Atomic Heart wears its influences on its sleeves, and meshes them competently, but it needs just a little bit more focus. Here’s our review.
It’s hard to describe Atomic Heart without mentioning other games, because very clearly this game took inspiration from a ton of titles and blended them pretty well into one package. While I wish Atomic Heart focused more in one direction, it does a terrific job of at least putting together ideas in a well played first studio title that at least gives fans of those franchises something new.
Developed By: Mundfish
Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X | S, PC
Genre: Action / Shooter
Release Date: February, 21 2023
Right off the bat you can see the similarities to Bioshock. It’s totally clear that was the central influence on Atomic Heart. As you play a little further into the game we get a taste of Doom; alternate history like Wolfenstein; intense gameplay like Half Life; and puzzle quests like Portal. All these intertwine well, but it never really allows the game to develop its own personality. It’s hard to be mad about it, however, when it does everything so well.
Visually, Atomic Heart is a breathtaking experience from beginning to end. Every area you come across is filled with insane details that leave you in awe of the environment. The initial introduction takes you through a city, which exemplifies the details given to every aspect of the world. How robots move and transform, how enemies function, how the world blends humans and robots, everything has a detailed explanation and variations to keep you looking for more.
Very rarely did I ever come across areas where it felt like a new developer with only one game in their belt was behind this game. There are moments where you are in corridors or out in the open and certain things won’t explode as you intend, and while the world is heavily detailed it is like staring at a painting because hardly anything can be interacted with. So the focus of the game’s environments truly went in the direction of let’s bring it all to life, but don’t touch anything.
The things you can interact with, however, are pretty impressive. Things function as they should, and weapons all have unique animations to go along with them. Reloading guns, swinging axes, enemy encounters, it all flows extremely well with deep animations to go with it. Textures and animations are very detailed, with swift gameplay standing behind it.
Robots have a very robust style to them as well. Some mustache wielding enemies will surprise you and be very scary to be around, while smaller robots may look cute before obliterating you. There are even creative variations to wildlife, like a chicken that resembled a log cabin roaming around.
One of the biggest issues I have with the game is the dialogue. The voice acting is pretty good overall, but there are some translation issues. For a game being set in Russia, I would have preferred if the characters at least shared a Russian accent, instead it feels very “Americanized.” The dialogue is also really poorly written (I’m not sure if it was due to translating it from Russian). The main character has a lot of one-liners to try and be cool, but the emotion and clarity don’t match.
But then again the no holds dialogue is another thing I like about the game. I love that the main character is a foul-mouthed hero, and some of the characters in the game are foul-mouthed as well. Blending these characters together with well spoken enemies and robots leads to some interesting situations. I found myself laughing a lot when the hero came across robots and getting frustrated with the robotic responses; or his anguish when being told to do another fetch quest.
Aside from some of the voice work, there is an odd timing issue throughout the game. One character will be talking and the main character will abruptly jump in with his line; usually not matching the situation’s tone at all. There are stretches where this issue doesn’t happen and dialogue flows well, but then it suddenly happens again and pulls you out of the moment. Imagine a game that lets you skip parts of a cutscene, you press the button to skip and it immediately goes to the next character talking: that’s exactly how this feels.
Outside of that I found the sound design and music extremely thrilling. Much like the visuals, all the sound effects are very detailed and every area/robot has a unique sound to it. The music is honestly fantastic and the soundtrack is extremely enjoyable in-game. The guns, much like their visual appeal, have an “oomph” to them with very deep intriguing perks that echo all around you.
Solid Gameplay That Isn’t Distinct
Gameplay blends a little bit of everything all together, which never really lets Atomic Heart stand out as a unique shooter. You are paired with a glove, which serves as the reasoning for your “superhero-esk” powers, and it functions pretty much like plasmids in Bioshock. You can use the glove to heal, do special attacks like freezing enemies, or even utilize it to help solve particular puzzles with gravity. Luckily the gloves’ voice isn’t as irritating as P-3 (the main character), and will normally offer advice on how to solve puzzles if you get stumped.
But like I said, it’s tough to complain because Atomic Heart does things so well. The combat is very thrilling to say the least. It has a slower nature to it with swings of an axe jolting an enemy, and guns have a bit of power behind them. On harder difficulties this could get a bit frustrating at times, but it also provides a layer of strategy when approaching enemies. You need to be careful with ammo, but also have a swift reaction to enemy attacks because one successful hit could totally ruin your day.
The game divides itself up into two layers. The first layer is the open style world aboveground. Here, enemies come in bunches and is where the frustration settles. You could spend a ton of time clearing out enemies so you can explore an area. It’s hard to get to that point, however, and the repetitive nature sets in fast. This is especially true when “repair bots” are bringing enemies back to life so you have to fight them all over again. I mostly found myself trying to skip these areas as fast as I could. The game isn’t designed around working as a stealth shooter to avoid enemies, but fighting head-on became grueling. Instead, I sprinted my way to the objective to get past it.
The second layer is when the game becomes more of a corridor shooter (the underground labs, etc) and really shines. Here, you get to explore a bit more backstory and get pushed into small spaces with enemies. The stealth works a bit better, and the combat really shines. You get a sense of progress instead of fighting endless waves of enemies constantly.
Along the way we are met with puzzle quests and puzzles to unlock doors. Overall, though, this is one of the areas that never gets fully fleshed out. I enjoyed them, I got excited when a puzzle popped up and I had to think about what to do, but they basically boiled down to simple tasks that were easy to figure out. I was hoping this aspect of the gameplay would grow/expand the further I progressed in the game, but it never really does.
One complaint I have is that the game has awkward stages where you are doing nothing but admiring the atmosphere. This happens really early on in the game, and I honestly found the first 20 minutes insanely boring because of it. But later in the game we hit areas where you are in an elevator for a good amount of time for example and just moving through to the next part. And look…. I’m a Metal Gear fan, I know about that dreaded ladder in MGS3, let’s not make this a trend. I rather just go to a loading screen at that point, or put a loadout bot so I can adjust my weapons at that time.
But this is the overall aspect of Atomic Heart. It does everything you’d expect to see in other games well. It doesn’t break new ground or step things up at all. And yet neither does it feel broken or unfinished. If you’ve been craving a new Bioshock, or want to see an interesting take on Half-Life, Atomic Heart fills the gap extremely well. It even has the mundane tasks you’d expect from Fallout to fill in the time. With that being said, Atomic Heart tries to take inspiration from too many places and loses overall focus, leading to repetitive combat and mediocre puzzle trials.