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A few games have popped up on my radar over the years that truly excited me, only for the fans of these titles on the horizon to be drip-fed info for years before they eventually get canceled or endure a seemingly endless period of radio silence. Prime examples are games like Wild, Star Wars 1313, Beyond Good and Evil 2, and Scalebound. Well, I thought Atomic Heart would surely be another name to add to that pile. It was a very promising ‘Bioshock Killer’ with an intriguing setting, looked visually striking, and looked like it had refined, dynamic gameplay. From what we had seen, it looked like a surefire success. That’s the thing, though. What was still being hidden behind the curtain?
Well, It turns out that this plucky project just kept getting more and more tacked onto the docket, and somehow this game, which initially had the look of an indie survival title, had evolved into a certified AAA FPS/RPG goliath, seemingly overnight. However, no matter how open-minded I remained, and how much I wished that this game could be the spiritual successor to Bioshock Infinite, the game never meets those lofty heights, and, quite frankly, falls short of them by some distance. It’s okay to shoot for the moon and end up somewhere among the stars, but sadly, this Soviet shooter never gets cleared for take-off.
With all the mixed reviews flying around, you may be wondering, is this game all that bad? What does it do wrong, and are the good aspects of this game enough to warrant a playthrough? Well, I intend to give you as much clarity as I possibly can. Believe me when I say this game doesn’t make it easy, but hey, I like a challenge. So without further delay, here is RPG INformer’s Atomic Heart review, conducted on PS5.
Fresh off the back of my Hogwarts Legacy review, I can confidently say that this is the first time I have had to write back-to-back disclaimers in game reviews, but I guess that’s the industry we work in now, huh? Well, just to make everyone aware, many have decided to boycott this game due to Mundfish’s ties to Russia, who, of course, are engaged in war with Ukraine. The game’s themes glorify the communist agenda of the Russian USSR; the game has been allegedly funded by the Russian government through grants and various other means, which would mean that profits from this game would be, in part, returned to the Russian Government. Plus, there has been no effort from Mundfish to separate themselves or objectively call out Putin’s regime.
Ultimately, we are a video game website, and as such, we will cover the biggest games of the moment and do so with no inherent bias based on Politics, religion, or any other factor outside of the objective quality of each product. So from here on out, we will strictly be calling things as we see them with no outside stimulus. However, we do want to give you all the information necessary to allow you to make an informed buying decision.
A Soviet Spectacle
When you boot up Atomic Heart, one thing is abundantly clear. This game looks utterly incredible. From the outset, you are thrust into this alternate reality where the Soviets are the leaders in all manner of innovation, with emphasis on technology and robotics, and immediately you begin to absorb the grandeur and the pageantry that seems to ooze from every facet of the game’s intro, and beyond. The game has issues building on the incredible world design and interesting setting, as I will talk about later, but you can’t fault the setting and the world-building itself. In the hands of more competent writers, this could have been a veritable wonderland of opportunity.
The game has an overall art style that is very reminiscent of Bioshock infinite in a lot of ways, from the vibrant world and color palette used, and the Steampunk meets atompunk feel. Heck, they even kick things off in a floating city in the sky, so it’s fair to say they aren’t exactly hiding their adoration for Bioshock’s third in the trilogy. However, Atomic Heart doesn’t rest on its laurels and settle for being a modern, more shiny Columbia. The game instead presents the player with a world that is full of fine details that arguably tell a more compelling story than the actual narrative at play.
Whether it’s exploring an evacuated forest town, delving into the scientific facilities dotted around the world, or battling some sort of civilian droid turned killer. Every room is used as a means of telling a small story, or posing questions that are up to the player to interpret and answer for themselves. It can feel more like a museum than a world you can freely interact with at times, but the trade-off for such a lush and interesting setting is worth it in my book.
The only criticism I can level at Atomic Heart from a visual standpoint is that the open-world section doesn’t offer the same level of detail that the mission locations offer, meaning that these sections feel like lifeless walks from A to B. In that regard, it felt a little like The Outer Worlds. An open adventure that would probably have benefitted immensely from being a more linear experience.
