Updated: Sep 21
On paper, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun sounds like the perfect idea—marry Warhammer 40,000’s grimdark aesthetics with the speed and violence of a boomer shooter. Throw in some awesome 2D-3D Pixel art, over-the-top gore, and call it a day. In practice and execution, these are great things, and Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun has a lot to love about it, but dig a little deeper, and the repetition sets in. Confusing level layouts, repetitive fights, and spongy enemies make this a slog to fight through in anything other than short bursts.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun nails so much of what makes Warhammer 40,000 great.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a self-proclaimed “boomer shooter,” a genre that has recently exploded in popularity. In 2016 the DOOM reboot seemed to spark a fire for stripped-down, visceral, fast-paced shooters with much less focus on ammo counts, reloading, and realism. Some of my favorites, like Dusk and Amid Evil, show precisely why the genre is so full of potential. Still, those titles play constantly with perspective and level design while having considerable weapon and enemy variety.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a single-player retro shooter that bridges Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2, where you can fight everything from nurglings to Chaos Sorcerers. And yet, throughout its three acts, it always feels like everything stays the same from the first act to the last.
The aesthetics of Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun are top-notch, and it nails what makes Warhammer 40,000 such an iconic universe. The environments are huge, with vast caverns, massive ships, and towering gothic spires. The enemy designs and animations are also excellent, with every little sprite having a variety of reactions to damage, and that doesn’t even mention the gore. The violence in Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is comical. Giblets rain, blood splatters everywhere, and spinal cords and intestines bounce around as little physics objects after you explode the umpteenth cultist with your bolter. The moment-to-moment gameplay in Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is very satisfying. You can feel the weight of your Space Marine in every movement. Sprinting makes you feel like an 18-wheeler with no brakes, pressing F lets you ram through hordes like a linebacker, and your melee lets you auto-zip to close enemies and chainsword them in the face. It’s cathartic, chaotic, and absurdly violent in a comically over-the-top way. So far, so good.
While the visuals are lovely on a technical level, and many of the assets are fantastic, the layouts could be much better. Levels can run on for a long time and look very similar. Entire acts seem to occur in the same-looking areas, and getting your bearings in levels can become difficult. Combine that with the sprawling layouts, multiple color-coded keys, and the mountains of enemies you must fight through, and levels can start to feel like battles of attrition, especially when you consider one of the parts that kill Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun’s flow the most, the enemy health. Your basic cultists are wonderfully squishy. Dropping from high above them will instantly crush them into paste under your ceramite boots, and a single round from your bolter will immediately cause them to explode in a shower of gore. Once enemies become more robust, which happens quickly, you will face hordes of lore-accurate chaos space marines, plague toads, lords of change, and more. Unfortunately, many of these enemies are comically strong, forcing you to pump 150-200 heavy bolter rounds into them, and fights can go on for so long that enemies seem unlimited. Levels are confusing gauntlets where you fight tooth and nail against hundreds of enemies who can rip you to shreds relatively quickly but take an absolute beating to go down.
Enemies are comically strong, forcing you to pump 150-200 heavy bolter rounds into them.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is incredibly fun in short bursts. All the individual components are solid, and the gameplay is excellent. The real killer here is the levels and the enemy tuning. You don’t feel like an unstoppable space marine when every few seconds you have to stop mowing down cultists to do a little dodge-dance with an enemy that takes a ridiculous amount of damage to take down and can finish you in a few hits. It breaks the fantasy of being one of the best warriors in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Maybe playing the game on easy is the best way to go? I played on hard and found the scaling to be a massive detriment to the flow of combat, but even then, changing the difficulty won’t make the levels any less tedious or repetitive. There is a lot to love about Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, but it is brought much lower than it should be by a few significant issues that plague the rest of the title.
Weighty, fast combat
Unique and technically impressive hybrid pixel art
Enemies have way too much health
Levels have little visual variety
The story is nonexistent
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One.
Review is based on the PC version. No key was provided by the publisher.