Some of my readers might've thought I would've produced an article about the latest Zelda game. But there's a legion of Nintendo simps to moisten that title with their tongues, so it's up to me to talk about an unheralded little game from my corner of the universe.
A quaint indie title, released to little fanfare, and crushed by the eighty-hour open world instagrammable juggernaut owning the gaming press. But I'm here to tell you, that under everyone's nose, is an utter delight of a title about slaughtering hordes of hated chaos-influenced foes.
You play as an un-named Space Marine Sternguard Veteran. Under the direction of an Inquisitor, you and your squad are sent to investigate some heretical dealings on the planet Graia and jolly well sort it out, using the liberal application of ultraviolence.
As a side note, it's not a coincidence that Forge World Graia is also featured in 2011's Space Marine, by THQ. The two are related, and likely will have an additional tie in with Space Marine 2, whenever that releases.
Sadly, things go wrong almost immediately. Your drop pod gets blown off course and crashes, killing everyone who isn't you. But you still have a job to do, and no-one else is coming to help, so it's time to slam a fresh clip in your relic bolter, fuel up your chainsword, and go to town.
And boy, oh boy, is that an absolute (bolter) barrel of fun.
As mentioned above, you'll fight through a range of Imperial locales corrupted by the foul influence of chaos. Things start off slow with squishy cultists, before harder targets like Black Legion troops show up. Before you know it, Daemons are added into the mix for the perfect little melting pot of potential victims.
And that's about all the story you'll need to get you through, really.
It feels ungrateful to call Boltgun a Doom clone, but it is relatable, so that's what I'm going with. It's also similar in design to a very recent Doom-inspired title, Cultic. Though I've not played that.
What makes Boltgun go beyond a Doom clone are additional gameplay mechanics and visual tweaks to reflect the availability of more modern design. Such examples include weapons using modeled projectiles, jumping, sprinting and dashing, weapon reloading, and being able to pull onself up onto specific platforms.
These changes, combined with the pinpoint physics, high speed of movement and well-designed control scheme, makes the moment to moment gameplay of shooting and moving incredibly satisfying. Being able to flash through a doorway and let off a shotgun blast, or being able to snipe out an unsupecting cultist with a long range volley of boltgun rounds makes you feel like the god of war you truly are.
Whilst you're embarking on your one-man crusade, you'll use a variety of powerful Space Marine weapons. If you're not totally up with the cutting edge of Adeptus Astartes lore, you might not recognize some of the newer guns you find, but I promise you, they're all authentic.
In an absolute flavour home run, each weapon has a strength value, which corresponds to an enemy's toughness value, proudly displayed next to an enemy's health bar. These values are mostly correct, with only a few discrepancies for the sake of what I assume is game balance. Looking at you, strength 7 Meltagun.
In general, all of the guns feel well balanced. Some weapons are better suited to individual combat scenarios. There is some overlap of the role of certain weapons, such as the Shotgun and the Meltagun, but often the scarcity of ammunition will demand the player adapt.
With the exception of the Heavy Bolter, Boltgun's weapons all sound fantastic, too. This sort of title demands weapons feel cathartic and punchy to use, which is absolutely the case here. Shout out to the game's namesake, which I used way more than I should have, thanks to how satisfying it was to blow a Chaos Space Marine's head off with it. Close second was the Meltagun, which felt like the Emperor slamming a car door.
It's not just guns that our Sternguard Veteran has access to, however. Our Space Marine friend also gets unlimited use of his chainsword, a powerful tool to conserve ammunition, and finish off vulnerable and wounded chaos filth.
Using the melee attack key will cause your character to lunge toward the target, and jam your mighty weapon in their face. You can then continue to mash the melee attack key to rev your chainsword, keeping your target stunned and taking more damage as you hack them to bloody chunks.
You are locked in place with your foe whilst you do your bloody business, though, so it's only recommended when your target is isolated, or you can kill them quickly. But it feels like a hug from the Emperor when you turn the heretic scum into a pile of viscera.
