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Cleanse, Purge, Repeat

This underrated title combines everything fun about the first-person shooters of yesteryear. And it’s on Game Pass now.

warhammer 40,000: Boltgun cover art
Auroch Digital
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If one were to ask my grandmother “What are video games like?” she’d probably described a bloody romp through corridors and mazes, one with an endless variety of unsightly demons and heretics rushing a macho, armored-clad protagonist whose muffled, borderline blasphemous declarations about a fictional holy emperor would have left her shaking her head in confused disapproval.

While I’m glad that my sweet granny’s outdated assessment of the entire medium is anything but accurate, she would’ve been spot on in describing the eight or so hours I spent playing Auroch Digital’s 2023 boomer-shooter, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun. This underrated title combines everything fun about the first-person shooters of yesteryear and does away with the faff. Its recent addition to the rotating Xbox Game Pass library makes it an absolute must-play.

You play as Malum Caedo, an Ultramarine who’s entirely devoted the immortal God Emperor of Mankind.

Auroch Digital

Set within the the grim-dark, science-fantasy world of Warhammer 40,000, Boltgun puts players in the ceramite boots of superhuman Malum Caedo, a devout Ultramarine who’s dedicated his life to the immortal God Emperor of Mankind — and to destroying those who oppose him.

Warhammer faithful may recognize the game’s references to the adventures of Captain Titus, the lead in 2011’s equally underrated third-person action game Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Taking place some years after Titus’ chapter of space marines staved off Orks and Chaos from the forgeworld of Graia, Caedo is tasked with returning to the troubled planet by his superiors to exterminate its returning evils once more.

Ultimately, Boltgun isn’t about the plot, it’s about the combat.

Auroch Digital

While it's neat that Boltgun’s story fits within the existing lore of the best non-tactics Warhammer game ever released, it’s ultimately not very engaging. The three minutes of exposition at the start of the game could be skipped without missing much. The short cutscenes that follow are an excuse to get to the meaty center of what Boltgun does best: combat.

On its surface, Boltgun is very much a call back to the genre’s simpler, bloodier beginnings. Its plentiful selection of destructive weapons and the constant hunt for keycards that open up the next part of the level will be familiar to anyone who’s played seminal ‘90s classics like id Software’s Doom (1993) or 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem 3D. But an apt comparison should also be made to 2016’s Doom. Like id Software’s series reboot, Boltgun borrows heavily from the design sensibilities of the genre’s progenitors (action-heavy gameplay loop, fast-paced movement, gleeful bloodshed), but updates them with more satisfying, feedback-oriented, moment-to-moment gameplay.

The game’s vicious chainsword in action.

Auroch Digital

Auroch Digital absolutely nailed this wondrous blend of old and new. Every weapon fires with a joyful oompf that will rock your sound system as much as they do the dozens of enemies on screen. From the sizzling plasma blaster, the vicious chainsword which serves as a meaty melee attack, to the titular default Boltgun and its auto-firing variant, there’s plenty to switch between. Fortunately, ammo is plentiful, giving players a lot of freedom in how they want to clear room after room of vile beasts and evil cultists. Saves are also frequent and forgiving, allowing Boltgun to subvert some of the more frustrating aspects that nostalgic fans of the genre might be willing to overlook. Those who are looking for a challenge on par with the classics will be happy to know there are four difficulty options to test your mettle against.

Boltgun’s other calling card is its presentation. The novelty of the pixelated 2-D sprites and gorgeous color palette never wears off and are a dazzle to behold on any display. Levels are rendered in 3D assets reminiscent of late 90s games like Unreal Tournament. Boltgun efficiently conveys the bleak, gothic architecture Warhammer 40,000 is known for. Paired with the constant bits of fan service, like the dedicated taunt button that makes your space marine spew a random bit of zealous dialogue, and its retro heavy-metal soundtrack, Boltgun does a lot to immerse the player in its ridiculous world despite its low-poly graphics.

Perhaps the best thing about Boltgun is that it understands fun. It doesn’t get in its own way with unnecessary mechanics like a leveling system or tiered loot to collect. It doesn’t overstay its welcome with tedious levels or a bloated runtime. Despite being a canonical part of one of the deepest, most expansive pieces of fiction to date, it doesn't even present the player with constant cutscenes explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing.

In the age of the so-called boomer-shooter, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun stands as one of the popular subgenre’s most frantic, brutal, and fun entries.

Auroch Digital

It instead whittles down the first-person shooter to the bare essentials established more than 30 years ago and effectively iterates on those key, core elements. It also successfully leans into the fulfillment of the violent power fantasy that once gave U.S. Senators cause for concern, to the point of hilarious parody. I dare someone to not feel pure exhilaration mowing down enemy after enemy in a cacophony of gunfire, alien roars, and jovial declarations about some all-powerful emperor some forty millennia into our fictional future. Boltgun is the classics as you remember them, even if its secret sauce is in modernizing the formula in subtle ways that align it with today’s more approachable fare.

In the age of the so-called boomer-shooter, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun stands as one of the popular subgenre’s most frantic, brutal, and fun entries. It’s a timeless game thanks to its no-nonsense gameplay and gorgeous visuals and is an easy recommendation to anyone with a Game Pass subscription and an empty schedule for the weekend.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is streaming on Xbox Game Pass. It’s also available on PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC.

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