by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
All Boomer Shooters, and indeed all shooters in general, owe a debt to Doom in some form or another. For Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun that debt is more obvious than most. Indeed, when you get down to the core elements of the gameplay this is pretty much just a Warhammer 40,000-themed Doom mod. Now, this is not an issue because Doom, even 30 years after its release, is f@$&ing awesome.
To be fair to the development team over at Auroch Digital, they have implemented a few technical improvements from the last thirty years. Unlike the Doom Guy, your Space Marine protagonist can aim up and down; a much-needed improvement too as this game adds some downright cavernous levels where you will be descending into murky pits or climbing up to the top of spires. The game also deviates somewhat in terms of level design from its template, by splitting the levels up into narrow series of narrow corridors with a fixed number of enemies and huge arenas with multiple spawning waves of enemies. It's a mostly welcome change, as it makes the action more varied and keeps it fresher for longer.
This mostly faithful adaptation of the Doom formula does mean that Boltgun inherits some of Doom's problems as well. The thrilling action will occasionally have to be put on pause as you wander around looking for the next key or the next door that it unlocks.
I had long assumed that despite the plethora of games set in the grim darkness of the far future, I would never find one that did the boltgun justice. The boltgun is supposed to be a fully automatic grenade launcher that chucks out shells of high explosives so big that the recoil would dislocate a normal man's shoulder. Even when you stumble upon one of the rare well-made 40K games, like Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine or Necromunda: Hired Gun, the bolter is usually just transformed into a generic assault rifle.
Fortunately, as the title of Boltgun suggests, the developers at Auroch Digital understand the weapon's appeal and have taken great pains to make its depiction here as satisfying as it should be. There's the usual effort to give the gun a nice, chunky sound for firing and reloading with the noise it makes on impacting with an armored enemy being particularly satisfying. But far more important is the way that a single boltgun round will cause an unarmored target to explode into a cloud of gore and viscera. Now, this is what a bolt round is supposed to do to a normal, unarmored human being! No more using up half a clip to kill some hoodlum because he's hiding behind a scrap of corrugated steel.
In addition to providing some delightful catharsis, the way that a single bolt round reduces a person to a greasy smear on the pavement also provides some important context on the scale of combat in the game. When you empty half a clip of bolter shells into a Chaos Space Marine, you begin to appreciate the importance and utility of his power armor; when you encounter a Greater Demon like a Lord of Change or a Great Unclean One, and see that your Bolter is about as effective against them as harsh language it gives you the appropriate feeling of dread.
Of course, even if Boltgun had the best Bolter in video game history it wouldn't count for much if that was the only gun. This is a Boomer Shooter after all, and eventually, you're going to get tired of the default gun. Fortunately, Boltgun gives you an array of 40K weaponry, each filling a specific combat niche. You have the Heavy Bolter when you just want the basic gun but with more punch and no reload, the plasma gun for engaging hard targets at long range (the long-range part is essential because the splash damage can cook you just as easily as the minions of chaos), and the Melta Gun when you're faced with a monster so daunting that it qualifies for anti-tank weaponry. The game even adds in the Vengeance Launcher as a fun callback to its spiritual liege Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
The Grim Darkness of the Far Future
As you might have guessed from the lovingly rendered weaponry, the developers behind Boltgun have a deep affection for the setting of Warhammer 40,000 as well as an understanding of its appeal. They understand what the player wants from the power fantasy of being a Space Marine and are more than happy to give it to them. For the most part, it's small touches that create the illusion: the way that your character moves around with a heavy, metallic thud as his power-armored feet hit the ground, for instance. The developers even give you a completely useless taunt button, that serves no purpose other than to make your character praise the emperor and denigrate the forces of chaos.
The same care that has gone into the space marines and their arsenal is also present in the legions of enemies that you'll face. Boltgun has confined itself just to primarily chaos threats, but even there they have a nice variety of well-designed threats. Chaos cultists provide the expendable chaff that only manage to be dangerous in large numbers, while the Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Terminators give these legions of fodder some backbone. Tzeech demons like the Flamer and the Pink Horror will harass you from range, while Nurgle demons like the Nurgling and Plague toad provide a mid-range threat that can soak up tremendous firepower. When you get too comfortable with your equipment and your abilities the game can always spawn in a Greater Demon, effectively turning the FPS into a survival horror game as you desperately evade and search for cover or ammo. All the monsters seem to be modeled off of real 40K miniatures, creating the feel of being teleported into the tabletop game.
I would have liked to see Khorne and Slaaneesh demons as well, though I can understand why they were not included. Khorne demons would have to be primarily a melee threat, and that can be difficult to pull off in an FPS. Already, the melee enemies in this game have a nasty habit of sneaking up behind you and eating half your health bar. Slaaneesh demons were probably left out because a horde of shrieking half-nude hermaphrodite succubi would probably push the game's rating from Mature to Adults Only. Still, even with only half the chaos gods accounted for, Boltgun has more than enough enemy variety to keep it fresh throughout its brief campaign.
The only thing I have to ask is: In a world where there are a few hundred Boomer Shooters released a year and a few dozen 40K games a year how was it nobody hit upon this formula before now? No points to Auroch Digital for making the most obvious possible combination, but full marks for putting together one hell of a shooter.
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Very satisfying weapons, Classic Doom-style gunplay with a few modern improvements, Lots of distinctive enemies
Some downtime when hunting keys or door, Probably won't appeal much if you aren't already a fan of Warhammer 40k or Doom.