Warhammer 40,000: Bolter Review
Boltgun is the first truly great Warhammer 40,000 game since Dawn of War 19 years ago. Boltgun is an intense, retro-themed FPS in the style of Doom and Quake, following “Sternguard Veteran”, a nameless, unnamed soldier of the Ultramarines who is conscripted by the conniving Inquisition and set free on the traitorous Black Legion and their demons. For the uninitiated, a Space Marine is a hideous silverback gorilla with the brains of a 14-year-old. What sets them apart from the average gym goer is that they’re in 10-ton nuclear-powered armor. Walking is a bit sluggish, but turn on autorun in the accessibility menu, and the veteran turns into a colossal colossus of metal and flesh, a rabbit-leaping tornado of pure carnage and frenzies. It’s one of the few instances where a licensed Warhammer game properly conveys the overwhelming power of a single Space Marine.
need to know
what is it? Warhammer 40,000 Retro FPS
release date: May 23, 2023
Expect to pay: $22/£19
Developer: bison digital
Publisher: focus entertainment
commented on: Windows 10, Ryzen R7 5700g, 16gb DDR4 RAM, Radeon RX 5700
multiplayer game? No
Association: steam page
As a 40K fan and boomer shooter veteran who loves old source material, I was delighted to find that Boltgun is an homage to 41st century insanity, and plays nicely with recent classics Dusk, Ultrakill, and In Evil.
Boltgun’s maps are typically linear corridors filled with cultists and lesser demons, funneling veterans into larger battlegrounds where mighty champions and rising demons await. Doomsday-style keycard searches are kept to a minimum, but there’s some clever level design that will have you looping back and forth through shadowy industrial areas that have been cleared.
The scale of these levels can be mind-boggling. An early collapsed cliffside fortress holds a row of massive batteries held aloft by gigantic wrought-iron girders, and the corpses of the Titanic war machines that once carried them into battle hang languidly in the distance. At the end of Chapter 1, a confusing contraption sends me through a portal, where my ever-present servo skull dutifully tells me that “geometry has now become non-Euclidean”. I’m stuck in an endless loop of gothic arches until I start to follow patterns of candles, sigils, and ritual pedestals leading me toward the exit.
Incredible arrangements of booming guitars, thumping industrial beats, monastic chants and harpsichords reinforce the occasionally haunting atmosphere and snappy battles.
What really struck me was how organic it sounded – like the beating industrial heart of the Fascist Empire of Man was given musical shape. Boltgun’s best soundtrack sounds like Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine played live at the Vatican.
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(Image credit: Auroch Digital) (Image credit: Auroch Digital) (Image credit: Auroch Digital) (Image credit: Auroch Digital)
As one of the Emperor’s Angels, the enemies you watch are varied. Besides the usual Chaos Space Marines and Terminators, there are many other types, such as the Aspiring Champion – a tanky melee fighter who charges at you with a high-damage chainaxe. Sometimes, death isn’t the end for these fighters: after you put them down, they can be resurrected as a Chosen of Chaos, an enraged berserker capable of near-instant death. Interestingly enough, the whole ritual can be bypassed entirely if you just throw your magazines into his dead body until there is nothing left for the gods to resurrect.
The real stars of the roster are the demons of Chaos Undivided–these guys are like classic ’80s horror flicks taken from a never-before-released Sam Raimi movie. With a laser gun pointed at my head, my favorites are the pink horrors that spawn two blue copies on death, which always catches me off guard. The intense and frantic combat with the bolter always diverts my attention elsewhere before I get the job done.
The Boltgun’s arsenal contains the Tabletop Hammer’s “Strength and Tenacity” check, where the weapon’s Strength value must equal or exceed the target’s Tenacity value in order to deal meaningful damage. Easier to practice – if a combatant has high tenacity, shoot them with big guns. The emphasis on weapon switching echoes some of Doom Eternal’s recall-based shootouts, the only way to reliably penetrate Tzeentch’s mental realm is to rearrange their atoms with a power 7 plasma gun .
Still, it can be a bit tedious to remember in the heat of battle that the Vengeance Launcher (though it looks like it can tear apart an aircraft carrier’s hull) has a strength of 3 and is best relegated to chaff removal missions.
