Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is an appealing combination: What if you took the grimdark setting of Warhammer 40K and examined it through the lens of a classic boomer-shooter à la Doom? Boltgun is named after the weapon Space Marines and Sisters of Battle employ in war, a .75 caliber gun that shoots massive bolts that explode inside their target. That sort of over-the-top, metal, slightly goofy lore is what gives the Warhammer 40K setting its charm, and so far, Boltgun deploys it to masterful effect.
I played a preview demo of Boltgun, which includes the tutorial and the first three levels. The Space Marine crash-lands, his squad dead, and he must move through the mountains and factories of Graia, a world that produces Titan mechs for the Imperium. Of course, he almost immediately encounters heresy — cultists, Chaos Space Marines, daemons, etc. Luckily, he also discovers a holy relic with which to smite them: the titular boltgun.
Boltgun feels like it was made by 40K nerds; there’s lots of tie-ins to the larger lore. The game opens with a cutscene where an Inquisitor, an agent of the Imperium of Man’s secret super police, briefs the Space Marine on what to expect. Boltgun follows the events of 2011’s Space Marine, where the Ultramarine Captain Titus stopped an Ork WAAAGH! (that’s how the big green lads refer to a sustained war campaign) and a Chaos incursion. The Inquisitor thinks there are loose ends left after that campaign, and they need to be investigated.
Boltgun does a great job of straddling the line between two possibly divergent directions for the game. On one hand, it’s wonderfully silly. There’s a dedicated taunt button, which has the protagonist Space Marine shake his fist and yell something like “For the Emperor!” or “Purge the Heretic!” at enemies (or at no one in particular, if you’re feeling spicy). If the player is idle, the protagonist takes out his trusty Codex Astartes and flips through the pages.
On the other hand, Boltgun faithfully captures some of the best parts about its inspiration of ’90s shooters. There are tons of secrets hidden throughout the levels, like vortex grenades that drag enemies into oblivion, or powerful upgrades to the Ultramarine’s arsenal. It’s pretty fun to blaze through the levels toward the nearest enemy, but I felt rewarded when I took my time and slowed down to shoot at walls and gawk at the surreal and visceral pixelated scenery left behind by a Chaos incursion.
The enemy design is also charming. Chaos, as a faction, risks feeling a little same-y. Darktide has fantastic combat, but there are only so many Nurgle cultists you can kill before they get monotonous. Boltgun draws from the full smorgasbord of Chaos troops, from the Pink and Blue Horrors of Tzeentch to Chaos Space Marines decked out in armor to exploding monster frogs.
If you prefer, you can play on an easier difficulty, or use the accessibility options to become invulnerable, or unlock the entire library of levels. It’s a nice way to include everyone. Boltgun’s higher difficulties feel appropriately challenging for fans of a good solid shooter, but it’s also possible for a 40K fan to tour through a lovingly built game in the grimdark universe of only war.