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Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun review: gloriously maximalist shooting and sawing in the 41st millennium


An armored enemy gets their body sawn in half by the players chainsaw sword in Warhammer 40k Boltgun
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Focus Entertainment

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is possibly one of the most perfectly named games in history. The first bit lets you know you’re playing a game set in the venerable Warhammer 40,000 tabletop universe, while the second bit tells you everything else you need to know. What kind of game is it? Boltgun. What’s the gameplay like? Boltgun! What’s the story? BOLTGUN! Okay, there is technically a story, but it’s a thin excuse to let you shoot crunchy Chaos things in 40k, and shooting things in 40k means BOLTGUN!!!

Boltgun is a retro-styled first-person shooter, or boomer shooter, to use the parlance of our times. Cast as a Space Marine, one of 40k’s genetically engineered fascist super soldiers, it’s your job to secure the Plot Device and prevent 40k’s already crappy Imperium from getting even crappier. As you can probably guess, this means running around at incredible speeds and shooting hordes of cultists, traitors and daemons in the face until they fall down, explode into chunks of bright red gore, or both.

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Straight out of the gate, Boltgun impresses with its fast, fluid, yet still grounded, movement. I was concerned that the speed of the genre, and the slidey movement that often accompanies it, would be a poor fit for portraying an eight-foot, power-armoured Space Marine, but dashing about feels appropriately weighty. Hitting the run key emphasises your massive, stompy footfalls, which feels fantastic, but also introduces enough shakiness to make sprinting everywhere an unappealing prospect.

It’s no secret that good guns are an essential ingredient for an FPS. You don’t want to be blasting away with something that has all the audiovisual impact of one of those tiny water pistols that you might get in a birthday party goodie bag. The pressure for a game set in a beloved sci-fi setting is even stronger. Imagine playing a Star Wars game that didn’t get the PEWPEWPEW of blasters right. It’s proper make-or-break stuff.

An explosion of red and orange fills the screen as an enemies bursts into a bloody mess in Warhammer 40k Boltgun
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Focus Entertainment

When you go as far as naming your game after the weapon in question, you have to be sure that you’re hitting the mark. Auroch Digital clearly knows this and, thankfully, has absolutely nailed it. At the start of the game, you’ve been separated from the titular firearm, although you’re hardly helpless as you still have your trusty chainsword. The game’s sole melee weapon, the chainsword is exactly what you think it is and is a whole lot of fun to use. Rather than being a weapon of last resort, it’s an important part of your arsenal, bound to the right mouse button by default (none of that new-fangled ironsight aiming here) and cleaving through most enemies pretty sharpish. Holding down the button slows the action to a near standstill, releasing it will see you dash forward and hack at your chosen target. If an enemy is too tough to be taken down instantly, you can hammer the button repeatedly to attempt to saw through them, a move that may stun them if they’ve taken enough damage already.

Partway through the first level, you encounter a holy boltgun mounted on (well, floating above and slowly rotating) an altar in a moment of suitable awe and reverence. If, unlike me, you didn’t spend your formative years absorbing Warhammer lore while overly-cheerful GW employees attempted to push overpriced piles of plastic and white metal on you, you may not realise what a big deal a boltgun is. No mere bullet-thrower, the boltgun fires self-propelled explosive shells, like miniature rockets. It’s loud, messy, and emblematic of the high-tech brutality that pervades humanity in the 41st millennium.

A pistol fires a thin orange beam in an underground bunker in Warhammer 40k Boltgun
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Focus Entertainment
The looming silhouette of a giant mech is on the horizon Warhammer 40k Boltgun
A gun basked in an orange glow floats on a alter in Warhammer 40k Boltgun
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Focus Entertainment

In practice, it’s a fully-automatic assault rifle turned up to 11 and gee-whiz is it satisfying to fire. The CHOOM-CHOOM-CHOOM of the bolts launching, the tiny explosions as they impact and turn the enemies of the Imperium into red mulch. It’s brilliant, even if you’re not a 40k fan, which is a good thing as it’s the weapon you’ll use more than any other.

Boltgun’s arsenal is a delectable menu of destruction, where every gun has its place. Ammunition is tight and the last thing you want to do is to waste your best daemon-killing shots on cultist chaff. To aid you in selecting the right implement from your golf bag of gibbage, Boltgun cleverly cribs from its tabletop inspiration and displays strength and toughness values for guns and enemies, respectively. Ideally, you want to be shooting a given enemy with a gun that has a strength equal to, or slightly exceeding, their toughness. If the strength of the gun is too low, it won’t be reaching its full potential. Too high and you’re wasting precious ammo for a more powerful gun. It’s a simple and effective way to help you make best use of your toolbox of terror. Like the boltgun itself, the weapons on offer are chunky and entertaining, carefully balancing accuracy to the source material for fans with readability for those who don’t know their volkite from their vengeance launchers.

It’s not just the weapons that will please 40k aficionados, Boltgun is stuffed full of little touches that convey a real love of the setting

It’s not just the weapons that will please 40k aficionados, Boltgun is stuffed full of little touches that convey a real love of the setting. Much of the architecture is taken directly from instantly recognisable tabletop terrain pieces, like the ubiquitous munitorum armoured container and the 90’s DIY classic, the spiky red cocktail stick cactus. Combined with the pleasing retro aesthetic and absolutely banging soundtrack, Boltgun is a game perfectly pitched at my Doom and Warhammer-loving teen self.

There are some issues holding Boltgun back from true greatness. The pacing feels off in places, with new guns or enemies being doled out too fast for you to properly appreciate their nuances, followed by periods where it seems like you haven’t seen anything new in ages. The first proper boss fight, which is incredibly intense and saw me going down while it was just a few hits from death over and over again, is followed by an even tougher and more intense level, considerably lessening the impact. The lack of a map really hurts in places, and more than once I found myself running in circles while I tried to backtrack to a locked door with a newly-acquired key. Boltgun also empties its magazine way too soon. By the time you reach the third and final chapter, you’ll have seen the vast majority of what’s on offer, with firearms and foes being broadly the same as in the previous sections. That said, I do feel that the pacing issues are exacerbated by having to play through it at the speed of a busy video game critic, and will be less apparent to those tackling it a level or two at a time.

An enemy fires balls of fire towards the player in Warhammer 40k Boltgun
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Focus Entertainment

It’s also incredibly tough. I will not claim to be some kind of boomer shooter expert, but I will happily play games of all stripes on medium difficulty and find myself turning it up partway through a game much more often than I’ll turn it down. I’m not ashamed to say that Boltgun had me reaching for the low difficulty and I still got my butt handed to me on occasion. This isn’t to its detriment as such, especially as it has an invulnerability toggle (pleasingly located in the accessibility menu) but something to be aware of. I’m actually quite looking forward to seeing some max-difficulty speedruns of some of the trickier sections, because they’re going to be incredible to watch

I’ll confess that I nearly passed on Boltgun. It’s not often that a straight-up FPS captures my attention these days, and even the combined lures of Warhammer 40k and Rahul Kohli (who is sadly a bit wasted as the protagonist, his contributions limited to a few grunts and a selection of heavily-filtered taunt lines delivered at the smash of the T key) weren’t enough to grab me. However, I’m really glad that I checked it out as, despite some issues, Boltgun is marvellous fun. It’s a highly entertaining shooter that had me grinning from ear to ear on many an occasion, and is one of, if not the best representation of the Warhammer 40,000 universe available on your personal cogitation device.

This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher Focus Entertainment.

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