Atomic Heart is a cyberpunk RPG developed by Mundfish and published by Focus Interactive. It comes in the form of a single player first-person shooter with an open-zone format. It is available on PC, Xbox, and PS4/5. I am just learning about this game myself through Xbox Game Pass, but it looks to have been in development since late in 2018. It is also the subject of political controversy, although I will not address that in this review. However, I will address the matter in the Blog section at a later time as I think it is worth talking about. Check back soon in you are interested in that.
Atomic Heart takes place on an alternate historical timeline, in a 1950’s Soviet Union, at an advanced research facility named “3826”. In this alternate world, Russia has reached global technological dominance, yet may stand on the verge of collapse due to inner conflicts in high levels of government, particularly in regards to facility 3826 and its related projects.
Atomic Heart’s world-build is succinct and draws the player in primarily through the use of lush anachronistic environments. It also features a stunning soundtrack, and hosts some of the most enjoyable environmental puzzles and lockpicking mechanics I have come across in a video game. Some truly bizarre set pieces and dreamscapes also set this game apart from others in the genre. Its retro-futuristic interior designs are captivating, featuring both detailed and minimalist designs.
The game is however, held back by unresponsive battle mechanics, a user interface that leaves much to be desired, and a storyline that tends to feel scattered and a bit dragged out. That being said I was always interested in what would happen next as the story is actually quite good for what it is. Its pacing and delivery seem to hold back an otherwise solid narrative. That being said, it’s diverse and evocative soundtrack never failed to impress, with bold choices in music coming in at just the right time.
Now, on with the official review.
Atomic Heart has a concise world-build with beautiful sets and inspired level designs. From its wire ridden corridors, bizarre laboratory settings, to its fraternal art exhibits, the game’s interior designs have an original feel to them. There is also a noir appeal to much of the interiors, making things look dark, but not so dark that you get lost walking around. It brings something that fans of noir films and comics can appreciate, without sacrificing gameplay.
The outdoor areas of facility “3826” are done in a clean techno-minimalist style. It’s nothing too spectacular, but the map is pretty spacious and small buildings, cabins, mushroom save houses, camera towers, etc. are around to use as cover when you engage in combat. There are also some larger corporate buildings on the map, that lead to important parts of the game. I think they did a nice job with the trees in particular, although water effects could have been better and I would have loved to see more flowers around.
The set pieces featured in both normal parts of the game and in its more abstract segments often range from downright bizarre, to fascinating. During the normal game, the art exhibits, statues, and puzzle designs compliment the rooms and areas they are placed in. In dream segments, imagery is used in such a way as to allow you to get to know your protagonist on a deeper level, centering on personal symbols and archetypal imagery.
Unfortunately, there are a surprising lack of enemy types in this game, and I can’t say I was impressed by any of them outside of a few robot bosses with awesome animations. The normal enemies range from small annoying labor robots with retractable saws and knives, to flying spybots with laser beams and simplistic androids. Robot designs fit the timeline and look built to last, so that is one way they do contribute to the overall vibe of facility 3826. There are also plant mutants that come from overrun lab areas.
You can tell that Atomic Heart pays homage to classic games such as Bioshock ( a game I’m recently becoming more acquainted with) and that’s not a bad thing. It delivers a stunning visual environment that is sure to win over fans of cyberpunk, and noir films and comics, despite a lack of interesting enemies to fight. Personally, I see AH’s visuals as the games strongest point, and will be one of the main reasons I think I will be playing it for years to come.
AH’s gameplay can be inherently frustrating. However, once your character development starts to come along, things get easier with weapon mods and upgrades, found inside testing sites called “Polygons”. The game is predominantly a shooter, but ammo doesn’t come along too often. Its wise to approach combat with that in mind, so you can get to the endgame with enough of it. You will have to deal with a fair amount of clunky melee combat as well, but I can say that all works well enough to make it through the game, and can ultimately lead to some fun battles. Using P3’s robotic hand to shock, lift, and destroy enemies in mid air is pretty cool. It’s also capable of freezing, burning them and more.
AH has some of the best puzzles I have come across in a long time, and most can be solved through intuition as much as logic, and that is something I find fascinating. Some of them may take you a while, but you won’t grow bored easily solving most of them. The environment is utilized to give the player something to really think about. Some of the more complex puzzles involving electrical switches that rearrange the room, were quite difficult for me.
