In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. The Emperor’s finest, the transhuman Space Marines, are the bulwark defending humanity from the malevolent forces of Chaos. Sometimes, the setting of Warhammer 40,000 is deadly serious. But it’s also an extremely silly galaxy, and Warhammer 40K: Boltgun indulges in the lighter side of things, to great effect.
Boltgun, a boomer shooter created by Auroch Digital, takes heavy inspiration from Doom, Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem, and other old-school FPS games. I take on the role of an Ultramarine, one of the Emperor of Mankind’s Angels, dispatched to the world of Graia to clean up after the events of the 2011 action game Space Marine. I play as Malum Caedo, a Sternguard Veteran, and I’m the sole survivor of my squad.
Everything’s gone straight back to hell after the events of Space Marine concluded and prior Ultramarine protagonist Captain Titus killed boatloads of Orks and Chaos Space Marines. The planet has been re-infested with cultists, Chaos Space Marines, and daemons. Luckily, I have a chainsword, the titular boltgun, and a dedicated button to shout praises to the Emperor. My course of action is clear: rip and tear.
At first glance, Boltgun is an elaborate joke. If you’re familiar with the 40K setting, then it’s a delightful jest that turns familiar tropes on their head. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s just an over-the-top, gory romp — a Duke Nukem game in which, instead of playing a red-blooded American who likes beer and boobs, the protagonist is an 8-foot-tall tank in power armor who turns daemons into red mist and praises his Emperor.
The thing about most jokes, though, is that they eventually wear thin. If Boltgun was just a silly goof, it would become stale after the first couple of levels. Happily, there’s more meat on this particular bone, because the gameplay is actually quite good. It wasn’t long before I fell into a rhythm of slaying heretics.
The chainsword lets me charge forward and close the gap, and it can down even the mightiest of foes. But it also locks me into a stationary animation, opening me up to enemy fire. I can also mow through daemons at a distance with my boltgun, which is less reliable, but gives me plenty of room to dodge shots and get the lay of the room.
Combat is punctuated by exploration. I’ll occasionally need to hunt down a key or knock down a secret wall. The more I explore, the more I’m rewarded. I find new weapons tucked around the levels, like the Meltagun or a Vengeance Launcher. There are also secret upgrades squirreled away that spew cones of fire, or give grenades the ability to explode into black holes. These powerful tools are fun to deploy and ridiculously overpowered, and I frequently erased an entire room of bad guys in fabulous form.
As for whether Boltgun is a challenge or not — that’s really up to you. There are tiered difficulty options, ranging from Low to Exterminatus. If you just want to explore the environments and discover the story, then the accessibility menu contains an invulnerability setting. On Normal difficulty, even lowly plague toads and cultists pack a punch. I have to watch my positioning and choose my tools carefully, since my enemies have a similarly versatile arsenal at their disposal.
The more I advance through Graia, the more I appreciate the environments of Boltgun. I began on snowy peaks, with metal Imperium infrastructure built into the mountains, before fighting my way through habitation blocks and factories with giant Titan mechas looming in the background. Graia’s stark surfaces are interrupted by colorful, vivid realms of Chaos, full of winged Tzeentch daemons and noxious little Nurglings.
Auroch Digital has done a great job of deploying retro visuals and the trappings of older shooters alongside modern sensibilities to bring the game to life. The abyss of Chaos looks downright disturbing, even captured through an old-school lens. These trippy environments and crude daemon designs combine with visceral and satisfying combat to make Boltgun a blast, and it’s nice to explore the world of Warhammer through such a ridiculous, blood-smeared filter.
Warhammer 40K: Boltgun was released on May 23 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Focus Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.