Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is a game that makes sense to me. Pushing the world of Warhammer through a Doom-style reskin feels like it would fit the exact market that adores the miniatures. It is nostalgic yet pays reverence to all that came before it. Though I'm not entirely sold on it yet, I feel ready to be.
It does so many little things right from its gameplay to its enemies to its aesthetic but, after an hour or so with it, I wasn't really left clamouring for more. I would happily keep playing but It hasn't fully hooked me yet.
In those opening hours, I saw the start of many good things but I'll have to see how they finish before I've fully made up my mind. Like Wolfenstein before it, Warhammer 40K: Boltgun hides many of its best moments - just waiting to be discovered.
All for the aesthetic
Warhammer 40K: Boltgun feels like a game obsessed with aesthetics. The loading screen has a wailing guitar solo and eye-catching difficulty levels, only to be greeted by a reasonably messy story about a big bad that you have to travel across the galaxy to take down. The game wants you to just get into there and start killing things.
You crash land while deploying to Graia and you have to armour up and fight off the heretics in your way. It is often almost sardonically machismo in pursuit of being a badass and this allows you to just turn off your brain and hit things. While this is an interesting start, it does make me wonder how it might handle more depth as the game goes along.
You are left with your standard movement abilities and your space suit, where you are soon taught how to enact special attacks on enemies. If you go up close, you can tap V to get the chainsaw on them, spewing out guts and viscera. This is satisfying and looks great. The relatively toned-down planet you land on clashes with blood to give everything a certain sickly weight. Punches hit hard and you will do many of them,
Now from range
After just a short time, you start to find ranged weapons capable of dealing damage at a distance. Unlike classic boomer shooters like DOOM, Warhammer 40K: Boltgun uses more modern shooter techniques like vertical shooting and jumping. It combines this well with powerful weapons to make clearing rooms incredibly fast.
Enemies do a decent bit of damage but are predictable and slow, incentivising the run-and-gun strategy. Ultimately, Boltgun is at its best when you are going too quick to really care about all those missed shots. You aren't an expert soldier reserving ammo - you are a mercenary who outguns everyone in your way.
Your typical blaster is strong and efficient but you can combine this with more weapons and tech like grenades that can be used to clear areas or scare away enemies. As of right now, I have only seen a few of the available tools but a fast movement system and varied enemies seem to encourage creativity.
Levelling the playing field
If you find yourself struggling to take out a section of enemies, each level has tonnes of alternate routes, secrets, and more. This can almost be a little overwhelming in comparison to other games in the same genre. Some parts of levels don't feel quite as tightly designed as you might expect but this gives a lot of reasons to go back in and explore.
It helps that the music is tense and methodic - providing constant drumming and synth chimes. There's a deep industrial feel to the music that makes you feel like you're running through a factory. This combines with the tone and visuals of the game to make a surprisingly punchy experience. It is designed to engross you and capture your attention.
Unfortunately, this means that the downtime in levels can hit particularly hard. The momentum of the game is all inertia and when you get lost in a particularly big level or want to find some secrets, some of that allure goes with it.
As well as this, part of the flow of each level is about killing the right enemy or searching the right room to get a key to move a little bit further into rooms. Backtracking to find new areas only really works well when levels are tight and new sections are clearly signposted. Boltgun does have new areas with new creatures and aesthetics but it doesn't quite flow as well as it should just yet.
Though I like many of the bits that Warhammer 40K: Boltgun has to offer, I haven't seen them come together to make anything more than the sum of its parts. As a boomer shooter, it feels lightweight and quick - adding to a sense of tension that the music and aesthetic really add to. As a game launching in 2023, it feels like it needs a little more to keep me coming back. Hopefully, it can do that.
A preview key was provided by the publisher
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