The very first thing I thought after seeing the reveal trailer for Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun was “Never in my life have I needed something so much, and never known until I received it.” The second, more rational thought was “How is it that nobody has tried this till now?” Warhammer is no stranger to first person shooters, evident in the recent Darktide and Necromunda: Hired Gun – and the less said about Fire Warrior the better. However, the idea to put together Warhammer 40k and a retro style “boomer shooter” (Doom, Unreal Tournament, etc) is about as perfect a combination as chocolate and peanut butter. All the pieces are there, this could be a bona-fide hit, but a good boomer shooter lives and dies by how it feels to play, so I had to get my hands on it to know for sure it was as good as it sounded.
Kick It Old School
Thankfully, Focus Entertainment brought the latest build of Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun to try out at PAX East, and yours truly got to give it a test drive. Firstly, we’re very happy to report that the project is in good hands. After talking a bit about the game with one of the devs, I can see the team’s passion for the Warhammer 40k universe is front and center in Boltgun, and they are determined to get the feeling of the grim darkness of the far future just right.
All of the game’s assets are designed and sculpted with their accompanying miniature figures in mind, and all of the weaponry feels just as powerful as Warhammer‘s storied lore makes them out to be. The devs also told us that Boltgun is a midquel of sorts, bridging the narrative gap between the original Space Marine (2011) and its upcoming 2023 sequel, helping to flesh out the aftermath of the first games events. Boltgun brings us back to the Forge world Graia, one of the weapons manufacturing planets of my personal favorite faction, the Adeptus Mechanicus (basically space mechanics that keep the human empire running).
Having weathered an Ork invasion at the beginning of the original Space Marine, the planet is now overrun by the ruinous powers of Chaos, with cultists and Chaos Space Marines dug in and spoiling for a fight. After a bit of chatting with the team, a PC station opened up, and at long last I was able to get a taste of the game feel for myself.
“Happiness is a Warm Gun”
The first thing that stands out is how heavy the player character is. It makes sense, as your average Space Marine in full armor weighs in at about 2000 pounds, so the gentle slide when you release the controls feels right for a man shaped tank trying to stop on a dime. What I wasn’t expecting is just how floaty the jumps are, feeling less like a powerful leap with a consistent arc and more like a moon jump with more than enough air control to course correct mid hop. It gives the rather odd feeling of being simultaneously heavy as a brick and as light as a feather, but after playing through a few encounters, it very quickly feels natural.
What Boltgun does get right on the money is the gunplay, with the titular Boltgun easily tearing lightly armored Chaos cultists to shreds of beautiful gorey particle effects in just a few shots, with your handy chainsword ready to mash through anything with a tougher shell to crack. As you bob and weave through the levels, you begin to amass a full Space Marine chapter’s worth of armaments, such as the machine gun analogous Heavy Bolter, the rocket launcher-esque Plasma Gun and an array of different grenade types. Most importantly, while I didn’t get to try out the shotgun myself, I was assured by the devs it lives up to the boomer shooter legends it walks in the footsteps of.
Something that did stand out as I made my way through the demo was the music, whereas most boomer shooters embrace their Heavy Metal roots, Boltgun takes a more methodical approach, with a thematically appropriate church organ playing throughout the carnage. It goes a long way to help root yourself in the headspace of a 7 foot tall indoctrinated genetic supersoldier, but does fall a bit short of getting the blood pumping. As my time came to a close with Boltgun, I ultimately walked away still very excited for the game, with plenty of time left to turn some screws behind the scenes to get everything feeling just right before its 1.0 launch, but still very happy with what was on display at the booth.
Boltgun still doesn’t have a set release date outside of “2023”, but whenever it does launch, it will be available on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch and PC.