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Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun review: screaming bloody murder

Warhammer 40k: Boltgun is an intoxicating boomer shooter that showers you in the blood of your enemies

I believe it was the great poets of our time, My Chemical Romance, who once said “Blood! Blood! Gallons of the stuff!” The team behind Warhammer 40k: Boltgun clearly took those powerful words to heart.

Every enemy bursts into a shower of blood when they die, and the squelching of my feet stomping through their guts is only muted by the screams of the fools who believed they could for a moment stand in my path. Chaos Terminators laugh in my face only to be ripped apart by a hail of bullets moments later, and the fiends from nether realms are but insects to be squashed beneath my boot like the pathetic mortals they are.

I may have gotten carried away there, but Boltgun is an intoxicating power trip.

Warhammer Boltgun killing an enemy

A lot of games over the past decade have tried to recapture the feeling of a classic boomer shooter. It’s brought us things like DOOM (2016) that modernized it, Metal: Hellsinger that put a unique spin on it, while Dusk showed how inventive they can be. Boltgun isn’t worried about any of that fancy stuff though: it stays true to the feel of those classic shooters. Whack your FOV slider to maximum and settle in for some fast-paced action.

The whole game has a wonderful sense of momentum. While the sound effects and camera shake invoke the feeling of you stomping around in heavy armor, your movement couldn’t be smoother. You glide across the floor at a high default speed that encourages you to run headfirst into any enemy that pops up in front of you, giving you the best seat in the house for their disemboweling.

That clean movement is key to making some of this game’s best sequences shine. While you’ll mostly be charging through linear levels, you’ll occasionally get trapped in an arena where your wits will be put to the test by waves of enemies. Much like the modern DOOM games, there is a good sense of mixing the right enemies for a fun challenge, although your choice of weapon is less to do with tactics and more to do with what feels the coolest.

Warhammer Boltgun using the chainsaw

The weapons are another key part of the power fantasy. The first two weapons – the titular boltgun and a shotgun – pack a serious punch with thunderous sound effects, but it only gets wilder from there. The plasma cannon echoes in your ears as the beam fizzles around you and the rapid-fire grenade launcher does exactly what you’d expect it to.

The visuals are great, too. It walks that fine line of using the classic pixel-art, sprite-based style while still being made with HD graphics in mind. Sprites are nicely detailed and the full range of colors are used to great effect to ensure you can easily tell the difference between enemies. A touch I really enjoy is that the sprites always remain forward-facing until you start going above them, at which point you can see their flatness in all its glory – not to mention making them quite hard to hit.

It does fall foul of some of the same problems of classic boomer shooters though. Namely that it can get too difficult for its own good. There are ways to work around this – the game has four different difficulty settings – but sometimes when you’re trapped in an arena the overwhelming number of enemies that get thrown your way can feel rather unfair. Some people love these kinds of scenarios, but it can undermine that core power fantasy when you’re dying over and over again, losing that sense of forward momentum.

Warhammer Boltgun Chaos Space Marine taunting

That lack of tactics between weapons and enemy types is an issue in these scenarios too. I found myself constantly switching weapons and searching for a good strategy to take each enemy down only to find that none existed. The game just isn’t that deep, and while that philosophy is true to the classics, it’s not so much of a good thing in the modern day.

It’s a big problem with games that try to invoke design elements that went out of fashion decades ago, finding the right balance of modernity vs old-school design is tricky. Boltgun mostly gets it right, but stumbles here and there.

Despite my complaints, I would happily blast through Warhammer 40k: Boltgun all over again. There may be moments of frustration, but it doesn’t undermine the sheer joy of ripping through fast-paced levels with weapons that gods fear and metal music in the background.

Score: 8/10

Version tested: PC (Steam)

  • Technical performance: 10/10
  • Art: 8/10
  • Audio and music: 9/10
  • Mechanics and systems: 8/10

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun technical breakdown

Given what the game is working with, it’s no surprise that it runs flawlessly on PC. With such a fast-paced game it’s important that the framerate runs smooth as butter and it does, virtually never dropping below 60fps. I was entirely free of bugs in my time too, even poking around in janky corners didn’t let me break free of the map – sorry speedrunners.