Boomer shooters hold a special place in my heart. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best single-player experiences the genre has to offer. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun holds close to the characteristics set in place by Doom and its ilk while adding a few wrinkles of its own. Thankfully, the game is a very good example of the format, as it features a lot of decent level design, a varied roster of foes, and some truly hard-hitting combat. It falters a bit in some of the details and doesn’t quite match up to the classics, but fans of boomer shooters will find a lot to like here, even if I wish that the game had gone a bit farther in differentiating itself.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun sees you taking on the role of a Space Marine on a mission to “purge” (violently exterminate) Chaos Space Marines, which are Space Marines that serve the Chaos Gods. The words “space” and “marine” show up way too many times in that sentence, I know, but we’re going to need to move past that. The game is comprised of three chapters (just like the classics), with each containing eight levels. Each chapter is bookended by some neat pixel art cutscenes where your character is given their mission, which is violently eviscerate everything with a pulse that has the misfortune of being anywhere near or around your warpath. Yes, you lose all of your weapons once you start a new chapter.
While the levels themselves are polygonal (rendered similarly to areas in late-90s FPSs), everything else is a detailed, pixelated sprite. Not only do these look fantastic, but they also explode into bloody chunks in lurid fashion. Enemy types are distinctive and memorable, so it won’t take long for you to put together strategies regarding how to best deal with them. While the levels in the first chapter mostly feel somewhat samey up until the last couple, the rest of the game feels nicely differentiated, taking us from grey stone corridors to arid canyons and boiling furnaces. Many of the levels have noteworthy gimmicks and unique structures, so it’s clear a lot of time went into constructing them.
Regardless, they can drag in spots. Unlike many similar games, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun doesn’t have a map, and it can be somewhat confusing to find the way forward. The focus here, as always, is on collecting a few differently coloured keys to open doors that let you find your way. Your goal is to reach a special door and exit each level, so there aren’t any objectives or anything of the sort. Having a map would have gone a long way toward making navigation feel better, but things are perfectly doable without one, as long as you don’t mind occasional wandering looking for a key or lock that you may have missed when you were busy purging the areas of their inhabitants.
“Unlike many similar games, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun doesn’t have a map, and it can be somewhat confusing to find the way forward.”
These inhabitants can be broken down into several tiers. The weakest can be dispatched with a single shot or two, while stronger foes take a bit more punishment before expiring. Then there are the enemies that take a significant amount of punishment, and most of these have elite variations that take even more. The enemies in Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun are mostly fun to fight, but stronger enemies are a bit too tanky, as it can take so much concentrated fire to take them down that things can get a wee bit obnoxious. This is especially true for the Space Marine champions that chase you down and oftentimes get a second life if you kill them without making them explode. And boy, do they explode.
After dealing with an arena full of baddies, the place will be absolutely drenched in viscera. The game’s weaponry goes a long way toward making this all the more engrossing. The guns here simply have a lot of impact, even if they don’t always do as much damage as I’d like. There are eight guns in Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, but they’re not quite as varied as you might think. Four of them just deal out a steady stream of damage as you hold down the left-click. They kind of all feel like the same weapon, almost. The boltgun and heavy bolter are just a machine gun and stronger machine gun, after all.
But then there’s the meltagun, which is probably my favourite. It shoots out a blast of heat that pretty much does exactly what its name implies. But the weapon that gives Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun most of its unique feel is the classic series chainblade. If you hold down the melee button and there’s an enemy in range, time will slow down, and you’ll fling yourself to your foe and hit them in the face. Mash the attack button, and you’ll continue to chainsaw them until you stop.
“The combat is Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun‘s greatest strength, as it should be.”
Not only does this do a lot of damage, but it lets you jump from foe-to-foe with relative ease. Plus, you can use it to reach areas you can’t get to solely by jumping. It feels awesome. You can also use a charge that will push enemies out of the way and damage them a bit, which is handy for when you get swarmed (and you will get swarmed). The combat is Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun‘s greatest strength, as it should be. Combine it with the level design, and it makes for a slab of satisfyingly brutal FPS action.
That being said, there are some issues that detract from the overall experience. I already mentioned the wander-y levels and the lack of map, but the game also gives you too many enemy types too quickly. Once you reach the end of the first chapter, you’ll have already seen most of the regular enemies, which doesn’t leave too many surprises in store. There are boss battles, but almost all the bosses are damage sponges that teleport around an arena and make you fight waves. These bosses do a ridiculous amount of damage, so the way to beat them is usually to just find a melee powerup and try to out-damage them before they kill you.
The final boss takes this to ridiculous extremes. They have three enormous health bars, and you have to beat two other bosses simultaneously, alongside endlessly spawning enemy waves. It’s way too much and feels like it goes on forever. The fact that these bosses are so similar to each other doesn’t help either. As for my other complaints, your health and armour are reset every time you start a new level, which removes the need to top yourself up at the end of a level. This could be seen as a good thing though, as players who don’t want to bother with any of that don’t have to.
The levels are also inconsistent in regard to length. The levels in the first two chapters often take half an hour to get through, while most of the ones in the last chapter can easily be finished in half that. I also really wish that the player character could be upgraded in some capacity. I know that boomer shooters often don’t do this, but I think Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun would have helped here. Some new abilities or any upgrades would have led to more satisfying progression, especially since the fighting can feel so same-y.
Despite my issues, I had a great time with Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun. It’ll probably take most players around a dozen hours, which is very fair for the price, and the combat, levels, and visuals are all very impressive. I wish it had gone easier on the sponge-y bosses and had a bit more depth, but the game succeeds in scratching the boomer shooter itch while also nailing the Warhammer 40,000 look and feel. Purge successful, Marine.