun

Boltgun has players assume the role of a Space Marine that has been sent to a planet to purge (i.e. exterminate) a faction of other Chaos Space Marines and daemons of Chaos, that have apparently decided to serve the wrong god and thus have been classified as heretics. The individual level-based missions include cutscenes before and after deployment that offer a bit of insight into the narrative. However, the story is fairly thin and is really only there to string the content together. Fans of the Warhammer 40k universe will probably get a kick out of the lore and perhaps some character or location names, but it will likely go over most players' heads.

As mentioned, what makes Boltgun stand out is its visual style. The game uses a pixelated art style that makes everything look like a game from over two decades ago, and yet it's rendered with great color and texture quality. The levels, enemies, weapons, and items are all pixelated, but offer solid design and no less gore than one would expect from a game featuring a chainsaw weapon. The cutscenes between missions are rendered with a higher density pixel level and look great as well. You'll visit grey industrial corridors, canyons, fiery furnaces, and more typical Warhammer settings. There is even a setting that lets players adjust how much pixelation they want in-game, which is neat.

The audio design leans a bit more modern, and is a bit more of a mixed bag. It has punchy weapon effects and a setting-appropriate soundtrack during the action. You can also hear your own heavy footsteps, which adds to the immersion. However, during the action your character merely grunts, and there's no expected sound of metal chips as incoming bullets hit your Space Marine. Enemy vocalization is also subdued.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun

Like its presentation, this "boomer shooter" (an awkward nickname players created for the subgenre) also features throwback gameplay. The first person shooting is satisfying, and movement feels intentionally a bit floaty. You also get a chainsaw attack that lets you jump and slice towards a highlighted foe, as well as a charge-move to help escape a tricky situation. But weapon variety does feel a bit lacking, in terms of their feel and function. There are around eight guns at your disposal, starting from the basic Boltgun which is a typical SMG. The heavy Boltgun version does more damage but reduces your movement speed, and it doesn't feel worth swapping to. The shotgun and plasma gun feel underpowered.

Things go from underwhelming to poor when it comes to level design. The standalone levels have you doing exactly what the subgenre demands – finding dead ends, scouring the other side of the level for the key to open said door, and then rinse and repeat. That in itself isn’t a big issue – Prodeus did it very well –but Boltgun suffers from pace-killing design decisions. For one thing, there is no map or any UI elements that hint at where you need to go next. The levels often feature a confusing layout and little guidance to give players a sense of direction. You can easily miss doors or pathways because they are not obvious. It becomes a real annoyance over time. There is a floating skull that follows you throughout the game, but instead of using it as an ingenious way to direct the players, it simply highlights nearby resources like health and ammo, which is quite pointless.

Navigation aside, enemy encounter design also feels quite repetitive. Deeper into the 8-10 hour campaign, levels grow longer because they become a series of arenas where you must find seemingly randomly-spawned enemies. Even on normal difficulty, these bigger fights become a source of frustration as you can take spike damage quickly, and deaths feel cheap. Feedback from incoming damage is not very clear in the heat of battle (the screen simply changes color in particular direction), so it's tough to create a plan of action. You are basically left to react and continuously strafe around, hoping nothing spawns right behind you. Enemies also start getting larger health pools, and bosses become particularly annoying, with prolonged encounters and repetitive design.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun

Other unfortunate design choices include the decision to take away all your weapons at the start of each chapter. You'll have also seen most of the enemy types by the end of the first couple of chapters (Prodeus faced a similar problem), leaving the rest of the game with only the prolonged arena fights and few surprises. At least, the title performs well. It does have modest system requirements because despite the pixelated visuals, this is a good looking game underneath, and you can see that if you set the pixelation to minimal.

Boltgun has a great source of inspiration and the almost infinite lore of Warhammer to draw upon, and while it looks the part, the rest of the experience is a bit underwhelming. The shooting is solid, but not particularly groundbreaking or unique compared to the many similar games released in just the past few years. Instead, it suffers a bit from repetitive level design, frustrates with its lack of a map/UI guidance or environmental substitutes, and tedious enemy encounters. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a solid enough entry in the retro shooter genre, but there are better options out there, so this would appeal most specifically to Warhammer fans.

Our ratings for WH40k: Boltgun on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
A great pixel-art style that fits well within the sub-genre, and is even adjustable. Audio could have been improved.
Good movement and action, but weapons aren't different enough nor particularly unique for the WH40k universe.
Single Player
Repetitive level design combined with lack of navigational hints, and showing everything that the game has to offer very early on.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5700X
GPU: AMD 6700 XT 12GB
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PC Specs

No issues
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a decent entry into the retro-shooter genre that will appeal most to fans of the WH40k universe, while everyone else should probably choose a different, better game to fulfill their classic action itch.
WH40k: Boltgun
WH40k: Boltgun box art Platform:
Our Review of WH40k: Boltgun
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
WH40k: Boltgun is ranked #1461 out of 1910 total reviewed games. It is ranked #48 out of 71 games reviewed in 2023.
1461. WH40k: Boltgun
1462. AEW Fight Forever
Xbox Series X
Related Games
WH40k: Space Marine 2 WH40k: Space Marine 2
Platform: PC
Coming: December 2023
Developer: Saber Interactive

WH40k: Boltgun
7 images added 113 days ago
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