In a world flooded with games based on Warhammer 40000, I really wonder if we need any more. So many of them are forgettable or bland. But then, every so often one of these Warhammer video games breaks through the noise, catches my attention, and reminds me that, yes, this IP can still provide awesome games. This time around it’s the retro-inspired first-person shooter Warhammer 40000: Boltgun.
Released Tuesday, Boltgun is another “boomer shooter” aka an FPS designed to look, sound and play like something from the ‘90s complete with pixelated graphics, 2D sprites, and low-poly environments. These types of old-school shooters have become quite popular in recent years, and when done right they can be a fantastic deviation from the more photorealistic, typically slower shooters that have long dominated the market. And thankfully, Warhammer 40000: Boltgun nails the retro-shooter formula like a space marine blasting a heretic in the head from 200 yards away with a plasma gun.
Boltgun is crunchy and retro in all the right ways, with sliders letting you make the game more or less pixelated or modern-looking. You can, for example, turn off some of the fancier lighting effects and lower the resolution to create a very early ‘90s shooter feel, or turn all that stuff up and get something that looks more like a late-PS1-era shooter. Poorly done old-school, pixelated visuals could make it hard to parse what’s happening at a glance, ruining a fast-paced shooter built around quick decision-making. Boltgun doesn’t fall into this trap, as it’s easy to identify and locate foes in a split second throughout the game’s handbuilt levels.
Retro visuals and pixelated sprites alone don’t make a good old-school shooter. You need the combat to feel chunky and deadly, rather than heavy or slow. And again, Boltgun delivers, offering a nice selection of weapons that all feel powerful and satisfying to use. Like the chainsaw sword. This thing can lock onto an enemy and fling your space marine toward it, letting you shred it into gory pieces.
I also really appreciate that the first gun you get, the titular bolter aka boltgun rifle, isn’t a sad, boring peashooter that’s only useful when you run out of ammo. Instead, the boltgun is a powerful, deadly assault rifle that can clear hallways filled with demons or heretical soldiers in a few seconds. You could argue the rifle is too good, making it easy to never switch to other weapons. But that argument dies the moment you pick up the heavy bolter and rip apart giant enemies in seconds as if they were made of weak (if unholy) paper.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the shotgun in this game is one of the best shotguns I’ve used in one of these so-called boomer shooters, with a good spread, powerful blast, and wonderful sound each time you pull the trigger.
While Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is clearly inspired by shooters like Quake, Doom, and Blood, it also borrows some bits and bobs from modern shooters to help make this a retro FPS that everyone can enjoy. You don’t need to be an expert at these kinds of games to have a good time and make progress in Boltgun as it lets you save anywhere and packs each area with loads of health items and armor, so even less experienced players can make it through. But crank up the difficulty and Boltgun will happily kick your ass across the room.
Boltgun goes a bit beyond the normal retro template by letting you sprint and mantle onto ledges and boxes in a way that feels very reminiscent of Doom (2016) or Dying Light. At first, this concerned me. Would there be annoying platforming sections? But that’s not been the case. Instead, Boltgun uses these more modern-feeling mechanics to make bigger areas more fun to fight in and to hide secrets in more out-of-the-way places.
Boltgun does have a tendency to toss you into one too many arena ambushes that force you to kill everything to progress. These can be fun and exciting as the game’s combat is very, very good. But they can also happen too frequently, and after a while, it started to feel like extra padding to make levels last a bit longer. I was also disappointed by how quickly the big open spaces of the early levels were replaced with corridors and hallways. It was still fun to explore and fight in these areas, but it did start to turn into a slog at times as I got lost and had to backtrack to escape or get more health and ammo in same-y looking rooms and tunnels.
Still, even when I was lost or stuck fighting waves of demons again in a big ambush arena, I was having a good time mowing down baddies with Boltgun’s satisfying, powerful weapons. If you can make it through a few of its excessive amount of ambushes and hallways, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best shooters of 2023 and one of my favorite games so far this year. Now to check online to see how many Warhammer games were announced in the time it took me to write this article.
Warhammer 40000: Boltgun is out now on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC.