On February 21, 2023, Atomic Heart was finally released for all major consoles and PC. Developed by Mundfish, Atomic Heart is an alternate-history first-person shooter game. First announced in 2018 and once planned for a late 2022 release, the game settled for a 2023 release date after a series of delays.
Of course, the question after all the delays is was that extra time worth the wait?
Well, after letting the dust settle, we’ve taken a look at this Bioshock-inspired shooter.
Even though this game does wear its inspirations on its sleeve, the game has a lot of creativity unique to itself among video games. However, in regards to other aspects, it misses the mark. Still, even when the mark is missed, the developers clearly had ideas with a lot of potential.
Keep in mind, we will be going over a lot of what the game contains and its plot points. Spoiler warning here, comrades. Also of note: while the game has had some controversy behind it (it has a Russian developer), we won’t be discussing said controversy.
What Could Have Been: Atomic Heart’s Premise
It’s 1955 and the Soviet Union has become highly advanced due to their discovery of a mysterious substance called polymer. Used to not only make technological discoveries, polymer even helped the USSR win World War II. Now the USSR has completely autonomous robots constructed with AI, making life so much easier for everyone.
Wait, there’s more! This utopia is all about to become even better with the new update to allow robots to be controlled by the user’s thoughts. This is scheduled to take place at Facility 3826, where people live above the clouds! Everyone is happy, because it feels so good, almost too good to be true!
Well, it is.
Mere moments into the parade, a majority of the robots suddenly turn on their masters and attack everyone around them. Chaos ensues, many people die, and no one knows why. You, comrade, are now tasked with figuring out what caused this and saving the world.
A Superman Soldier
Players take on the role of Agent P-3, a soldier sent to investigate the oncoming project of Kollekiv 2.0. Since this is an FPS, he is a badass almost by default. P-3 uses his agility, training, and powers to get through the destruction of the Facility, and becomes one of the few survivors of the robot rebellion.
P-3 has a specialized polymer glove called CHAR-les, which is an AI in the palm of his hand. Besides the key role of basically annoying P-3, CHAR-les is also P-3’s Swiss Army knife. He can hack, lock pick, and use polymer to access several powers on the fly. Take Cortana from Halo and the ADAM powers of Bioshock mixed with Fallout’s lock-picking, and you get the idea.
If all else fails, P-3 resorts to good old-fashioned brute force. P-3 is a classic “shoot first, ask questions later”type of guy and it shows.He’s not only agile enough to climb walls but can swing axes and clubs like a pro-baseball player.
Looks That Can Kill
As one would expect, Atomic Heart looks incredible. From its opening scene and its ground floor to the labs and buildings, the game feels like something out of a movie. The environment looks fabulous even on the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The robots have that retro-futuristic look that you would have seen in those old 50s movies and comics. It feels like something you’d see in Fallout if seen from the Russian’s point of view. The game even has its own little cartoon character to show off all the awesome powers players have.
Honestly, there is so much to look at that your eyes will go all over the place. There are even rooms with their own calming safe room music, like in Resident Evil. Players can even watch cartoons on the TVs in those rooms! There’s also a fair share of communist propaganda posters you’ll see around, which are also neat for the world-building. Well, so long as you don’t take them seriously.
Atomic Heart Encourages Exploration And Travel
Atomic Heart has an expansive world. The game is a semi-open world where players can travel all over the place until level transitions. Players are even encouraged to explore, since that’s the only way to find blueprints for weapons and upgrades.
Atomic Heart‘s enemies are clumsy. They drop all sorts of stuff that allow players to upgrade themselves and their weapons, as well as craft ammo and health items. There are at least 13 labs to explore to find those upgrades. Plus, solving puzzles gets players other items. Some of these puzzles are very clever. Others are too clever, making you want to look up a cheat guide because it’s too big-brained.
However, getting between labs isn’t easy. Players encounter waves on top of waves of enemies on the way. Also, once a player transitions to a new place, they can’t go back. Hence, if you leave a place without exploring 100% of the area, you’ve missed out.
What’s A Soldier Without His Weapons?
Atomic Heart is all about using everything available to take on the hordes of robots and mutants. Thankfully, this game has a lot of options to make the enemies scrap metal. Playrs have access to powers like electricity, ice, telekinesis, shields, and of course, using polymer for enhanced elemental attacks.
Melee combat is the game’s main focus with many axes, machetes, clubs, and the iconic saw-bladed bat. These weapons are so useful that even Jensen Ackles showed off how good they are at breaking robots in one of the trailers! Imagine that, Soldier Boy from the Boys using a bladed bat on robots.
Of course, there are quite a few guns to use: pistols, shotguns, AK-47s, rocket launchers, and energy weapons. There’s even a railgun if you are patient enough to collect the materials for it. Each weapon has its purpose and uses, thereby giving players options for how they want to play.