Doom and Gloom
Okay, so let’s talk about the musical score, designed by Mick Gordon, the man behind all those high-octane tracks in the modern Doom titles that get the blood pumping. I just want to make it clear that Mick does an absolutely stellar job putting together tracks that create all those emotions that he has become incredibly proficient in evoking over the years. When the action is intense, and those mustachioed chrome domes are bearing down on you, Gordon’s blend of techno and pulsing beats mix beautifully with a range of Russian vocals to offer some truly atmospheric and tense moments. As if a hulking metal giant or a gooey Polymer monstrosity wasn’t enough.
Then in the more serene moments, Gordon pulls back, relying on industrial, ambient noise, or reverb to make it feel like a machine is always booting up close by, keeping the player forever looking over their shoulder. Russian vocals are also commonplace even when the techno dies down, and are used to great effect, often playing ominously through radios and tannoys. There’s something about a lullaby in Russian that is inherently unsettling. I wonder how Russian babies cope. Vodka, I guess.
So that’s the Doom, so where’s the gloom? Well, the problem with the soundtrack is that it’s not utilized effectively. The best tracks and aspects of the score are only used for big moments, like boss battles, or intense cut-scenes. Meaning that large portions of the game, especially when in the open world, feel a bit flat. In the initial hours, this can feel eerie and add to the experience, but as you grow confident, more powerful, and desensitized, this creates a musical vacuum, and the sad thing is, there is great music hiding in the game files just dying to play. So an A for effort and a C for execution.
Take the Bad With the Good
If you bounce off this review and check out a range of other write-ups, you’ll find a really wide spread of scores and opinions. Some folks will say this game is terrible, while others will say that the game is a revelation. Here’s the thing, neither of these viewpoints are wrong, and that’s because this game isn’t good or bad; it’s both. You see, for every monumentally brilliant thing that this game does, and there are a few, there is something terrible that cancels that out. In that case, you would think, well, doesn’t that make this an average game if that’s the case? Maybe, but that’s down to what you value most in a game, and how willing you are to overlook flaws, because this game has its fair share.
Let me try and demonstrate what I mean by every positive having a very closely related, and often very frustrating negative following close behind. Firstly, the game has a very satisfying looting system where you use your sentient glove’s magnetic pull to draw out items from containers like a Jedi using the force. It’s a system that I can genuinely see a lot of AAA titles nabbing for themselves in the future, and it makes grabbing goodies a breeze. So, what lets it down? The fact that there’s no real way to manage your inventory on the fly unless you are in a safe room, making it like a Resident Evil game, but not in a good way.
Then you have the platforming, which markets itself as a dumbed-down Mirror’s Edge or Dying Light sort of format. You can climb the colored assets and leap from pillar to pillar, offering a level of verticality to areas. When this works, it feels satisfying enough and feeds into the whole action-hero vibe. Here’s the thing, though. The platforming, most of the time, feels heavy, as if your combat boots have stones in them, with industrial strength glue on the soles. Picture the platforming in FPS titles like Call of Duty or Wolfenstein. You know, games that never really asked you to jump around because they stuck to their strengths. This then leads to a series of awkward sections throughout your run, and countless falls to your death that simply weren’t your fault.
Then, on a personal note, I thought the game’s opening did an incredible job of setting a precedent where you are vulnerable, flimsy, ammo is scarce, and you will need to play the game like a survival game. However, the Atomic Heart ruins all of this when it becomes very clear that this game is an action FPS. Enemies rain down on the player, health packs become more scarce, ammo inexplicably is still in short supply, and then you are forced to use melee, which is perfect for a clunky survival game, but far too inaccurate and temperamental to serve as a consistent means of protection. This leads to a lot of unnatural difficulty spikes, and sadly, the game doesn’t give you a lot of clear ways to remedy these situations even if you wanted to. So you just bash your head against the wall until you eventually break through and progress.
I could go on, but the takeaway here is that while this game does have some truly innovative assets, and some novel ideas. Sadly, each and every one of them will find a way to take the shine off things, and leave you feeling a little shortchanged.
