Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a chip off a very familiar block. I’m not sure how I feel about the term ‘boomer shooter’ but it is accurate in conveying a very specific first-person experience. I’m not a fan of the fiction but the setting certainly lends itself perfectly to a no-nonsense, all-action effort. Auroch Digital are behind the trigger and, I have to say, they’ve done a superb job.
The story puts you in the shoes of Space Marine Malum Caedo. He’s dispatched on a mission of utmost importance to retrieve a power source that some Techpriests on Graia have been tinkering with. A surprisingly lengthy cutscene handles the exposition but, after the intro, the plot is delivered by pre-mission text. I’ll admit I tuned out to most of it but there is a self-serious tone which drives through most of it. I wish they stuck with the cutscenes because I tended to overlook the mission briefings. It takes place across the typical three episode story with each episode containing 8 levels.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun‘s arsenal is incredibly useful and well-rounded. There’s eight weapons in total with the titular Boltgun being something of a workhorse. It doesn’t deliver that much damage but the rate of fire makes light work of smaller foes and can pin down some larger opposition. All of them appear to have a fairly wide range which can allow you to pick targets off from relative safety.
Combat does implement some tabletop rules with enemy strength needing to be taken into account. Units with high strength numbers require bigger weapons and more pressure to take down. It’d a good way to illustrate an enemy’s danger and, at a glance I could tell which ones were going to bring some serious hurt. At times, I do think this mechanic boils down to standard first-person shooter conventions. As enemies types are dished out to you, they grow in size and threat and I didn’t feel the strength number was as crucial as just knowing by sight what’s ahead of you. It does, however, allow you to utilise the full cavalcade of weaponry and gives the player another decision to make.
Encounters can feel hectic with some of the latter ones employing a kitchen sink approach to design. The game trades heavily in arena lockdowns called purges which task you with surviving a hoard. Ammo, health and contempt are usually in good supply but these fights do require a proactive approach. Fodder can overwhelm in enough numbers and clearing one wave will inevitably spawn in another. I found these really enjoyable to think on the fly and move constantly for better positioning or extra supplies. Arenas can be littered with viscera and incoming projectiles can certainly make things look busy.
To even up the score a little, secrets can be found which act as power-ups. Some increase your weapon’s damage for a time, replenish your ammo or put you in a rage state. The latter somewhat ruined my vision as it heavily tints the screen a blood red which, given that purges already take place under such conditions, compounds a game that can already look cluttered. Once the purge is cleared, there’s a nice sense of release and it’s that rise and fall that Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun trades in quite nicely.
Level design is also quite varied. The big battles take place in some wide open spaces but there’s time for claustrophobic corridors and lots of verticality. It’s largely a game within metal industrial spaces but the colour palette does tend to change between chapters. There’s a lot of dark blues and reds but the molten foundry levels allow for some searing hot yellows. They can be a little tricky to navigate with this game’s lack of a map. Instead, I was relying on arrows and Roman numerals to point me in the right direction. For the most part, it’s a linear experience but there’s always a chance to get turned around. Hunting for keys features prominently so prods towards home are greatly appreciated.
By the end of the experience, I grew to appreciate it. Traversal can be pretty quick and the platforming is largely forgiving. Jump pads and teleports make occasional appearances and I do find the latter can be a little tricky to manage. The final arena contains a couple which seem to land me in more danger than I’d like. Luckily, fall damage is non-existent with drops into pits penalising your health pool only slightly.
Naturally, a retro aesthetic is required for games like these and Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun decides on a very software rendered look. It’ a fully 3D engine that looks fairly modern with the pixel filters removed. It’s for the best as the lack of anti-aliasing and coloured lighting can really make the blood and guts explode onto the screen. Whilst it may not be true to the limitations of the day, it has an authentic feel and the more recent underpinnings allow for a lot more creativity. By the end of the game you have so many enemies to consider and every trick to best them. The AI’s not especially deep but there is strength in numbers.
It’s all backed by a dynamic, metal soundtrack. Typically it’ll pipe up when encounters go loud and fall silent once a hoard has been vanquished. Enemies all have their combat barks and there’s some good ambient humming to let you know you’re spending most of the levels in and around heavy machinery. Presentation is strong but I do feel let down a little by the menus. They’re a little too clean when set against the gameplay’s pixelated grime.
When it comes down to it, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is an effective homage to an era of twitchy, kinetic shooters. The aesthetics are on point with weaponry that feels weighty and effective. The cadence of combat can be chaotic but the levels have a scale to them that allows for plenty of evasive manoeuvres. The fiction’s never going to do much for me but I’m having too much fun to care.
+ Varied level design with plenty of verticality and traversal.
+ A satisfying and useful arsenal.
+ Gory, pixelated aesthetic.
- Some purge events seem to last forever.
- The heads up display and menus clash with the pixel style.
- Storytelling is disjointed.