(Image credit: Auroch Digital)
However, I found that after a few levels with each weapon, it all became second nature. One thing I wish Boltgun’s minimalist HUD communicated better is the ammo in your inventory. You’re screaming through the level with such incredible speed, and past so many pickups that I’ve proudly stared at the Chaos Terminator on more than one occasion, assuming the pickups I crawled through in the last 45 seconds included plasma ammo, just Painfully turned into bloody splinters by flicking their fists.
Grenade information is also poorly communicated, with just one icon on the HUD indicating the grenade type and quantity. In the heat of battle, the difference between a frag grenade and a Clark grenade can literally be the difference between life and death. It felt like some of the fights I was on the verge of winning could be overcome with a HUD that clearly communicated all the tools at my disposal.
The weapons mostly feel like they should, just out of the tabletop vibe. The Bolter is a fully automatic rocket launcher, literally “fixed” inside a rifle casing, that fires a general-purpose high-explosive round that is deadly and reliable against both mortals and Chaos Marines alike. The shotgun throws so much lead that the entire room is smeared with the entrails of cultists and demons. The melee system is also great–right-clicking on an enemy will send you flying towards them, extending your chainsword. Pressing the right mouse button activates the chainsword – great for fighting cultists and lesser demons, but a quick shotgun volley afterward usually humbles any Chaos Space Marine who is arrogant enough to linger before the Emperor’s Elite.
Swinging with a chainsword can be done in mid-air, including the dash, which allows for some gory free movement as long as there are heretics nearby. It’s a really fun mechanic, and adds a lot to an otherwise pretty simple shoot-and-slash cycle. I’ve always been fascinated by the transformation of cultists from laughably pathetic enemies barely worth paying attention to to limited movement resources and using them as blood-soaked grab points for tactical adjustments.
The Heavy Bolter deserves a special mention–the relentless explosive damage shorts out most anything it points at, and its movement speed cap fully mirrors the “heavy” weapon type of tabletop opponents. Using this superhuman portable death machine made me even more eager to finish the Heavy Bolter Support Squad livery for my Iron Warriors army. Bolters are so good that I’m excited about free-handling dangerous streaks.
A New Era of Chaos
It’s always cool to take out cultists with heavy bolters, but as a big fan of the old Games Workshop Chaos Space Marine microseries, I’m shocked at how the game’s use of the newer Chaos design makes the Boltgun feel less like the real 90s Frames per second. This blew my mind because I missed an opportunity to really get into it and shoot some horribly ugly v2 Chaos miniatures. Flipping through the Games Workshop catalog from the mid-90s reveals a collection of mini-games that enthusiastically loot the graves of sci-fi legends Clark, Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, and Giger. Maybe it’s a copyright minefield, but missing out on photo-scan representations of classic Perry Brothers sculptures in favor of cheap-looking pixel art occasionally makes Boltgun feel like it’s traveled too far into the past and caught the wrong reference .
(Image credit: Auroch Digital)
Still, Warhammer fans of all genres will appreciate the attention to detail that Boltgun has managed to incorporate into its low-poly model. More than once I jumped over a bombed-out wall or dashed through ruins that looked like 1:1 copies of the unpainted terrain withered in my “to-do” bin. Entering the reliquary beneath the civilian “inhabited area” (normal government calls it “the city”) prompts the ever-present Inquisitor Servo-Skull to gently remind you that your every movement and movement is being watched and if you fail to execute Proper ritual leads to punishment. There’s even a dedicated taunt button that prompts veterans to snarl the kind of quotes you see on their shirts while in line at the hardware store.
The details and exuberance of these stagnation, hatred, and repression are quintessentially 40K and help give Boltgun a sense of identity unlike any other Warhammer game.
The bolter won me over early on, with an arena battle in an open loading bay surrounded by gothic spires that read “PURGE!” and blood red flashed across the screen. With full health and little ammo, I had to face the mutant thugs ahead with nothing but my chainsword and shotgun. I died more than a few times, but finally cutting my blade into Chaos Choice does bring back two of my favorite gaming memories – the first time I beat “Easy Dead” on Nightmare Difficulty in Doom 2 , and wiped off my friend at my local game store, Adam’s left rib came off the table.
Warhammer 40 vs. ,000: Bolters: Price Comparison
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