DOOM composer Mick Gordon is firing on all cylinders for this one, and the voice acting, while incessant, is none too shabby. Sound effects are fab, too.
Atomic Heart is a fantastic looking game, but it’s not without its graphical issues. A progress-blocking bug where the floor failed to appear in a room, being one such example.
Melee combat and gunslinging alike proves gratifying, as do the various abilities granted by your Polymer glove. In the open world sections, things fall apart somewhat.
A strong single-player experience that runs for around 20 hours or so, Atomic Heart feels like it could use a trim. Also, the lack of New Game+ or endgame options is silly.
Missable trophies in an open world game, in which it’s impossible to easily go back and make a second attempt, is just stupid. A patchy, uneven list.
February 23, 2023
The case of Atomic Heart is a curious one. Based in Cyprus, developer Mundfish has alleged connections to Russian money, and, this, as its first project, has been mired in controversy as supposed pro-Russia propaganda, which, in the midst of ongoing war in Ukraine, has seen it understandably come under fire. What's more, the game's release date closely coincides with the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Mundfish by name, Mundfishy by nature. In response, the studio has defended itself as a “pro-peace organisation”, and composer Mick Gordon has donated his entire fee to the Red Cross Ukrainian Crisis appeal. How best to assess Atomic Heart, then? It bears the palpable bite of satire, in a utopian depiction of an alternate 1950s USSR that hews closely to BioShock, in the way that vision curdles into sheer nightmarish dystopia. It's clear from the very outset that something is amiss.
Opening during the ostentatious unveiling of the next version of the nation's neural network, Kollektiv 2.0 (enabling humans to control robots using THOUGHT devices embedded in their temple), Atomic Heart puts you into the boots of an agent known as Major P-3, as the proverbial shit hits the fan, and everything inevitably goes up in smoke. As video game prologues go, it's pretty spectacular stuff. Robots that were previously subservient are sent haywire, Soviet drones of various shapes and sizes come hurtling through the air, and you're dragged out of the dirt by Granny Zina, who happens to have an extensive arsenal of weaponry. Before long, you're thrust into the depths of Facility 3826, a top secret underground military base used to build robots, where Viktor Petrov, a traitor, has hacked Kollektiv 2.0 and escaped.
Armed with your chatty AI Polymer glove pal, Char-les, and a steadily growing collection of upgradeable weapons – including shotguns, handguns, rocket launchers, a railgun, and that old Soviet workhorse the AK47 – you'll trudge through corridors and office spaces strewn with corpses, blasting freakish moustachioed androids to pieces. In similar fashion to the Plasmids of BioShock, you can hurl elemental abilities at foes; you can freeze, electrocute, and throw enemies using telekinesis; or deploy a Polymer shield to deflect attacks. There's also some nice flexibility in Atomic Heart's skill trees, available to upgrade at 'pervy fridge' NORA. Why a pervy fridge? No idea, but then a lot about Atomic Heart doesn't make much sense.
Like being able to swim through serpentine passages of pure Polymer; the constant, grating dialogue between P-3 and his glove; the catchphrase “crispy critters”; a largely superfluous open world connecting Atomic Heart's more linear sections; and the game's bizarre story, revolving around a gifted scientist who clearly isn't quite the full ticket. Mundfish's game is flawed, then, but its puzzles and combat pull it through, even if Atomic Heart occasionally pours things on far too much. It's an experience that puts its foot on the accelerator pedal from the get-go, and doesn't really let up for its 20-something hour runtime. What's strange is that its open overworld feels redundant – every inch of it is teeming with hostile automatons, making the ideal strategy to simply jump behind the wheel of a car and race to the objective marker.
You can't help but feel that Atomic Heart's narrative and overall structure would have been far better served as a purely linear affair. Any time you venture into an open environment, it's a frustrating hassle getting from one place to another, and it makes the narrative seem baggy and disjointed. It's also a game that's stretched rather thin anyway, so you'll likely be rolling your eyes at the prospect of taking on yet another bullet-resistant Plyusch (one of Atomic Heart's sinewy red mutants) with only your melee weapon. Boss battles, too, are invariably drawn-out gauntlets of attrition, and aren't particularly exciting. A lack of manual save slots can mean being locked into a boss encounter with no way of backtracking to grab additional resources.
And yet, Atomic Heart's minute-to-minute gameplay is remarkably solid – headshots feel meaty, chunks get blown out of enemies, and there's a frantic pace to gunplay and melee combat, which is, for the most part, exciting, but can occasionally become quite overwhelming. Safe rooms offer a brief moment of respite, as well as a place to upgrade weapons and P-3's Polymer abilities, and checkpoints in general are usually fair. Sometimes, you need to step back and take a breath in Atomic Heart, so relentless is the game's action; although, hoovering up loot, using Char-les' writhing tendrils, after a fight serves as a somewhat therapeutic payoff.
What of Atomic Heart, then? In spite of its swirling and hard-to-ignore controversies, there's a strong, albeit imperfect, first-person experience here, featuring oodles of depth in its skill trees and weapon upgrade system, its various lock-busting puzzles, and the range of abilities granted by P-3's glove, Char-les. The story is alright, too, as you chase down Petrov and batter a vast legion of machines and mutants, at the behest of your boss, Dr. Sechenov. However, it's a game that attempts far too much, and ends up doing a lot of it half-baked. There's a lack of polish, too, with its fair share of unusual bugs. Nonetheless, there's fun to be had with Atomic Heart, though whether you choose to support the game in light of its real-world issues, is ultimately down to you.