It's definitely clear at least someone on the design team was a fan of the game before they started working in the space. Pink Horrors will split into two Blue Horrors when you kill them, and Blues will turn to tiny untargetable Brimstone Horrors, which is exactly what is supposed to happen.
And whilst Slaanesh and Khornate daemons are sadly nowhere to be seen in this film, there's never any single encounter where you deal with Tzeentch and Nurgle daemons at the same time, as the two chaos gods are rivals.
In general, encounters are a nice balance of harder, armoured targets, and squishy cultists (and Chaos Space Marines once you add a few more toys to your arsenal.) even playing on Hard difficulty, the time to kill for weaker enemies is pleasingly low, often turning into a fine red mist with a handful of well-placed bolter shots.
The end result is fast-paced, hectic gameplay, particularly when the game locks you into a given area and forces you to turn the enemies of the emperor into paste.
Which is as good a segue as any into the level design.
There's a firm understanding here of what being able to jump and mantle should do to the level design. Arenas and areas of combat always have multiple levels and obstacles to climb up and over. The freedom of movement on offer is extensive, which adds to the feeling of skill as you scoot around with your finger on the trigger.
There's one particular level which takes place almost entirely in a single huge elevator room, comprised of a massive multi-layered platform. As you ride the platform up, progressively harder waves of enemies will appear. You need to use all of your skill traversing the arena to ensure you have enough health, armour, ammunition, and even powerups at the right time to survive the encounter. It's difficult, but the hit of dopamine from clearing it was incredible.
Not all levels are created equal, though. Some levels in the middle third of the game are entirely in cramped, indoor spaces, limiting lateral and vertical movement. Instead of a skillful combination of movement, tracking targets and keeping one eye behind you, it can be an excercise of using your trusty scout shotgun and blasting your enemies as they round corners. Boltgun is absolutely at its best in wide open spaces, running, jumping, climbing and blasting.
There's one particularly obnoxious encounter with a hallway full of Nurgle daemons and a falling ceiling. If you stop and fight the Daemons, the ceiling will kill you, so you have to run through the corridor getting spat on by plague toads until you reach the end. That was absolutely the low-light for me.
This gameplay is packaged in a beautiful retro art style. The levels are richly detailed, and there's plenty of variety. Desert canyons, arctic tundra, city streets, manufactorums, ship decks - you'll charge through them all.
I do have another very minor gripe with some levels, however. Because there's no map (which I like, because it keeps the player out of the pause menu, which would cause momentum to grind to a screaming halt) it can be difficult to find where to go next. On several occasions I got lost hunting for the next area, even going so far as to resort to back-tracking to reorient myself.
I would suggest that you do turn the brightness up, as some of the more grimdark levels can make spotting cultists and chaos space marines difficult. No such trouble with the daemons, however, which are a vibrant (and disgusting green) and shades of pastel blues and purples. Simply lovely.
The enemy and weapon models are all impeccably detailed, too. Particularly the really big boss daemons (no prizes for guessing what they are, but I do not wish to spoil). It aids immersion in a big way, and makes the game feel special.
and of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention that your Sternguard Veteran has a special button to make him taunt the enemy. I say taunt, it's mostly him yelling threats at people who are soon going to be filled with Boltgun rounds. It serves no purpose, but it's the little things that make the experience cohesive.
It took me approximately 12 hours to get through the entire game on Hard. Most of the encounters are fair and reasonable, and shower you with enough health, armour (called contempt, which is another flavour home run) and ammunition to get through each encounter, even for particularly sloppy players like me.
Shoutout to the unavoidable hitscan Lord of Change attack, which killed me more times than I'd care to admit at the end of the first chapter. Another reason to hate Big Bird's evil cousin, I suppose.
All in all, Boltgun is an immersive, well-paced title that takes the existing skeleton of Doom, and puts it in a suit of power armour. It is not perfect, but it's absolutely a fantastic little game. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Catch you next time,
Critical Information Summary
Review Platform: PC
Developer: Auroch Digital
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Cost (At Time of Publish): $30AUD
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