Well, well, well. It looks like we’re back at it again in the boomer shooter territory, ey? I do not mind this because I’ve been in a boom-shooty mood lately and what better way to indulge that craving than with Warhammer 40k Boltgun. Developed by Auroch Digital and published by Focus Entertainment’s Indie Series label, this is the newest game to come at us from the grim darkness of the 41st Century and I’m here to tell you about the first impressions I have of it so far. Grab Your Codex and Chainsword, its Purging Time.
The setup for Boltgun is minimal. You play as Malum Caedo, a veteran Ultramarine who's been sent to the Forge World of Graia to investigate heretical experiments and retrieve any artefacts you can from the rogue elements of the planet’s chapter of the Adeptus Mechanicus under orders of the Inquisition. Unfortunately, when you get there stuff immediately goes wrong. Your fellow Space Marines are killed when you drop pod crashes and now Malo has to go it alone against the forces of the Chaos Gods Nurgle and Tzeentch. If anything I just wrote makes me sound like a cult-y weirdo, I apologise. This game’s story, like everything else about it, is super embedded in the iconography, trappings and overall vibes of Warhammer 40k as a property. But the good thing about the story is that outside of it being a stealth sequel (or I guess more appropriately stealth interquel) to 2011’s Warhammer 40k Space Marine, it is set on the same planet a few years later and Malo referencing that game’s protagonist; you don’t need to know anything about 40k to fully follow along because based on the first episode, the story is mainly shunted off to the background.
But to tie it back to the iconography for a quick second, everything about Boltgun’s artistic and aesthetic design fully evokes the mashup of dark dystopian science fiction and fantasy between the architecture of the environments that you go through and the equipment that you use. Hell, the first five minutes of the first level have you walking away from the crash site with only your chain sword in hand; the spiked guard and the oversized gauntlets in first-person view. And this works greatly in the game’s favour because it meshes together the Imperium-made and Chaos-controlled architecture with locations and places in the environment warped by Chaos itself, be it Nurgle’s plague or Tzeentch’s magic.
But this aforementioned Chaos corruption doesn’t start coming into play until the end of the first chapter. A lot of it is still these vast, open forges and cathedrals that were previously under Imperium control but are now under the sway of the Chaos cults and you can see where their ramshackle fortifications are set up. It’s some great stuff. It’s even exemplified in the way Malo animates when idle or taunting. With him pointing and cracking his knuckles whilst shouting about carrying out the Emperor’s will when doing the former, and pulling out and reading the Codex Astartes with the latter.
But a lot of time I spent talking about aesthetics doesn't really matter because you are going to be too busy fighting and killing everything in your path. Warhammer 40K Boltgun is ultimately, still a boomer shooter. This means that the formula is based entirely around running around, collecting coloured keys to match coloured doors and killing every single demon and cultist in your path. (I refuse to spell demons the 40k way because it wreaks havoc on my spell checker and it looks ridiculous). And I do mean kill ‘em all. If the first episode is anything to go by, Boltgun has enough Ripping and Tearing in it to make the Doomslayer blush. Boltgun was made in Unreal Engine 4, which despite the technical wizardry going on to make it look like an old-ass video game, extends to the feel of the game in some very surprising ways. Chief among them is an overwhelming sense of heaviness and crunch when fighting.
From the weapons to the chain sword to even the footsteps that you take, it’s all weighed down with a sense of gravity that makes it feel like you can crush the very ground you walk on. And my god the weapons feel amazing in Boltgun. The first episode starts you off with a chain sword and not even five minutes in, you get your hands on the titular Boltgun. It’s a semiautomatic pistol/assault rifle thing that fires massive slugs that do a decent amount of damage and is your workhorse weapon. From there, the rest of the episode introduces a shotgun, a plasma rifle that does AoE splash damage, and a Heavy Bolter that serves as the game’s chaingun and doesn't need to be reloaded. It’s the best example of the game’s feel because you can fire off the weapon and chunk an entire room full of enemies and reduce them to a fine, chunky paste. Now that’s some good Dakka. And it’s through the use of Unreal 4 that these weapons all managed to feel as good as they do through the utilisation of the aforementioned weight and recoil. Oh and before I forget, you can rev the chain sword and when you have an enemy in your line of sight, you just jump to them and can chainsaw them to death. It’s rad. And gets you armour to boot.
And this arsenal is put to good use. The main antagonistic forces are some nasty enemies. Cultist gunners of various armaments make up the bulk of the enemy forces and more specialised mid and higher-tier enemies are introduced to round things out. These range from the Pink Horrors that shoot fireballs and spawn off two Blue Horrors when killed; think of the Imp from Doom if it were a Matryoshka doll of death. There are also the flying Screamers of Tzeentch that swarm you, regular and Lesser Plague Toads that spew poison and use their tongues to hit you from a Distance. I hate them so much. We also got the Flamers…which shoot fire at you and then we get to the heavy hitters: The Chaos Space Marines. They serve various purposes ranging from fodder enemies like the base Chaos Marines to Aspirant Champions who will just run at you with melee weapons in hand and beat you to death even when being chainsawed and I hate it so much, to the miniboss level Chaos Terminators and their heavy bolters. Some other enemies get introduced later that I’m not gonna spoil because it's a neat surprise.
There’s a specific combat encounter at the end of E1M3 where the game just stops fucking around. It's the first taste of the game throwing the full weight of the cultists, demons and Chaos Marines at you, which is good because the game’s combat encounters are the star of the show and their developing into more interesting fights is kind of the point of games like this. Especially at the rate at which Boltgun expects you to rip and tear through it.
While I’ll admit that there are still things about 40k as a property that can give me pause as a casual onlooker, I will admit that games like Warhammer 40k Boltgun are great for getting me to understand the appeal. While I’m not sure that it can sustain the carnage of its campaign throughout the rest of its three-episode runtime, it so far more than delivers on the power fantasy of being an 8 Foot tall engine of destruction that slaughters all who oppose them in the Imperium’s name. I’m gonna loop back around to this one when I’m finished with it.
But Fuck Plague Toads and Chaos Champions.