Atomic Heart – Review

Coming from Focus Entertainment, who usually do mid-range AA games, comes Atomic Heart their most high profile title to date. However, despite best efforts to make an epic single-player experience in the vein of Bioshock, they stumble at the landing.

The game starts with a scripted story sequence introducing the plot with optional conversations and events made to immerse you in the world. While this is a nice touch it does outstay its welcome being a touch too long. On a second playthrough I rushed through and it still took me 24 minutes.

Set in an alternate 1955 where Russia won the second world war, a plague has wiped out millions and Russia has become the world exporter of robotics to compensate the workforce. You play Sergey Nechayev or agent P-3 when suddenly all the robots become hostile in a Westworld scenario. Now you must save yourself and attempt to stop the people responsible.

Taking place at Russian science facility 3826 the game is split up between the different complexes with an overworld acting like a hub. In this overworld you can explore off the beaten track for additional resources or weapon upgrades hidden in test centers.

Combat is a mix of gunplay and melee mixed with some powers of your glove. Melee was the main focus of its advertising campaign so naturally I started with that. This felt clunky and slow, with the enemies moving in and out of my range at lightning speed surrounding me and perpetually knocking to the ground. Getting my first gun eliminated some of these frustrations but the shortage of ammo early game limited this solution.

It wasn’t until I unlocked some of my glove powers that combat started to come together, freezing enemies still so I could hit them easier, but the problem of being overwhelmed still was present. It was around the first boss where my frustration finally got the better of me and I reduced the difficulty to save my sanity.

Puzzles were a mixed bag, simple door locks were split between the simple ‘Bethesda lock pick’ to rearrange the colours which kept each door fresh, and interesting challenges like the shadow puppet puzzle. Unfortunately a lot of the game does involve “collect four macguffins in this facility to continue” and no, you don’t get points for calling out the trope then making me do it game!

The game doesn’t communicate very well as I found myself getting lost, unknowing where to go. An example of this was the game suddenly popping up a quick message to say I can install elemental damage to my weapon but not telling me how. A Google search was needed.

But for everything the game frustrated me with, it also impressed me. Instead of searching every drawer or box for items your glove can ‘vacuum’ up everything, clearing a room in seconds.

Crafting and experience is fully refundable so you can experiment with different builds and weapon loadouts and if it doesn’t work, you can simply reset with no loss. Your Scan ability also highlights containers not searched which was also a nice touch.

Being set in the same facility, levels do look very similar but they have enough variety to not be identical, though you will see a lot of grey concrete mixed in there. Some standouts included a theatre level and bizarre dream levels but these were very few and far between. Characters and enemies are great as well with a varied rogues gallery not having to rely on humanoid design for every enemy, the human robots looking purposely disturbing.

Cutscenes are a mix between first person events and traditional cutscenes. Some of these had the most experimental cinematography I have seen in a game, with one in particular being weirdly ‘robo-sexual’ about half way through.

The voice acting is done well and we have a range from the distorted robot attendants to the overly calm director and the ever helpful A.I. in our glove, Char-LES. Characters do talk over each other occasionally forcing dialogue to skip but is otherwise good. Agent P-3 is probably the worst though as he comes across bored or angry all the time and is so naive it becomes comical.

The soundtrack was really enjoyable, we had a mix of classical operatic tracks and remixes with more modern pop tracks. Mick Gordan of Doom fame helped with the soundtrack though I couldn’t really identify anything done by him.

Atomic Heart ultimately is a disappointing experience. There is a good game tucked away in here but it’s buried under frustrating early combat, un-intuitive game design and questionable control choices (double tapping a bumper for one). But dig deeper, find some of the more fun weapon upgrades and pick yourself back up and there is the making of a cult classic here.

Developers: Mundfish

Publishers: Mundfish, Focus Entertainment, 4Divinity, VK holding

Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Cloud Gaming





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