Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun Review – Oldschool Exterminatus

Developed by Auroch Digital

Published by Focus Entertainment

Available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch

MSRP: $21.99

I really wanted to like Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun. Besides horror games, wargaming is one of the two hobbies I habitually swing between, and Boltgun caught me just as the pendulum was arcing back to the world of miniatures. I’d been rewatching Sodaz’s awesome SFM 40k animations, this great Death Korps one, and Syama Pedersen’s incredible Astartes project. I’d even been getting my boomer shooter groove on with Hrot and Ghostware. In short, if ever Boltgun was going to catch me in a sympathetic mood, it would have been now. Alas, when it came down it, I just couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for Auroch Digital’s heretic-purging retro-fest. There’s a very specific reason for this, but I’ll get on to that in a second.

First, let’s back up a second. Boltgun puts you in the power-armored boots of a Sternguard Veteran of the Ultramarines (cough UltraSmurfs cough), who’s been sent to the Forge World planet of Graia by an Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus to combat the heretical forces of Chaos. If that lore dump of a sentence means nothing to you, then don’t worry. All you really need to know is 1. You’re a big soldier in big armor with big guns, 2. There are nasty monsters and cultists, 3. Rip and Tear Purge.

Mechanically, Boltgun ticks all the boxes of your standard boomer shooter. You can carry an array of weapons, run unfeasibly fast, and gib the hordes of enemies the game throws at you in ludicrously over-the-top showers of gore. The game also does a good job of capturing both Warhammer 40,000’s signature grimdark aesthetic and the oversaturated color palette of the boomer shooter revival. The environments in particular are especially good in the visual department, although I found it was not an infrequent event that I got disorientated trying to navigate Boltgun’s winding gothic arenas.

There’s nothing about Boltgun that makes it a particularly bad game. It may not be truly great – it doesn’t really do anything new enough to earn such praise – but just because something doesn’t set the world on fire doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly adequate. Rather, what clinched the thumbs down for me was one particular thing that comes down to personal taste. Whilst the environments and most items in the game are proper 3D objects, Boltgun goes really old school by making the enemies and onscreen weapons 2D sprites. Without beating around the bush, I freakin’ hate this.

When I play an FPS, I want to play a game where the combat has a sense of weight. I want to see a satisfying weapon model, some decent reload animations, and get some good solid oomph from each shot. And I definitely want to see reactive enemies that feel like they’re in the room with me, responding to my attacks and the environment about them. Nothing kills this immersion like 2D pixel enemies, and I felt like I was shooting paper targets the whole time. It was especially egregious when using the chainsword in melee, as I might as well have been limply swatting cardboard with a stick. The real shame in this is that the 3D work that is on offer in the environments is – like I said – pretty damn good. I just wish it had been used to make the living elements in the world feel… well, more alive.

I don’t know what the budget for Boltgun was, and I’m aware that wishing the devs had put an extra dimension into their NPCs isn’t exactly a simple request. As someone who’s on the slow, arduous path of teaching themselves some basic 3D modeling with Blender, I know that making a 3D character move around an environment realistically takes hard work. But for all that, I still wish they hadn’t taken the 2D route.

If you’re a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 universe or are just itching to play another boomer shooter, Boltgun may be up your alley. With my hyper-subjective gripe, any recommendation I can give ultimately depends on how you feel about 2D enemies in a 3D game. If such a thing doesn’t bother you, you may get some mileage mowing down daemons in the name of the God-Emperor. As for me, I’ll be waiting for Space Marine 2.