Reasons why I love Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun—you are Space Marine, Space Marine go stomp, chaos men explode

Call me cynical if you must, but when a game attempts to tickle my nostalgia receptors my usual reaction is not one of joy, but outright suspicion. Be they boomer shooters, pixel-graphic platformers or otherwise, these attempts to appeal to my childhood can really raise my hackles. My reasoning is simple: Nostalgia can be such an easy way to elicit an emotional response towards something that might otherwise be, for want of a better term, not very good.

And then came Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun. And my frozen heart melted.

Look, I’m well aware that when it comes to an overall Game Of The Year there are many better candidates. But when the time came to cast my votes and the obvious picks had been dealt with, I had one metaphorical hat left to throw in the ring. I decided to hurl it at a game that simply warmed my cockles, and if that imagery hasn’t put you off, I’ll tell you why.

For me, the thing that separates Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun from the pack is the sheer purity of vision. The bloody-mindedness, the dogged determination to make the sort of game that I might have sketched on lined paper while I was staring out of the window at school. A game with such a simple underlying premise that the central concept really should have been attempted back in the glory days it seeks to emulate.

You are a Space Marine. You go stomp stomp stomp. We drop you on planet. You go shoot Chaos men now. 

Yes. Shoot Chaos men good.

Personal Pick

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2023, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We’ll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

Alright, I know, I know, there’s technically more to it than that, but I have to give genuine respect to a game that simply gets on with throwing you into its world, giving you the fun tools, and letting you run wild in less than 5 minutes. Boltgun understands that you want to get straight into the action, and that endears it to me greatly.

Beyond the refreshingly straightforward set-up, it’s the combination of the mechanics and the art design that kept me coming back. It might be full of pixel-based call-backs to shooters long passed, but there’s something about seeing grand sweeping WH40K environments rendered this way that makes them feel somehow more impressive.

I found myself stopping amongst the pauses in the carnage to admire the vistas and the architecture, and weirdly I probably did it more often in this game than something like Starfield. Good art design trumps high-resolution fidelity, we’re often told, and for me this game proved it.

Mechanically, I reckon it’s spot on. The titular boltgun is indeed most satisfying to wield, and using the chainsword as a means of locomotion to grapple-hook yourself around the environments is simply joyful. It’s not like I haven’t seen similar things done before, but here it just feels so crunchy, so easy to use and obvious to implement. There’s a satisfying thunk to every movement, every kill, that sets off those old-school dopamine receptors in just the right way, and I caught myself giggling far more often than a man in his mid-30s should.

(Image credit: Auroch Digital)

Simply put, it just feels nice in a way that bigger releases this year may want to take a long hard look at. There’s real thought that’s been put into every interaction here, and it shows.

It’s far from perfect, of course. It gets more than a little grindy at points, and those impressive vistas and set designs do start to get recycled a little more often than I would have liked. But beyond that, I got more simple kicks out of Boltgun than I did out of 99% of games I played this year, and for that I think it’s worthy of a mention.

Oh, and it runs great on the Steam Deck, which means I can play it sitting up in bed. That might have skewed my perspective somewhat if I’m honest, but in retrospect bringing a Space Marine into the bedroom has been one of the highlights of my year.

And if that isn’t the best way to end this piece, and the year, I don’t know what is.

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