Warhammer 40 000: Boltgun Review - Doom For All Orcs
When you think boomer shooter, I’m sure you get the same image as I do: Chunky visuals, frenetic and streamlined gameplay, and a whole lot of speed. All of this is here in Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, which takes the grimdark world of the tabletop game and translates the action into FPS form. However, it has a few surprises up its sleeve that might turn those wanting a pure 90s experience off.
In Boltgun, you don the armour of Malum Caedo, part of an Ultramarine squad deployed to the world of Graia to reclaim a source of power. Unsurprisingly, you end up the squad’s sole survivor after being attacked during your descent. This means it’s up to Malum, armed with nothing but a Chainsword, to work his way through a whole load of grunts to secure the objective.
Beyond this setup, Boltgun’s story is rather minimal, delivered through cutscenes at the beginning and end of its 3 chapters. I really loved the way they were put together, with voice work and some excellent pixel art for the visuals.
The thing is? I wished there were more of them. Part of that is because I found parts of the story inscrutable, though I’m sure that’s something down to not being massively into the lore. The other part is that the story is tangentially connected to 2011’s Space Marine, so players who’ve experienced that adventure will get a kick out of some of the references made too.
But you’re not likely to be playing a boomer shooter for the store, are we? No, it’s all about the action, and for the most part, Boltgun does a damn good effort here. Your starting Chainsword is great for quickly dishing out melee damage and closing range to an enemy. It’s also easily available (triggered with L2 on a PS5 controller) which helps make it super effective when used
As for the others? Boltgun has 8 you can acquire, all of which fit into the roles you’ll find in other shooters. One distinctive aspect of them is the Strength mechanic. Each has a defined Strength rating, and as you target an enemy, you’re given its armour as well. If your current weapon strength exceeds your enemy’s, then you’ll do more damage to them. If it’s lower, then unsurprisingly, less damage is done, relative to its base output.
What this means is that there’s a reason to cycle through your weapons as you play, in order to be ready for any threat which appears. Whether it’s cannon fodder like cultists, larger threats like Chaos Terminators, or the truly nasty bosses you’ll encounter at the end of each chapter. Though switching weapons I found to be clumsy, as rather than scroll through each weapon one at a time, you’ll need to tap a direction on the D-Pad once or twice in a given direction to select from those available.
Deep down, having a great set of weapons is critical to a shooter like this, and I was certainly pleased with the majority of them. However, it was the shotgun that felt impactful to me in a way I’d not felt since I was playing Doom II on my family’s old 486.
So the developers certainly did their work on that front.
This is why it’s a bit of a shame the level design doesn’t reach the same levels of quality, as they don’t really crib from 90’s map design the way its presentation and mechanics do.
Firstly, these levels get seriously large, with most taking me between 20-30 minutes to finish. Now if they had complex objectives, this would be reasonable. But your goal is simply to find the exit while finding keycards to open any locked doors in your way.
Though you’ll be involved in plenty of combat, there are times when you’ll be backtracking through cleared-out areas trying to work out where you should be going. It’s also not helped by some of the visual design, as whilst it is thematic, it doesn’t provide a clear indication of where you should be heading. Suffice it to say, I found myself lost on several occasions, particularly when going back to a locked door after finding its matching keycard, an issue only amplified by the lack of an automap.
Then there’s the Purge Rooms. You’ll wander into a room that is sealed with large numbers of enemies spawning to attack. Clear them all out, the exits open and you’re free to move on. It sounds like a nice deviation from the more old-school design, but for me, the problem is that I found these tended to be in environments not ideal for the challenge.
Rather than being in a moderately sized arena, you’ll find yourself in intricate, tight spaces. Spaces where it’s easy to get trapped by enemies, and where remembering where health and ammo pick-ups are isn’t as easy as it should be. Combining this with an increase in intensity, both in the level, and the duration, and I found myself enjoying these Purge Rooms less and less as time went on.
It also didn’t help that I felt they didn’t really fit into the 90’s design Boltgun was cribbing from. With shooters where the goal was simply to reach the exit, levels tend to be more linear and focused on a mix of environmental and combat challenges. The result was quicker levels, with replayability handled through the use of secrets and time tracking.
Though those are both present in Boltgun’s levels, the fatigue I had in many of them taking so long to beat means I’m not that interested in wanting to replay them for the sake of beating my best time or finding more secrets.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a game that does so many things right, that the flaws in its level designs feel like they hit harder than they should. If you’re open to conquering vast levels and prepared for the sudden spikes in intensity and challenge, then it’s one worth trying.
Warhammer 40000k Boltgun was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.