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Warhammer 40k Boltgun is the 90s FPS you never knew you missed

Retro FPS Warhammer 40k: Boltgun promises old school thrills in the 40k universe - the preview build already suggests it’s going to deliver

Warhammer 40k Boltgun preview: screenshot, the player strikes a terminator with a space marine chainsword

Warhammer 40k Boltgun markets itself as a lost treasure from the 90s, a first-person ‘boomer shooter’ in the mould of Doom or Quake that delivers high octane carnage in low-polygon environments. The time I spent with the game’s preview build suggests that, yep, it might just deliver on that promise.

Players take on the role of a Space Marine tasked with shooting the forces of the Warhammer 40k Chaos gods in the face until they explode. There’s a framing cutscene – quite nicely animated, too – but you don’t need to worry about it. The demo protagonist is a blue-armoured Ultramarine. There’s a character-select screen listing his special abilities, which suggests that the full game will have character options. Melee centric Blood Angels marine, please?

Warhammer 40k Boltgun preview: screenshot, a mist of gore is all that remains of a cultist after they take a shotgun blast

Combat is fast and vicious. The titular boltgun is gloriously violent. It spews out shells at a ferocious rate, tearing apart cultist enemies into sprays of pixelated gibs. Some inspiration has been taken from the more recent Doom games, your foes bursting like pinatas full of pickups. Mortal enemies drop health, daemons produce faith (which takes the role of Doom’s ‘armour’), and Chaos Space Marines always leave behind a frag grenade pickup as a treat.

There are some conveniences to make the rapid skirmishes more readable. Grenades show blinking red blast radiuses until they explode. Bullets are projectile objects rather than rays, giving you a chance to dodge. Health-bars let you know how close an enemy is to exploding, and display the enemy’s toughness value. True to the tabletop game, your selected gun needs to match or beat the enemy’s toughness to inflict appreciable damage.

Warhammer 40k Boltgun preview: screenshot, a huge macrocannon fires

Environments are convincingly retro and convincingly 40k. It helps that the architecture of all the Warhammer 40k factions is enormous, monolithic, and often low-polygon – a gigantic macro cannon rendered as a few basic solids still looks the part. The multi-layered nonsense spaces of Doom or Quake are perfectly in keeping with the daft mega-structures built by the Imperium of Man. There are secrets, too, which reward you for poking into all the nooks and crannies of the huge arenas.

Movement is fast and fluid – so fast, in factm that I had to pull my finger back off the sprint button to avoid motion sickness. Character movement is more Quake III Arena than original Doom, with huge jumps that will send you up and down the wide open arenas and from platform to platform. You have an instant directional dodge to keep you out of the way of bullets, plus a rechargeable bullrush that will close the distance with distant enemies to administer gentle chastisement with your chainsword, or simply explode smaller foes as you charge through them.

Warhammer 40k Boltgun preview: screenshot, the player faces off against two flamers of tzeentch with an astartes shotgun

At the moment the game is let down by its soundtrack. While the retort of guns and roar of a chainsword is satisfying, most of the in-game music is gothic choral ambience. That worked in the XCOM-like Mechanicus, but it doesn’t provide the pump-up that you need for classic FPS gibbing.

Large arena fights see the score pick up into something a bit more energetic, a bit more metal, but it just wasn’t enough. I found myself listening to snippets of audiobook – from the end of the Horus Heresy book series, fittingly – and wishing that the soundtrack composer had given it a bit more welly.

Warhammer 40k Boltgun preview: the player shoots a distant cultist on a gantry with their boltgun

The preview build lasts for about ninety minutes. Occasionally, the high-octane battles turned into a grind as overwhelming hordes of foes outmatched my reflexes, withered as they are by years devoted to turn-based games, but for the most part I was blasting away with a massive grin. I’m keen to try the full game. There’s potential here.

Check out our guide if you want to keep track of the Warhammer 40k: Boltgun release date and other updates from the developer as we get them.