For The Emperor

HIGH Turning thousands of enemies into various forms of gooey spray.

LOW No map. Too many “Purge” sections

WTF Why don’t they ever send my Space Marines some friggin’ reinforcements?

For the first level of Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, I was an unstoppable killing machine dispensing justice to any filth opposing the Emperor. Encased in my impenetrable armor and wielding the iconic, eponymous heavy pistol, I felt powerful. 

When the second level began, I realized my armor was more penetrable than I’d imagined and that I was significantly more stoppable than I’d thought.

Boltgun tells the story of an ill-fated detachment of Space Marines sent to exterminate the forces of Chaos on a distant world.  As is usual in these types of first-person shooters, issues arise and only one Marine is left available to single-handedly lay waste to the foes of the Emperor and stop a nefarious plan to… do something with a giant wormhole and an ultimate weapon? 

I’ll admit I didn’t pay much attention to the script, as I was often too busy running and gunning to follow the plot.  That’s not to say the plot is uninteresting – it’s filled with deliciously pixelated cutscenes and some fantastic voice work from the cast, especially Rahul Kohli as our protagonist, Malum Caedo.  I frequently overused the dedicated taunt button just to hear him spew venom at his nearly limitless opponents.

Players familiar with retro first-person shooters will feel right at home with Boltgun’s control scheme.  Players guide Caedo through varied environments while hunting for keys to allow progress to the next section where another key awaits, and so on until the level exit is found.  Along the way, switches must be operated to open doors, activate machinery, and perform other, unspecified functions.  Seriously, there were a number of activation points scattered throughout that appeared to do nothing at all.  Granted, they may have opened up secret passages to hidden troves of goodies, but since I never found those, I may never know. 

Blocking our hero’s way are the denizens of Chaos, from slimy Nurglings (always satisfying one-shot kills) up to nigh invulnerable Chaos lords and others of their demon-bred ilk. 

While alone, Caedo has access to some of the most powerful weapons known to the Empire, from the aforementioned boltgun to heavy repeating rifles and enormous plasma cannons capable of vaporizing all but the largest foes. 

Despite the high-velocity ranged equipment available, my favorite was the melee-based chainsword.  Activating this beauty in the vicinity of an enemy causes time to slow and locks onto the nearest victim, completely eviscerating lesser enemies, and doing substantial damage to any others foolish enough to stand in its path.

Considering that Space Marines are supposed to be walking tanks bristling with weaponry, it’s a little ironic that our hero has to spend most of his time running, dodging, and jumping to avoid incoming fire, as standing toe-to-toe against even some of the weaker enemies is a one-way-ticket to loading a save. Fortunately, he’s equipped with a the usual sprint ability found in just about every FPS, along with an extra dash that allows him a burst of speed to batter foes as he runs past (or through) them. 

Overall, Boltgun‘s map designs were varied, and I was particularly taken with one level inside a reactor where I had to keep climbing to escape rising molten coolant while also blasting foes as I scrambled to safety. Unfortunately, Boltgun tends to jam in a few spots, lessening the enjoyment to a degree. 

First, the developers offer no maps, which is unforgivable in 2023, especially since FPS titles going all the way back to Doom have maps as a core feature.  I spent far too much time backtracking trying to find a door I may have missed (perhaps activated by one of those switches I never figured out) or wandering aimlessly looking for the next objective. 

More egregious, however, are the too-numerous “purge” sections.  Upon entering certain spaces, the words “Purge the Enemy” appear on screen, and baddies begin to teleport onto the field in increasing numbers and difficulty, usually leading to a boss battle against an enormous bullet-sponge who can spam area attacks while more cannon-fodder enemies appear. 

The first time, it was novel and enjoyable, but just about every time afterward was a chore.  On top of this, communications would often come through during these pitched battles, but they were nearly impossible to focus on because I was too busy fighting for my life to read them. 

Despite the rough patches, Warhanmmer 40,000 Boltgun remains impressive.  It’s fast, action-packed, controls well, and is (mostly) a joy to play. With just a little tweaking and a few adjustments, this could easily be one of the all-time greats.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Auroch Digital and published by Focus Entertainment.It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4/PS5, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 19 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore and Violence. This is a retro first-person shooter in which players assume the role of a space marine investigating a planet invaded by demons. Players use a variety of machine guns and shotguns to kill hordes of stylized, pixelated enemies (e.g., demons, cultists, enemy marines). Combat is fast-paced, highlighted by frequent gunfire, explosions, and blood-splatter effects. Enemies often explode into low-resolution gore/viscera, and one weapon (chainsaw attachment) can result in up-close blood-splatter/chunks of flesh.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. All dialogue is completely subtitled, as are all skull companion messages and in-game communication.  Enemies may spawn/attack from offscreen, using only audio cues to alert the payer to their whereabouts.  Players with hearing issues will be caught completely unaware by these enemies and most likely will take damage that could potentially otherwise be avoided. As such, this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable. Keyboard bindings are completely remappable for all controls.  Gamepad controls are locked.

Jeff Ortloff
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