In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there is only gore. That’s according to Warhammer 40K: Boltgun, the upcoming DOOM-inspired first-person shooter that’s coming to PC and consoles later this year.
DOOM is having quite the cultural resurgence at the moment, thanks both to the excellent modern reimaginings of the series, DOOM (2016) and DOOM Eternal, along with a slew of indie titles that harken back to the retro shooters like the original DOOM. These so-called “boomer shooters” include games like Prodeus and Dust, which have taken to aping the graphical style and gameplay of shooters from the DOOM Era, while utilizing modern technology to allow for better animations, more particle effects, and gameplay innovations to enhance the experience.
Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is certainly a boomer shooter at heart, with its 2D sprite art-style and keycard hunting, demon-blasting gameplay, but it also borrows a little from the newer DOOM iterations to create something of a hybrid. Developer’s Auroch Digital were kind enough to give us a preview of the first three levels of the game, so we revved up our chainsword and got stuck in.
The Golden Age of shooters
Boltgun opens with a bit of a lore dump from an Inquisitor explaining why a random Space Marine is getting dropped into battle by himself, and then you’re bundled into a drop pod and fired at the planet to cleanse it of heretics. It's all the set up you're getting, and it's all you need: There be bad guys, here’s a big stick, go hit the bad guys until they go away.
Weirdly, the Inquisition decided to send in a lone Space Marine without his gun too, as you start the first mission with nothing but your trusty chainsword. This is all part of the tutorialization though, and after you cleave your way through the first few unfortunate cultists, you quickly stumble upon the titular boltgun.
Probably the most famous weapon in all of 40K, and it’s amazing how many games get it wrong. Fans of the lore will know that a Space Marine’s boltgun is basically a rapid-fire mini rocket launcher, but so many 40K games end up translating it into a machine gun equivalent. Boltgun makes no such mistakes with its leading weapon. The boltgun in Boltgun is an absolute joy to use. It feels punchy and thunderous when you fire it, and enemies explode into chunks of viscera and crushed dreams when they’re hit by its explosive rounds.
The Chaos Gods are in the details
That attention to detail was one of the overriding things I noticed during my time with Boltgun. As a massive 40K nerd myself, it’s obvious that Auroch Digital has some real fans of the franchise amongst its ranks. The weapons all look and feel like they should. The chainsword cuts through even the toughest enemies given enough time, while the plasma gun deals massive damage, but it’s prone to overheating and can hurt you too. I found temporary upgrades for my boltgun that equipped it with special issue ammunition, buffing my firepower with kraken rounds that did more damage.
The enemy variety is great too and they all look and act just like they do in the tabletop game. Most of the basic enemies are just cultists – squishy humans who have fallen to the taint of Chaos. No match for a Space Marine by themselves, but potentially dangerous in numbers. Chaos Marines pose more of a threat, and the fearsome Terminators are absolute tanks who take real firepower to bring down. On the daemonic front, there are Plague Toads that leap around the battlefield spitting acid at you, while Flamers of Tzeentch hurl daemonic fire at you. The Pink Horrors even split into Blue Horrors when you kill them, just like on the tabletop.
Aba-DOOM the Despoiler
Warhammer 40K: Boltgun makes no excuses for what it is – a DOOM clone with a 40K skin over it, but it makes a lot of sensible updates to the classic formula that defined the first-person shooter.
At its heart, all that classic DOOM action is here. It’s filled with fast-paced, arena-style combat encounters where you face off against hordes of enemies, while the quieter moments have you hunting down colored keycards and secrets. However, there’s much more to Boltgun. For one thing, there’s a lot more verticality to the combat.
The game has a jump button and even a mantle animation for when you don’t quite make it to a ledge. This means that the combat arenas can feature a lot more vertical variety, with ledges and containers for you to scramble over and leap off, much like in the rebooted DOOM (2016).
There's also a hilariously pointless taunt button that makes your Space Marine shout one of many randomized threats and one-liners at his foes, threatening to bathe in their blood in the name of the emperor. It reminded me of the barks that units would give when you selected them in Dawn of War – it's all great fun.
This mashup of old and new styles is really enjoyable, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Warhammer 40K: Boltgun. There’s loads here for 40K fans to enjoy, seeing iconic factions from the tabletop brought to life in glorious pixelated forms, but it’s also a great retro shooter that people who aren’t familiar with the 40K universe can enjoy too.
Warhammer 40K: Boltgun will be available on PC, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. It doesn’t have a firm launch date yet, but we’re expecting it some time during 2023 and we can’t wait to check out the full game when it does launch.
To see what other great space and sci-fi titles are on the horizon, check out our roundup of the upcoming space games for 2023. And if you want games you can play now, our list of the best space games has you covered.
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Ian is the Tech and Entertainment Editor at Space.com and Live Science. This means he covers everything from Star Wars and the MCU through to VR headsets and Lego sets. With a degree in biology, a PhD in chemistry, and his previous role at Institute of Physics Publishing, Ian is taking a world tour through the different scientific disciplines. He's seeing how long they let him keep this profile photo.