Game Review: Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a solid, yet shallow retro shooter

I’ve never really been into the Warhammer 40,000 universe, aside from a few video game entries here and there; but would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the lore. Big, hulking soldiers equipped with chainswords, battling waves of enemy aliens? Sign me up. It is in that same thought that Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun caught my eye. Something so accessible as a 90s-inspired shooter, where ultimate destruction and carnage are your main goals? Once again, sign me up.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun marries its premise and tone with these retro mechanics. It plays well and looks just as great. But in the same token, it can be a little shallow at times, offering little more than that initial feeling of immense power, which aims to carry most of, if not all of Boltgun’s offerings. While I would recommend this to both Warhammer 40,000 and Doom fans alike, it leaves a little more to be desired in its final hours.

Suit Up and Slay

Players take control of a Space Marine Sternguard, a seasoned, giant super soldier of sorts who enjoys killing more than talking. You are sent to the forge world of Graia as a mercenary to essentially hunt down a mysterious object of great interest to an equally mysterious party. As interesting as that sounds, it’s literally an excuse to get you to slaughter anything that stands in your way.

The story takes place over three chapters and a couple dozen levels that take around 10 hours to complete. While that doesn’t seem like a long time, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun packs in a consistent sense of combat and pace that hardly ever lets up. Be it tearing through regular grunts with your chainsword or taking on the beefier enemy Space Marines that are capable of absorbing more than a few hits. Levels do offer a small sense of exploration for the sake of collectibles and power-ups but never lead you too far off the beaten track.

The only issue I had with Boltgun was its mission structure. While it’s mainly focused on putting you in the way of hilariously dumb grunts and goons, you’ll also need to track down keys to open doors in order to progress. While the levels are relatively small and easy to navigate, there is a fair amount of backtracking that takes place, which is a little annoying considering you’ll backtrack through rooms and corridors you’ve already decimated, leaving things feeling a little empty.

Swinging for the Fences

Combat is the star in Boltgun and it shows. It’s incredibly fast-paced and visceral, complete with numerous ways to destroy enemies. Players can wield a selection of eight weapons along with your trusty chainsword, which is confined to the left trigger or L2. The titular Boltgun feels like the most consistently satisfying weapon that most will resort to, akin to Doom’s shotgun, but each weapon, be it the grenade launcher or heavy machine gun for example, does a great job at feeling both punchy and responsive.

While I would recommend increasing the aiming sensitivity regardless of the difficulty level, it feels rather necessary on those harder difficulty levels. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but the default aiming sensitivity feels a little stiff, given how demanding combat encounters feel throughout. Weapons are also outfitted with Strength stats, which usually correlate directly with an enemy’s Toughness stat. Should your strength stat be lower than their Toughness stat, your weapons will deal much less damage and ultimately feel ineffective. It’s a simple system for the most part, but it does encourage you to shake up your arsenal at times.

While your Space Marine is equipped with a traditional health bar, your armour is replaced with Contempt. Yes, you read that right. Given Space Marines pride themselves on being the top dog, you’ll be using a dedicated taunt button to offend enemies before you destroy them. In the same token, your main method of engaging in melee combat is by swinging your trusty chainsword. While you’ll only need to press it once or twice to cut through weaker enemies, you’ll need to mash the button multiple times in order to cut through tougher ones. It’s a rather simplistic mechanic, but it feels so damn good to do over and over again.

Overall, combat feels great, and does an equally great job at keeping you on your toes, mixing up your weapons selections when it matters most. While the tougher difficulty levels benefit from this faster pace, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun completely understands the assignment and delivers accurately. That being said, it’s worth noting here that, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is so dedicated to the cause, so much so that it’s not necessarily trying to be anything other than a linear shooter. As a result, it falls in line with some of the better retro shooters I’ve played but hardly does anything new to stand out in comparison.

 Blast from the Past

The first thing you’ll notice about Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is how it marries its old-school visuals with its modern mechanics. While you’ll navigate fully 3D environments with an impressive sense of scale and verticality, the pixel art aesthetic will take most older shooter fans like myself back a decade or two. I find it interesting that the level of pixelation can also be adjusted in the game’s settings, although I wouldn’t recommend this at I feel it takes away the game’s charm.

I also played Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun on the PlayStation 5 and have to say, it ran incredibly well. Previous-gen versions run at 30fps, while next-gen consoles run at a smooth 60fps, which helps greatly in making gameplay feel rewarding and responsive.

Final Thoughts

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun feels like it was ripped straight out of the 90s in the best and worst ways. Its combat is a huge positive but it also brings some of the negatives with it too, in terms of level design and mission structure. While the story remains largely in the background, it does admittedly allow the combat to shine consistently, with a blistering sense of pace and violence. The contempt mechanic adds a nice touch in making you feel more like a rage-fueled Space Marine, while the Strength and Toughness stats in combat do their best to keep you switching up your weapons.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun does little to reinvent the genre, but it’s also a worthy addition to it. Its lighter story is also a great way for casual and hardcore fans alike to jump on board, for one accessible, blood-soaked ride.


Highlights: Fantastic combat; Charming retro visuals
Lowlights: Inconsequential narrative; Dated mission structure leads to mindless backtracking
Developer: Auroch Digital
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher.

Matthew Arcari

Matthew Arcari is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. You can find him on Twitter at @sirchunkee, or at the Dagobah System, chilling with Luke and Yoda.