I Am The Machine
No, I’m not about to whip my shirt off. That burden is strictly reserved for my wife. Instead, let’s talk about combat, where you can combine your super-soldier military training with robotic technology to become a killing machine. Within Atomic Heart, you have a blend of melee weapons, electricity-powered weapons, traditional pistols and rifles, and then you have Plasmids, ahem, I mean polymer glove enhancements. I would love to say that this tried and tested blend offer something truly fun and dynamic to the game, but in truth, it all culminates in a pretty run-of-the-mill set of weapons and skills.
All weapons have a standard attack and a special attack, offering some versatility to your playstyle; you can carry around six weapons at one time, which allows for changing tactics on the fly, and the glove upgrades can get you out of a jam if ammo is low. However, much like the general gameplay, every aspect is a little flawed. Starting with the melee, it just feels deeply unsatisfying to land a blow on enemies. There is no weight to blunt weapons, the swings are wildly inaccurate at times, and most special attacks are too slow and labored to actually use to good effect.
With that in mind, you will find yourself using the guns on offer, and because of the ammo shortage in large portions of the game, you’ll likely end up reluctantly using the Electric Weapons. As a collective, these weapons are fine, but none really stand out from the pack. You’ll probably just end up using the weapon you have the most bullets for.
But surely the superhuman polymer powers will win you over? Nope, sadly not. They are largely made up of borrowed or tired ideas like shock attacks, telekinesis, or frost blasts, and none feel truly satisfying to use or powerful enough to rely on.
The cherry on top of this rather mediocre cake is a serviceable but unremarkable upgrade system that offers generic upgrades like resistances, health upgrades, and faster-running speeds, leaving you with a combat system that feels a little bit disappointing. It tries to take inspiration from Bioshock’s combat, and also tries to take inspiration from Wolfenstein’s combat, and sadly, ends up being a watered-down version of both.
Soviet Bioshock – Now Starring Joel McHale
Let’s move on to the storyline, and let me tell you, despite the world design and setting teeing the writers up perfectly; they absolutely whiff it. The story is labored, slow, hard to follow at times, fails to connect the player with most secondary characters, and is paced terribly due to the open-world format. However, before I get into all that, let’s talk about this deeply insufferable bargain bin Duke Nukem protagonist. From the first moment we step into Agent P-3’s world, we learn that he is a whiny, obnoxious, headstrong military-man stereotype of a character of an era gone by. He seems hellbent on being dismissive and confrontational at every turn. In every moment where there is a chance for genuine character growth, he flips the bird in its face while smoking a cigarette, and at no point in time do you ever feel like anything he has been through justifies his demeanor. At least we knew why Kratos was being a dick and tearing deities limbs off.
P-3 takes every opportunity to ridicule others and complain about situations. Situations that when you look under the hood are actually just poor game design, and this Deadpool-esque fourth-wall breaking is a pitiful attempt to cover over the fact that you’ll be doing lots of fetch quests. I would love to say that he serves as the straight man that allows for all the other characters to shine, but they merely serve as exposition dumps, and the only time they really shine is when they mock or poke fun at P-3’s cartoonish persona. There are levels to a straight-man performance, so unless Jason Bateman is up for it, it’s maybe best to embrace the silent protagonist angle. It worked for Gordon Freeman, after all. I have heard through the grapevine that playing the game in Russian does ease a lot of these issues, so if you want to avoid playing as this obnoxious Joel Mchale stunt double, then you best slip on your Babushka.
Then moving from the characters to the general story, it just feels so thrown together. P-3’s glove is tasked with tying so many aspects of the plot together, and because the game suddenly flings you into combat, or you move into a new area, and dialogue cuts off, you never feel like you have the ability to focus on the big picture. The perfect time to bolster the player’s in-game knowledge would have been in the open-world sections, but these are inexplicably quiet, long strolls/drives from A to B, where next to nothing happens, killing the pace of this story. You can’t help but feel that if the developers scaled things back and made this more of a linear, mission-based affair like Wolfenstein, it would have been a much more cohesive and engaging title.
