Warhammer 40,000 has proven to be one of the most flexible franchises in the world of gaming.
From Real-Time Strategy, to Action Adventures. Diablo-likes, MMORPGs, squad-based warfare and now a retro boomer shooter. It’s literally done it all.
Boltgun comes to us from Auroch Digital and Focus Indie, an interesting collaboration, indeed, considering Auroch’s history of working on Brewmaster and Mars Horizon.
But the initial trailer was all I needed to get me excited on this one. As a guy who grew up on Wolfenstein, DOOM and Duke 3D, the idea of entering the Warhammer universe in the same way, with the addition of modern mechanics. Absolute chef’s kiss.
And to a point, they’ve nailed it. The aesthetic is perfect for the game, the look of the characters, weapons, and environments, all are so well suited to a Space Marine and their weapons of choice. I love that when you stand around, your Marine pulls out a Codex to start reading and your companion offers some nice robotic sources of entertainment.
It’s suitably blood-thirsty with gibs and smears stinking up the place. The score is atmospheric, at times, almost Metroid-like, and the run and gun gameplay is brilliant stuff. The weapons have desired impact, you can jump and grab nearby ledges to access hidden areas, and the enemy variety is a who’s who for 40,000 fans.
You can even crack your knuckles and point the finger at enemies, taunting them in battle and charge into them to knock them out of the way. It’s clearly obvious Warhammer fans have built this game, designing the levels around the world and implementing fan favourites every step of the way.
The gameplay plays out like a classic FPS experience as well, grabbing key cards, unlocking doors, accessing lifts and reaching a final locked door which then gives you a breakdown of stats at the end of the level, like enemies killed and items collected. In that regard, it’s all so wonderfully retro FPS.
You’re waiting for the ‘But’ though, aren’t you? Sadly, there is one, as my problem came when the game began to lean too modern.
See, the pitch for this one becomes more clear the further you get in. Not only did they want to re-create Warhammer 40,000 in this retro FPS style, but they wanted to merge the classic, DOOM-inspired aesthetic with modern-day DOOM gameplay.
You know the one: you’re locked in a room and have to you fight an overwhelming number of enemies before the room unlocks so you can move in. It seems to be the trendy thing to do with FPS these days, as even Shadow Warrior went down that road.
In game, these are described as purges. The screen goes red and all of a sudden you’re fighting almost every enemy type known to the series, with usually one or two new ones getting added to the mix.
Now you’re probably thinking, Brad, that actually sounds amazing, what are you complaining about? I’ll be the first to admit, modern DOOM is good with its focus on rip and tear. Boltgun manages to tap into this with its gore, and with a chainsaw that lets you bounce between enemies while eviscerating them. The thing is, I feel like I’ve already burned out on these games and am kinda bored of the style. Boltgun emphasised that for me.
And a big part of the reason is they just haven’t got the balance right here. All of a sudden, the purges pop up more fast and frequently. Pretty soon after, the enemies will randomly start teleporting behind you, forcing attacks from all sides even when you’re hiding in a corner to catch a breath. And the damage they deal is overkill, you can drop from 70 to 3 in a single hit on a normal difficulty. This is just from regular mobs.
Enemies come at you from the sky, you can get those small enemies that are spongy but they throw out loads of little projectiles that do damage overtime. You get ones constantly firing at you from the tops of canisters and rooftops, plus attackers that get right up in your face.
To make matters worse, quite a few of the enemies can take as much as ten or so hits, and at least 80% of the ones you fight need to be shot more than once. It’s a lot.
Fortunately, just like DOOM Eternal, you do get sizeable maps to run around so you can get some distance and these are often filled with little shield and health pickups, as well as larger med kits and even special bullet types that affix to your current weapon, making the job a bit easier. There’s some really neat bullet types, actually, like a dragonfire type that burns through enemy armor.
But therein lies my other problem, Boltgun is throwing all of these enemies at you, many of which are twice as powerful and not really providing you with the weapons to do the job. Or quite harshly limiting the ammo you can pick up so you run out on the bigger and better weapons.
I feel like the game was holding back quite a bit on its guns in general and usually you’re finding new weapons within the Purges, but several times I actually found the weapons after scraping through a battle because they were slightly off the beaten track or hidden on a higher level. The problem being, I was often being boxed into certain areas.
Another issue I had with the game is the level size. Quick and punchier levels would probably have kept my interest up, but sometimes twenty minutes in, it was still going on, I was aimlessly running around, not really sure where I was supposed to be going, getting lost and frustrated. You could often breeze through levels in a classic FPS, the games often knew when enough was enough, but most of the time in Boltgun, they outstay their welcome.
One other point of credit I will give Boltgun, though, is that there are actually some accessibility options which let you blaze through levels without dying. So if you’re getting frustrated by how overpowered everything is, you can flick a switch and enter God mode. And have infinite ammo. That is a really cool, commendable feature, as it means anyone CAN finish the game. The problem is when you’re having to put this on at all for the game to be enjoyable.
There is a really great game within the Warhammer 40,000 Boltgun package. Part of me feels like if they’d continued to lean more into the classic shooter gameplay, continuing to use modern mechanics like the chainsaw, the charge and even lobbing grenades, but making more of the story, it would have flowed all the better.
I wanted to love this one, I really, really did. But the reliance on arena shooting, overwhelming numbers, overpowered shooting, ammo and weapon limitation, and overly lengthy levels just really sap out the good vibes.
That said, if the idea of a retro-themed DOOM Eternal sounds like your idea of a dream and you love a challenge, do I ever have a game for you…
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun does a great job of blending classic and modern day shooters. They’ve done all the hard work in building an authentic aesthetic, as well as making grenades, charge attacks, shields, twin stick shooting and jumping all feel natural, working well within the confines of the game. Unfortunately, the desire to focus around enemy waves, arena shooting, overpowered strikes and overly long levels undoes a lot of that, leaving a lot of potential buried beneath unsatisfying, frustrating content.
+ A really good marriage of classic and modern shooter gameplay
+ An authentic Warhammer aesthetic that looks and sounds perfect in this style
+ Enjoyable movement and weapon handling
+ Accessibility options like God Mode and Infinite Ammo opens the game up to more players.
– Levels drag on
– Game turns into a frustratingly unbalanced wave shooter
– Many enemies are tanky, they hit hard and your ammo depletes quickly
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is now available on PC, Xbox, Switch and PlayStation
Code Kindly Provided by Focus Indies for review purposes
Played on PlayStation 5
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