If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase ‘boomer shooter’ that’s fair enough because I only recently learned about it. It’s a term the internet has coined to describe the sort of pixelated FPS games that dominate PC gaming history from the 90s, such as Doom, Wolfenstein, Quake, and Duke Nukem. Several of these great titles are on Switch thanks to modern ports, but now there’s a new player on the table.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a new ‘boomer shooter’ drawing heavy inspiration from the classic FPS’ of the 90s, utilizing a heavily pixelated style and visceral action to evoke the best that PC gaming has to offer from the era of Spice Girls and Pogs. Similarly to those classic boomer shooters, Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is a no-nonsense game that focuses on killing, and little else, though it does feature some nice touches from its tabletop inspirations.
The universe of Warhammer 40K offers some nice world-building and lends itself incredibly well to this sort of game. In fact, it seems hard to believe that this type of entry in the franchise doesn’t already exist. From the bulky power armor of the Space Marines and the vicious whirring of the chainsword, to the gruesome foes like the Chaos Terminator, this franchise and the boomer shooter are like peanut butter and jelly.
I’m not entirely up to speed with the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, but some occasional dips into the videogames and a love of tabletop gaming mean I know the gist. I’m informed enough about the world of space-faring heretics and religious zealots to get by, and besides, there really isn’t much to go on here anyway. You’re a Space Marine on a mission to destroy Chaos Space Marines and daemons of Chaos. Yes, it’s going to be bloody.
The most impressive thing here is the arsenal at your disposal, with your trust chainsword as the mainstay and a nice selection of guns to boot. Eviscerate enemies with the titular boltgun, which fires tiny missiles, a shotgun, a plasma rifle, or more serious weaponry like the grav-cannon. What’s more, you can explore each level and occasionally stumble upon temporary additional ammo types, such as the boltgun’s kraken bolts that can pierce through armor.
While the amount of weapons is technically small, between the discoverable enhancements, and additional items such as frag grenades, there are still a lot of ways to mess up enemies and plenty of room for tactics. Plus, the variety of enemies forces you to quickly change between them, as your weapon strength only works on enemies with matching strength, so it’s wise to save the heavier artillery for the big boys.
Speaking of enemies, there’s a nice variety in Boltgun, as well as a slew of interesting levels over the eight-to-ten-hour campaign. There’s a lot of religious imagery, dank dungeons, and long corridors, but there is just about enough variety to keep things fresh. However, the pool of enemies could be slightly bigger, as even with the occasional bosses, the line-up of daemons and space marines does quickly run dry.
There are still some nice variations as you progress, such as the purge mode, where when entering certain areas, the screen runs blood red, and you must incapacitate a certain number of enemies to continue. There is generally something fun to attach to your weapons in these areas as well, so you can really go to town and revel in the glory of blood and guts. When Boltgun works, it feels amazing.
One area that definitely quickly runs out of ideas is the level design. Most levels offer a nice level of verticality, and hidden secrets such as temporary ammo rounds and permanent weapon augmentations like additional ammo capacity are a great reason to explore. You also don’t take fall damage, so you should definitely be making the most of the space, jumping off ledges, and surprising your foes.
What’s tedious is the constant need to find keys to open doors, with very little in the way of variety when it comes to actual exploration. Not to mention, with the heavy crunch of the pixels on screen, it can occasionally be a little tough to make out where you are going or your next objective.
There’s a sarcastic Servo-Skull that follows you around like a demonic Navi, occasionally pointing out ammo and hinting towards the way, but it’s often more sardonic than helpful. It’s not a huge nitpick as the levels are generally short enough that you won’t ever get truly lost, but there is still a little too much accidental backtracking for my liking.
There are some nice options for people wanting an easier experience because as well as four difficulty options there’s also the option to turn on invulnerability, as well as unlock all levels. So if you simply want to mow down foes and chill out, the option is there. Meanwhile, if you want the classic challenge of a 90s boomer shooter, slam up that difficulty, and I promise that Boltgun demands both your reflexes and your tactical prowess.
One element I adore is the presentation, as Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun knocks it out of the park in terms of audio design. The soundtrack is suitably full of impressive rock-infused tracks that balance the intensity of a 90s shooter with the grandiose atmosphere that the Warhammer 40k universe demands.
The sound effects are equally great with the satisfying squelches of enemies bursting from your explosive rounds, the visceral revving of the chainsword, and so much more. Plus, there’s even a dedicated ‘Rahul Kohli’ button as the Midnight Mass actor voices the titular Space Marine, and a tap of the X button gives you zingers such as “none will survive” and “the Emporer’s will be done.”
Sadly there are some issues with performance, as I’ve experienced slowdown with the scene being stuck for a few frames, as well as the game needing to pause and load in the middle of combat. I get there is a lot going on, but with such a chunky pixelated art style, I’m disappointed that my playthrough is routinely being interrupted or even put on hold. I’d really love some patches to offer a smoother experience.
Finally, even after adjusting several times, I’m still struggling with the sensitivity of the cursor. I’ve slammed all the options up to the maximum, and still, my Space Marine feels like a walking fridge. I know that fits into the universe, but I’d like the action to feel a little more responsive. I especially would really love motion controls down the line, as they add so much to the fantastic ports of titles like Duke Nukem on Switch.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun might not break new ground, but it’s a violent and bloody riot that is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in the Warhammer universe. A fantastic visual style and spread of weapons perfectly match the tone of the boomer shooter, and there are a lot of enemies waiting to be slain over the 8-10 hour campaign. I just hope that we get some updates to improve performance and possibly add motion controls.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun Switch review
If you’re looking to explode daemons and eviscerate space marines, then Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a blast from the past that honors both the legacy of the boomer shooter and the 40k franchise. However, repetitive level design, occasional performance, and a lack of motion controls are holding it back. I hope some patches or a sequel can help the series set a new standard for the genre.