Perhaps the ultimate 90s metal fan's dream, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a fusion of retro-styled first-person shooters with the beloved sci-fi universe that spawned the term "grimdark." It becomes a lot of fun by combining the aesthetics, story sense, and level design of a game like Duke Nukem 3D or the original Doom with the rich library of character designs that 40K has built over its roughly 35-year history. You are the sternguard of the Space Marines, a decorated elite that doesn't say much, and you are on loan to the fearsome and evil Imperial Inquisition. Your job is to destroy everything that stands between you and... whatever goals you currently pursue. Don't think about it too much: there isn't much of a plot here, just a lot of good old fashioned running and shooting.
Throughout three chapters and dozens of levels, you will cleanse, purify, and slay all heretics and Chaos-worshipping daemons in the extremely gray-brown world of Graia's forges. (Easter egg: It's also the setting for 2011's Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, making it technically a spin-off of that story.) companion archetype, it offers only ghastly spaced-out commentary on the world around you, mostly to note things like how a nearby stack of boxes is arranged in a disapproving, possibly heretical way. It will also indicate room exits in confusing parts, albeit inconsistently.
Boltgun's retro appeal is undeniable, though I should mention that you can reduce pixelation and adjust the color filter to make it easier to see what's going on. This will leave you with more than just a low-poly shooter with smooth textures and 2D enemy sprites if for some reason you're a mutant who prefers sharp lines and unobstructed long-distance views. As for me, I really liked the visual filters and found that the pixel style enhances Boltgun's appearance.
Boltgun's retro appeal is undeniable.
It takes between eight and ten hours to complete the campaign, which starts off a bit slowly but quickly builds into a solid middle section, ending with a series of lackluster final levels peppered with some truly unexpected and fun gems. Like many retro shooters, Boltgun is probably best enjoyed by those willing to take on its toughest difficulties. This means mastering run-and-gun combat and movement skills in an attempt to master level design and weapon types, something the weapons in Boltgun are good for, as each one has a specific task.
Speaking of weapons, there are eight plus your chainsword, which you can smash with the speed up button in melee combat and cause your enemies to explode into strawberry jam. I was a particular fan of the sticky Vengeance Launcher (which made a triumphant return from Space Marine) and the Heavy Bolter which, in true retro shooter style, never requires reloading, just fires until your ammo tank is depleted. Also worth mentioning is the long-range plasma pistol, the fusion pistol's cone burst, and the volkite-caliber precision beam, all of which fill a useful niche in your arsenal.
Whether it's the main bolter, a nice shotgun, or a dissolving graviton rifle, every weapon has a power stat and every enemy has a power stat. Weapons with a power lower than the target's hardness deal much less damage, while more powerful weapons pierce through baddies. This means you need to adapt as you go, making sure to save high-powered ammo for high-stamina enemies, and knowing when to bring out the big guns to take out hordes of mid-tier baddies before they overwhelm you. If this sounds familiar to you, then you probably play tabletop Warhammer and will deeply appreciate this level of dedication to rhythm.
If you play tabletop Warhammer, you'll deeply appreciate this level of commitment to pacing.
Speaking of dedication: you have health on the bolter, but no armor, you have contempt. It's a touch perfectly suited to the zealous hyper-fan warrior-monks that are the Space Marines, and a welcome throwback to the infamous Space Marine mantra "My armor is scorn, my shield is hate, my sword is hate." Emperor's name, let no one survive."
And there are certainly plenty of villains to survive. Boltgun rarely seems to be afraid of throwing large hordes at you, even in small spaces - a few times per level you'll hit a large space and the screen will black out red, meaning you've entered "Purge Mode" and thus , you're locked on the battlefield. This is where the Boltgun shines, asking you to make the most of your superhuman jumps, sprints, dashes, and fall damage resistance to avoid and eliminate heavy odds. Enemies in clear mode will continue to spawn until you've taken out a few key enemies, often the strongest ones, such as larger demons, chaos terminators, and boss monsters.
They generally make good enemies, to be honest. Well-balanced between ranged and melee, they require a change of tactics: don't run into the open against Chaos Terminators and their long-range autocannons, for example. Or the utter idiots who are Champions of Chaos, raging melee fighters who, when killed in any way that doesn't turn them into guts, will pray to their dark gods for a chance to come back to life. There are also some with good and strange powers, like the Pink Horror, who turns into two Blue Horrors when he dies. Charming and true to the 40K canon!
I also enjoyed the handful of bosses, and even when they were repetitive, they were pretty unpleasant to fight - I always found a secret stash with a vortex grenade handy and kept it on hand for those occasions. Nothing ends a big demon's day like a small black hole that doubles as a portal back to cosmic hell.
The enemies are dumb as rocks.
There are only two problems with the horde of villains. The first is that the enemies are dumb as rocks, mostly content to let you shoot them from afar if they can't see or reach you. It's a particularly bad feeling when the enemy is in a crowd. They don't even try to hide, which takes some of the joy out of killing. For many people, especially those looking for a challenge, the AI is where this game will risk losing them.
Jon's Best Retro Shooters
List of the best of Boomer Shooters, as of May 2023.
Another problem is that you will see the last of the new enemy types and even bosses in the middle of the campaign; there are no more than 20 in all. Even the obvious enemy variations would be welcome: all the Chaos Space Marines you fight carry the same boltgun and grenades, not a single plasma or melta pistol in sight. What's even weirder to me is that even though you fight a lot of demons, it's always Plague or Change monsters, never a mix of the two, which seems like an easy way to provide some variety.
In theory, this lack of enemy types should be countered with a solid level design. That remedy works on most boltguns, but by the end of the second chapter, wandering the corridors looking for colored buttons starts to get a bit boring, a game cliché that I think we should have learned doesn't sit well with this one. 2003 Warhammer 40K setting: Fire Warrior. It's the connective tissue between those intense arena fights that starts to get a bit repetitive, and while there are secrets to try to find, none of them are particularly inventive, mostly just stuff hidden behind or inside a shipping container. dark hex. Not a single illusory wall to walk through or obtusely hidden door to discover (or if there is one, I couldn't find it).
To its credit, almost every level has at least one highlight: you'll fight your way through sprawling cathedral interiors, space defense cannons, forge complexes, and alien-dug caves, among other things. I especially liked a huge cathedral-like space with smaller churches, each of which had to be reached by jumping. There's also a big level set in a giant foundry where you fight your way up one side of a river of molten rubber and then down the other.
There are some really awesome levels here too. The giant elevator in the Orbital Crown Station is a huge, repetitive arena fight in a complex multi-level structure that I loved jumping and climbing on while fighting. As a rule of thumb, I've always hated levels that are a giant elevator, but Boltgun can now proudly claim to be the exception that proves it.