I have one firm rule when working with writers on game reviews: Never say “The shooting feels good.”
It’s a small pet peeve that speaks to our wider approach to criticism at Digital Trends. We’re always trying to dig deeper than a surface-level book report in our game reviews, and a line like that is as hollow as they come. Shooting is one of those actions that has been fine-tuned so aggressively over gaming’s history that it’s frankly rare you find one where it doesn’t feel fun at the very least. It’s always our goal to go one step beyond a surface thought like that and think about how a strong gameplay hook functions in a game’s wider context.
Yet there’s only one thing I want to say when writing about Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun: The shooting feels good. Damn good. And in this particular case, for an action game that’s squarely focused on making battles as sickly satisfying as possible, maybe that’s all that really needs to be said this time.
Run and gun
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is another entry into the “boomer shooter” genre, a term used in recent years to describe retro first-person shooters that call back to the 90s. Here, developer Auroch Digital takes the rich world of Warhammer and fits it into a retro FPS made to look like 1993’s Doom. The result is a gleefully bombastic action game with fast-paced movement, classic keycard hunting, and some of the most immediately enjoyable shooting I’ve seen in the genre as of late.
There’s a lot that goes into making such a simple pleasure work as well as it does. On a very basic level, the shooting here finds the right mix between speed and precision. This is a lightning-fast game that feels like it was built for speedrunners to rip and tear through. I almost never take my fingers off my movement keys as I fly through maze-like levels with grace. Though even with that fast pace, I’m still able to easily fire off a cultist headshot with point-and-click accuracy. There’s an impressive level of control here that makes the first level of Boltgun an immediate thrill that’s worth checking out on its own.
The more I play, the more I begin to understand why it works as well as it does despite the fact that games like this are a dime a dozen. All the little details are what make a difference. I begin the game with the titular Boltgun, a machine gun that stands toe-to-toe with Doom’s shotgun as one of gaming’s great weapons. When I fire it, I get a loud, detailed soundscape of metal and fire that signals just how powerful it is. That’s paid off when I blast a cultist and they explode in a shower of pixelated blood and meat.
As I look even closer, I realize that there’s a very functional aspect to the art design too. Every time I fire a shot, I see the bullet streak from my barrel to the enemy. It forms a perfect line that leads my aim, almost acting as a laser sight that’s active while shooting. It’s why I can barrel through a level making tight turns and still land every shot. And that’s just one weapon. Each gun has its own sense of power and weight that makes each a fun tool to raise hell with.
As I type all this out, I feel like it should make me a little uneasy. It’s a little morbid to gush about how great it feels to pop enemies open at a time when real-world gun violence continues to surge. As I’m having fun blasting my way through a tough, lengthy campaign, I begin to wonder the point of it all. The story is paper thin and doesn’t really deepen my knowledge of Warhammer’s rich lore. I’m just firing off pounds of lead in a series of violent shooting galleries. It’s a bloody carnival game; after the first few chapters, I feel like I’ve seen and done everything the fun, but shallow experience has to offer me.
And yet, that phrase once again lingers in my head: The shooting feels good.
I don’t think Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun’s success is really about its guns at all, though. There’s just something inherently satisfying about clicking on an object and having it immediately react. Boltgun understands that simple joy, so it provides players with a maximalist level of feedback that makes for a thrilling guilty pleasure. If you’re nostalgic for the gory glory days of PC classics like Doom, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is a sickly satisfying explosion of blood and pixels.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.