Atomic Heart is one of those games that experienced countless delays year after year before its official release this February 21st, 2023. Seemingly styled around similar themes created in games like BioShock and Fallout, Atomic Heart offers a fresh look at what a robot apocalypse could have looked like during the 1950s.
Lock and Load, Comrade
Playing as the foul-mouthed WWII veteran Major Nechayev, also known as Agent P-3, we are plunged into one of the most interesting prologues I’ve ever seen in gaming. Atomic Heart opens up with a giant, floating facility celebrating the rollout of Kollective 2.0, a neural network of peaceful robots that are aimed to replace human workers and allow humans to control robots remotely using the mind. Humans would have access to devices that would grant instant knowledge of various subjects to help improve their lives for years to come. After an unknown assailant commits sabotage that leaves robots active in combat mode, Agent P-3 must fight through hordes of mechanical beasts and find out the reason behind the now ongoing war between humans and robots. The world of Atomic Heart is beautiful but horrifying, bleak but mesmerizing, and contains a huge overworld that is beautiful to look at but terrifying to live in. Flying above the land of the USSR for several minutes, we are given a tour of the true scale surrounding the world of Atomic Heart. For a game created by a developer who started out in indie, Mundfish has gone above and beyond in world design.
Oh, I Say!
Fighting armies of re-wired killing machines can be exhausting to a normal physical body. Luckily, Agent P-3 has a little trick up his sleeve…literally. Sporting a robotic glove named CHARLES, which thankfully hasn’t gone rogue, this sentient machine has the power to hack into robots and cameras and provides special abilities in combat. For example, Agent P-3 can produce an electrical shock from CHARLES that can completely stop robots in their tracks. Akin to the way that Plasmids worked in Bioshock, Agent P-3 would outstretch his hand and release the elemental power with the help of CHARLES, mixing up the way that combat works in the game. Many enemies have their own resistances and weaknesses, meaning the player should mix and match for the best possible winning outcome. These elemental powers can be upgraded using NORA, the most perverted kitchen appliance in gaming. After telling Agent P-3 all the weirdest things she wants him to do to her, she allows him to enhance his conventional weapons or the powers within the glove, such as reducing cooldown times for powers. As each weapon is upgraded, the appearance of the weapon models subtly changes, giving the player the feeling of having more power visually as well as during gameplay. Turning an ordinary fire axe into something that looks like it’s been shipped over from Dead Rising truly kicks up the gears with regards to immersion.
Who Ordered the Severed Hand?
Robots are not the only monstrosities wishing to put Agent P-3 in an early grave. Atomic Heart features highly dangerous mutant enemies formed from the corpses that litter the world. These persistent enemies act like zombies, hunting down the player once spotted and clawing at them to cause damage. Designed grotesquely to portray a caved-in skull that has sprouted to reveal protruding leaves and vines, mutants are created when a flying flower-like Sprout monster digs within the corpse and controls its body. These beasts are encountered normally in packs and offer a bit more enemy variety than the usual robotic killers that the game is mainly based upon. Speaking of, many of the robots in the game are designed to replace humans as workers. For instance, a small robot with a power saw installed inside itself would now prefer to hack away at the player with a mid to short-range slicing attack rather than cutting down trees as a lumberjack. Waiter robots would now rather serve the protagonist on a silver platter instead of a delicious dish for two at a fancy restaurant. The most common robots resemble mustached men that feel similar to those encountered by Will Smith in I, Robot. These Mario look-a-likes used to help humans with their everyday tasks but now prefer to wrap their hands tightly around the necks of anybody unfortunate enough to cross their paths.
Chop, Chop, Chop
As an undiagnosed sociopath, my first thought upon defeating an enemy was “How much overkill can I achieve?”. Why stop hacking up your enemies after they’ve finally hit the floor? Taking my axe and swinging on a body was brutally satisfying, watching arms, legs, and the occasional upper torso fly all over the place. Mutants are especially victimized by my murderous rage once I use the game’s dismemberment system to my full advantage. It never gets old to charge up a full downward axe swing that completely slices an enemy in half, making me wonder if this is what Jason Vorhees felt like hacking up those summer counselors in Crystal Lake. Alas, the gore system in Atomic Heart is extremely satisfying and helps emphasize the brutality of combat.
It’s Been 84 Years…
It felt amazing after so many years to finally see what the world of Atomic Heart had to offer after its first announcement back in 2018. After a few hours, we are given access to a car and complete freedom to traverse the landscape of the dystopian USSR. From wheatfields and lush, green landscapes to overgrown underground facilities, Atomic Heart offers a range of locations to discover. Most of the time, you’ll be making your travels on foot as vehicles can be destroyed by the brush of a feather, but I guess it makes sense when it’s not squishy, organic bodies but tough-nut, man-made machines you’re running over. Environmentally, everything we see outside still looks peaceful and looked after because the apocalypse happens literally minutes into the game’s prologue, where everyone is happy, unafraid, and completely oblivious to what’s about to happen, creating a unique contrast with regards to the term of dystopia.
Let’s Get Creative
Atomic Heart‘s story is nothing to really brag about. It’s essentially about a buff, male protagonist who has to save the world from an immediate threat using guns and hurling the occasional curse word. What really makes Atomic Heart shine are its characters and robot designs. Sechenov, Agent P-3’s boss, owns a pair of ballerina twin robots that the internet seems to be going crazy about for some reason. NORA, the game’s main upgrade system with a very…”seductive: way of talking, is essentially a fridge that can create consumables, weapons, and more. Then there’s CHARLES, Agent P-3’s sentient talking glove, acting as a companion for Agent P-3. Several hours into my playthrough, much of the story just started to feel generic and predictable, and I was hoping for some more unique ideas. What if P-3 lost the glove and couldn’t scan the area or use any fancy tech in a tense and spooky atmosphere? Just an idea, Mundfish.
Atomic Heart succeeds in several areas but falls short with its generic plotlines, common guns-blazing gameplay, and predictability. As much as I love hacking up robots and mutants, it becomes clear that Atomic Heart ran out of ideas fairly quickly and borrowed many elements from inspired games like Fallout and BioShock. Sometimes, the dialogue can be quite cringe-worthy, but for Mundfish’s first proper AAA title, it shows true potential for future projects.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 21st February 2023
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Windows PC