Originally published at: Review | Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun - XboxEra
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is the latest in a long line of solid Warhammer-licensed titles. You’re a crazed fascist Space Marine blasting your way through three chapters of old-school DOOM-style madness. Crazy gore is matched with a great weapon variety, a bit of repetition, and some occasionally confusing level design. You’ll traverse tons of brown and gray corridors shooting the same few enemies in the face for 8 hours or so, and despite a few gripes, I found it to be damned fun. Let’s go over the good and the bad, for the Omnissiah!
The Story and Presentation
Boltgun takes place at the Forge World, Graia. The events are set a few years after Space Marine, the beloved 3rd person 360 game. Your character is named Malum Caedo, and your only lines of dialogue are screaming taunts at your enemies with the press of a button. There is a Warp Rift that has opened up Graia and you are tasked with shutting it down. You lead a team who immediately all die and you’re alone with a floating skull that tells you various things to do and occasionally where to go.
I loved the cutscenes in the game, with their gorgeously done nostalgic pixel graphics. There are a few characters who talk during them, and the dialogue is well done. It feels right at home in the WH40K universe, and the voice acting is solid. My biggest complaint and it will be a recurring one in the game, is the lack of talking during missions. Your floating skull partner talks a lot, but it’s a low inaudible hum. I missed what he was telling me to do often during the heat of combat and platforming, and the level design led to me getting lost constantly in the latter half of the game.
Graphically the game looks fantastic. Utilizing a mix of 2D enemies and 3D environments there is a heavy retro pixel style, that you can lessen or enhance to your liking. Performance was rock solid on both console and PC up until the final level, which chugged at 20 fps on my PC (where it had been averaging over 200) and was a damned slideshow on Xbox at times. It was a huge issue as the difficulty spike in that final fight was enormous. Adding in significant slowdown, even on a powerful PC and console, forced me to lower the difficulty down to easy on Xbox.
The music is great, with a similar modern take on the old-school PC FPS soundscape that hit me right in the nostalgia bone. Guns sound heavy, and monster sounds fit well. Both visually and audio-wise the game could become cluttered and messy during the more intense firefights. The last level especially was nearly impossible to see or hear effectively during combat, and guns like the Heavy Bolter take up the majority of the screen when you use them.
I played through the campaign first on PC before checking out the Xbox Series X version. Control-wise this is a fast paced first-person-shooter that plays best on a mouse and keyboard. Thanks to some excellent controller options for deadzone and acceleration speed I was able to make it feel damned near perfect on console, though. Boltgun is incredibly difficult on normal difficulty, with high incoming damage from a never-ending stream of enemies. The default controls on PC felt perfect, but I had to tinker a lot on console as it was unbelievably slow to turn at first.
A is Jump and you’ll be using it a ton. You get one special ability on a cooldown that has you running forward and smashing enemies, and if you jump at the end of it you’ll go flying nearly 100 feet. Movement on console suffers though, as the game forces you to hold down the left stick to run instead of being a toggle. On PC this isn’t an issue as holding shift while moving is a lot easier. I hope they patch in a run toggle on console, and with any luck, it will be in a day-one patch that I haven’t gotten access to yet. Unlike DOOM you do reload certain weapons with the X button. The other bumper is used for your grenades, which are limited in how many you can carry because they are incredibly powerful. One blows after a fuse timer and the other explodes on impact. Both feel fantastic to use and routinely blew the heretic around me into chunks of viscera.
There is no aiming down sights, and instead your left trigger powers up your chainsaw. Smaller enemies will be sliced apart with a single hit, while tougher foes require you to repeatedly press the button as their health whittles down. This is a bloody, gory, fantastic looking messy game. From the titular Boltgun to a punishing shotgun and more, every weapon can shred enemies to bits. There are secrets hidden throughout each level. There are weapon upgrades, shield power-ups, and damage enhancers hidden in each level that encourage you to explore. That exploration ended up being one of my biggest issues in the latter half of the game.
Level Design Woes
Early on I was in love with Boltgun. It was frenetic, fun, and dedicated to its selling point. It was a call back to DOOM in the Warhammer universe. Nearly every level is “go from point A to point B until you find a color-coded key to unlock a door you saw earlier”. Head back to that door and either the level ends or you go to find another color-coded key, rinse and repeat. The latter half bumps up the keys requirement to three, and the layouts can be confusing to the point of rage quitting. There are no waypoints, nor is there a map available. If you cannot figure out where to go it means you need to keep running back and forth from room to room until you finally see the small entrance you missed or lever you need to push that wasn’t obvious.
It isn’t bad in every level, otherwise, this review would have been far more negative by now. The first chapter and a half were fantastic, with easily followed levels that allowed for some good dumb, but still challenging, fun. A few levels in chapter two took me over 30 minutes to complete the first time. I went back and did them again once I knew where to go and finished them in under 10. I pride myself on not being terrible at games, but this one made me feel clueless on where to go far too often.
Couple this unnecessary lack of info on where to go with just how damned hard the game is and it was a chore to get through later levels on console. More than a few times I would die and not have saved recently. The autosaves were well done normally, but a few later levels were punishing if you didn’t remember to save constantly. If you’re looking for even more of a challenge the game does have a hard mode, which whooped my ass six ways to Sunday on console and PC.
Wrapping Things Up
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a beautiful, challenging, and occasionally infuriating love letter to old-school FPS titles. It’s just the right length and despite a few flaws it is worth a purchase on both console or PC.