In Soviet Russia, Game Breaks You
Then lastly, I have to talk about the technical shortcomings of this title. Now, as a rule, I tend not to be too critical in this department because I know that patches will inevitably come and make me look like a silly little boy, but this time, it’s personal. This game seemed to go out of its way to aggravate me to the point I would give up, and if I was not obligated to get through this, I would have.
Firstly, a warning, do not play this game without downloading the (ridiculous) day one 67GB update. If you play the base game, you will encounter a title that is incredibly difficult, lacks any form of a tutorial, and has a multitude of game-breaking bugs. Oh, and if you do make this mistake, the save file won’t fix itself, so you’ll have to start again anyway. Now, there’s an hour I’ll never get back.
Secondly, this game is full of little issues which softlock the game, have the title crash, or make aspects of the game terrible to interact with. For a master list, I’ll simply direct you to this Reddit Thread, but my personal hell was a bug that caused the Capsule on rails in the Pesticide Lab to break, making it impossible to proceed. I would then play the section in exactly the same way four times, and on the fourth attempt, with no change to my approach, the game decided to work. This is only a small window into the pain and anguish many Atomic heart players are enduring.
Then, to represent my trophy/achievement hunting brethren. This game is practically impossible to 100% due to the amount of glitched trophies, counters that simply don’t record data, and an internal map system that makes it a genuine pain for players to seek out all the assets needed to tick off objectives. So much so, that major trophy guide sites have simply decided to avoid this game altogether. If the most determined and dedicated hunters are calling it quits, that speaks volumes.
If you felt a little shortchanged by this Soviet adventure, or alternatively felt captivated by this title and want more of the same, then you might appreciate these close alternatives listed below:
- Bioshock Infinite
- Wolfenstein: The New Order
- Farcry 6
- Deux Ex
- System Shock
- We Happy Few
From Russia, With Regret
Overall, Atomic Heart feels to me like a game that was too ambitious for its own good. A game that couldn’t settle for being really good at a handful of things and instead tried to cater to everyone, leading to a final product chocked full of inconsistencies. What I will say is that the peaks are very impressive, such as the eye-watering visuals, and the overall setting that Mundfish has created. Plus, when aspects of the game, such as the combat, platforming, puzzles, and story click, it can be really fun to engage with. However, for every moment Atomic Heart has you crack a smile, there are two instances that will cancel this out, and leave you deeply frustrated.
While some aspects of the game have their saving graces, there are also some aspects that simply can’t be defended. The choice to make this game an open-world format was a dreadful one. The world is sparse and without any real points of interest, and the horrible map system only highlights this issue. The game is also chocked full of bugs, has a tendency to have players endure frequent difficulty spikes, even on lower difficulties, and my god, if you somehow find yourself liking the player character at any point in time, then you might want to have your head checked.
My final verdict is, if you like franchises like, Wolfenstein, Doom, Bioshock, Farcry, or any games of that ilk, then there is something here for you. However, temper your expectations, because while this game has the bones of a truly groundbreaking title, it never quite manages to hammer (and sickle) this home.
- Staggeringly pretty visuals and meticulously detailed world design
- A pulsating soundtrack
- A very satisfying loot mechanic
- Cool side plots and journals for those willing to dig for them
- Varied puzzles keep things interesting
- The soundtrack only really comes to life during the fleeting boss battles
- The open-world sections are incredibly dull
- The game is full of bugs, and difficulty spikes
- Combat plays things very safe, and as a result, ends up being quite boring and repetitive.
- Platforming is clunky and awkward.
- The story is hard to follow, and the characters are deeply unlikable
Question: Is Atomic Heart on Game Pass?
Answer: Yes, Atomic Heart has been available on Xbox Game Pass since its launch. So if you aren’t willing to pay full price for this controversial and polarizing game, this may be the best way to experience this title.
Question: Why are People Boycotting Atomic Heart?
Answer: This is due to the game’s alleged ties to the Russian Government, and the failure of the developers to condemn Russia’s actions regarding the war on Ukraine.
Question: When Is Atmomic Heart Set?
Answer: The action shown in Atomic Heart happens in the year 1955 in an alternate reality where the Soviet Union has become the main superpower of the world due to their advances in technology and robotics, making this game a certified Atompunk title.
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