A Hostile Environment With Hostile Robots
As mentioned, the majority of the enemies are the robots that make up most of the Facility. There are quite a few of them. Some contain faces and weird mustaches and an almost humanoid appearance, but there are also the maintenance bots which have saw blades, hedge clippers, and cannons.
Taking the robots out doesn’t ensure success. Flying drones can attack with lasers, or repair any of the bots and security cameras that you destroyed. Some even know kickboxing for some reason, making you need to time dodges and attacks. You do have stealth takedowns if you need to use them, but there will always be a situation where it’s fight or flight.
Aside from the robots, there are also very horrifying plant mutants that have used the corpses of the dead to turn them into zombies. This part feels like something out of The Last of Us; their lunging attacks are intimidating. All of these enemies can be taken down with guns or melee. It’s up to the player to figure out the best strategy.
Larger-Than-Life Bosses In Atomic Heart
The boss battles may not be the best in execution, but we’ve gotta admit that their entrances are incredible. Many of the bosses are not only big but dangerous. They range from giant robots with rocket launchers to plant mutants that eat players whole. These fascinating designs show off the artistic side of Atomic Heart.
The only reason these boss fights are not the game’s highlight is that the only strategy to them is to keep shooting till they’re dead. It’s limiting in a way, because players have all these superpowers at their disposal . Yet with the bosses, they’re stuck with guns.
The music in Atomic Heart comes from a wide range of cultures and genres Mick Gordon, the man behind the soundtrack of Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, lends his talent to this game. If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll recognize it almost right away.
There’s a mix of classical, techno, and Russian folk music. Some sound pretty interesting and fitting, while others will make players wonder why it’s here. Honestly, if the whole game had classical music and Mick Gordon’s boss music, that would have been fine.
Not A Very Likable Hero In Atomic Heart
Agent P-3 has a lot going for him as a cyborg. The problem is that his attitude isn’t exactly the best reflection of his character. Throughout the entire game, P-3 constantly complains about certain aspects of his job and even argues with his glove CHAR-les.
The constant chattering is the same problem that High on Life was criticized for. Mercifully, Atomic Heart is not as annoying. Still, P-3 has a problem with politics, robots, and even puzzles that he’s forced to solve. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come off as lighthearted or even funny. P-3 is just a real stick in the mud.
What makes this a bit more annoying is that P-3 is also an amnesiac protagonist. Games like Fallout: New Vegas and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic did benefit from this trope. However, the way it’s delivered here feels a bit under-baked. It matters only insofar as it lets the player into the game, not so much for the story or themes at all.
Atomic Heart Tries To Be Bioshock
Atomic Heart was to be a successor to Bioshock. While there are some similarities, there are some things that Atomic Heart doesn’t quite nail. For example, Bioshock had a certain “wow” factor: very few games could nail the heights of its environmental storytelling, iconic opening, and creative enemies.
While there are certainly neat callbacks to Bioshock, Atomic Heart is not even close to being on the same page. It didn’t need to have Little Sisters or Big Daddies to makes its inspiration clear, but there just wasn’t much to make the game stand out in the same way Bioshock did.
That’s not to say that Atomic Heart is bad. The creative and often bizarre world is impressive. But unfortunately, despite all the bells and whistles, what Atomic Heart offers doesn’t compare to the charm that Rapture gave us.
Hard Like Russian Steel
With all the weapons and powers that players have, Atomic Heart is not an easy game. There are three difficulty modes to choose from, but no matter which you choose the endgame will always be the same: you will encounter more enemies than you have bullets.
Ammo in the game is very scarce. The main source to get them is through crafting or scavenging. Robots are constantly on the move in large numbers. Even with stealth available, you won’t be able to get out of fighting.Once players get caught by the security cameras, the robots won’t stop till you find a way to escape. This is a game that will make sure you’re still paying attention.
For this reason alone, the majority of players will end up lowering the difficulty to normal or even easy. Hence, don’t feel ashamed if you have to go to easy mode.
Overall, Atomic Heart has a lot going for it even if it misses the mark on a few points. The story seems to be crazy and the multiple endings you can get will make players curious to see what else there is. Without spoiling too much, players will likely be surprised which one is considered the true ending.
If players can get through some of the bugs and repetitive gameplay, there is plenty of fun to have here. Plus, Mundfish also announced that they have DLC planned out for the future to add more content to the game.
Whether you choose to get Atomic Heart on Steam or consoles, you will see just how beautiful it can be to trek through Russia smashing robots in the face with axes and shotguns. Also, if you ever wanted to see two faceless robot ballerinas tower above you, then this is the game for you.