It is better to die for the Emperor than to live for yourself.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun (last time I’ll be typing that, from here on out it’s Boltgun) is a retro inspired first person shooter Auroch Digital and published as with almost all Warhammer video games by Focus Entertainment.

As regular readers will know, I’ve a big Warhammer fan, so when I heard “Doom but 40k” I immediately set about appeasing the machine spirit of my Xbox Series X, covering myself in purity seals and heaped praise the Emperor of Mankind.  

Doom but 40k is a great elevator pitch for Boltgun but it’s not much of a review, and honestly it’s not exactly fair. One could argue that Doom borrowed heavily from Games Workshop’s favourite sons and in turn Boltgun borrows from Doom. 

Boltgun is a retro shooter at it’s heart, no health re-gen or cover systems, just all out blood pumping bolter firing action and it’s gameplay is and should be the focus, but it’s not devoid of narrative. 

You are a child of Macragge, a noble Ultramarine and son of Roboute Guilliman and as always, you are charged with defending the imperium of man from the heretic, the mutant and the unclean. Fortunately that list provides you and endless number of foes to deliver the emperors judgement to. 

Boltgun beings with your squad deploying to Graia at the behest of the Inquisition, unfortunately it seems the Emperors protection doesn’t seem to extend to drop pod deployments. As you ‘Land’ your fellow brothers die on impact and as we know, only in death does duty end. Your duty is far from over however, you’ll picked up your weapon, the games namesake, a Boltgun. It’s at this point you’ll realise you aren’t alone, there’s a servo skull here to keep you company. It also spouts many observations mostly about imperial regulations being breached and reminding you that you need to purge the enemies of mankind.

As you may be aware, Games Workshop and their fanbase are fiercely protective of their universe, and while the amount of licensing GW seem to be doing of late has ramped up, the fans are as picky and ‘beardy’ as ever. Auroch Digital have nothing to worry about, their obvious care and 40K love ring true in every single moment of Boltgun and it’s not just ‘fluff’ it’s even present in gameplay elements. 

Of course you have health, but being a ‘boomer shooter’ you also have a second source of protection, many other developers would call this armour but not Auroch, the can’t pass up and opportunity for a good nerdy reference, your armour is contempt. As in it’s literally called contempt, when you pick up one of the item drops littered around the battlefield you’ll be told that your contempt has increased. 

Your tools of destruction may begin with a Boltgun, and are enhanced by the blessed Chainsaw but over the course of the game (around 8-10 hours) you’ll have access to many more, my favourite of which being the Heavy Bolter, nothing compares to the holy rain of bolter shells rending enemies to pieces. 

Now this is where we reach the first niggle with Boltgun, the enemies, or more to the point the limited variety of them. You’ll begin by mowing down dozens of renegade guardsmen who’ve turned their back on the God Emperor and as you do so the destructive potential of even just a single Space Marine is glorious to behold. My favourite aspect of this, is an odd choice, but it’s the games Sprint mechanic. Common convention holds, small = fast, big = slow, but in Boltgun you can feel the strength and speed you posses through it’s sprint. It’s actually a simple idea but amazingly well done, you move brutally quickly but the thudding of your armoured footfalls is spaced perfectly. You don’t feel swift as if you were some fleet of foot Aeldari passed of inhuman grace. You actually feel like your power is being used to propel you across the battlefield, each thunderous impact bringing you closer to all that must be destroyed. 

These guardsmen soon find themselves being back up by Chaos Space Marines, the vile traitors that they are, and later still, daemons of chaos will join the fray, now of course being a ‘boomer shooter’ the foes include bosses and I will only spoil one here. A lord of change, and boy did that battle get my blood pumping as I destroyed the beaked abomination and did it need to. As the biggest issue with Boltgun is it’s level design. Aside from the odd area where the Immaterium is present the levels are a confusing repetitive mess, which isn’t helped as you need to back track finding keys over and over again. Retro can be great but there are parts of gaming that evolved for a reason, namely level design, Boltgun has almost 0 variety of layout, corridors followed by rectangle killing arenas.  Speaking of gameplay evolution, enemies either explode into glorious chunks of satisfying gore, or absorb round after round like bullet sponges of times gone by. 

Overall the experience is an enjoyable one, but I’d recommend dipping in and out of Boltgun, get your blood pumping as you spill that of you foes and then taking a break before the monotony of the levels and lack of variety starts to set in.

A review code for Xbox Series X was provided by: Focus Entertainment