The mid-90s were all about the rise of the first-person shooter, right? Wrong. Back then, the FPS was so newfangled we didn’t even have a name for it. There was just Doom, and games that looked an awful lot like Doom. Warhammer 40K: Boltgun is one of those – a few decades late, but no less welcome for it.
A single-player campaign that puts you in the oversized shoes of a Space Marine, Boltgun is due out next year on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and its spiritual home, PC. It’s described as a “boomer shooter” and a “sprite-based, hardcore experience”, taking aim at a bunch of bad ol’ Chaos Marines and their associated daemons. You can see the sprites for yourself, in the announcement trailer shown during today’s Warhammer Skulls event.
That’s a potent mix of nostalgias, alright – both tabletop and desktop, a Toy Story for the satanic panic generation.
Boltgun doesn’t so much recall Doom directly as the glut of well-liked licensed games that followed it – Star Wars: Dark Forces, Alien Trilogy, and a little later, Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. Sometimes, a characterful lick of paint in a favorite color is more than enough novelty.
Given that Games Workshop was licensing video games throughout the same period, it’s difficult to believe that something like Boltgun hasn’t happened before. You’ve got the first-person Space Hulk games popping up from 1993, sure – but those bore closer resemblance to claustrophobic tank simulators than id Software’s slick, floor-sliding formula. It wasn’t until Fire Warrior that Warhammer got a real FPS, and by then Halo had changed the paradigm.
Boltgun, then, is something like a playable correction – a gory apology for an institutional oversight. It has that in common with the newly revealed Rogue Trader, the 40K CRPG also announced at this year’s Skulls. If Games Workshop has entered its counterfactual history phase, that’s of benefit to all of us.
Boltgun is developed by Auroch Digital, which has previous in Games Workshop’s universes, having adapted both Chainsaw Warrior and Dark Future. The studio has a proud past in turn-based tactics, too, which is spiritually Warhammer, I’d say. It’s also given Boltgun a jump button, but we’ll let that go. Quality of life has improved since the 90s, and some things are best left uncloned.
Editor's note: the writer is a friend and former colleague of staff at developer Auroch Digital.