One issue I had with this title is that some key aspects of how to develop your character and weapons are not explained as clearly as I think they should be for a game with this many gameplay systems, leading to my character being weaker that he needed to be for about half the game. That’s not to say things weren’t explained at all, but that some tutorials could have been more prominent.
As previously mentioned, Atomic Heart takes place in a alternative 1950’s Soviet Union, at an advanced research facility called “3826”. In this world the USSR defeats the Nazi’s during World War II, through the use of a electro-chemical substance called “Polymer”, invented by Dr. Dmetri Sechinov. The substance is also responsible for the vast technological advances of the Soviet empire. This brings Germany to release a bioweapon called “The Brown Plague” in retaliation, leading to the deaths of millions of people across the world. In dealing with the consequences, the world sought Russian robots as a substitute for human labor in order to rebuild their nations. This economic boom lead to the Soviet Union becoming the dominant military arm on the planet.
Dr. Sechinov, also creates a wireless network called “Kollectiv 1.0” that connects all machines and robots, in order to better integrate them into society. More recently he created what he calls a “THOUGHT” connecter. It allows for polymer implants to be placed inside the human body and interface with robots and other machines. This invention is to be officially released alongside “Kollectiv 2.0” on the day our story begins.
You play as Russian government operative P-3, a war veteran with Robotic and Polymer implants installed by Dr. Sechinov, after you suffered massive injuries. You are now requested to assist him with the launch of “Kollectiv 2.0”, but on your way to the destination your transport malfunctions. You crash-land, are immediately attacked by androids and find out the entire facility has been sabotaged by a Dr. Victor Petrov. Your job is to apprehend Petrov and restore order to the facility.
P-3 is accompanied by a talking robotic hand called “CHARLES” who helps navigate the mission. It can magnetically draw in objects and allows you to use various pulse attacks. It certainly talks too much during the game, but some of those conversations can be entertaining and even eye opening. Your relationship with this artificial intelligence starts to develop over time, leading to some humorous moments, and eventually shocking ones towards the end of the game. Thankfully, you can adjust the speech volume.
You battle androids, labor bots, as well as mutated flora that not only flies about hideously, but makes zombies out of dead people it manages to attach itself to. Things start out pretty simple as you fight and kill your way to Petrov. But as the story progresses things get more personal for P-3 when he eventually comes in contact with Dr. Petrov and subsequently a woman named Dr. Filatova. They expose P-3 to the dark side of the facility, and the truth about why the robots are able to behave violently, as they were allegedly designed without battle protocols.
You are brought to witness cruel human experiments, and find out Sechinov’s plans for Kollectiv 2.0 may have disastrous effects on the world at large. You take steps to expose him, and in the process find out more about your own past. As government officials catch wind of the chaos at facility 3826, they travel there to assess the situation. Things don’t go as planned for them, and you are forced to make a decision that leads to two different endings to the game. The option to confront Sechinov is the most interesting choice, leading to a breathtaking boss battle, and an ending that is as much cathartic for P-3 as it is tragic. I personally like these types of endings in noir fiction, as they can elicit a strong emotional response through a lack of closure.
The game actually has a solid story, voice acting, and vocal direction. However, as previously mentioned it can come across as scattered and lacking in both depth and exposition. I find myself with more questions than the game can answer, but I do look forward to seeing some type of sequel or story DLC for Atomic Heart, it deserves that much to say the least.
Atomic Heart has an excellent soundtrack. The games audio is its strongest point aside from its visuals. Everything from the original scores, to the various Pop music tracks used, bring life to the areas you visit. The 1950’s music really shines and fighting mutants to classical music was a lot of fun too. It’s good to see the developers weren’t afraid to just drop a dope track out of nowhere sometimes, such as a Hard Rock or Electronica song. For example, I noticed some great Drum and Bass come on while I was solving a puzzle last time I played, and I don’t think I’ll ever get the catchy lounge music at the weapon upgrade vendor out of my head. However, please be aware that the vending machine has the AI of a thirsty sex-bot scrambled into its system, and she will harass you!
The game’s sound effects work well; guns sound powerful with proper highs and lows expressed, melee attacks have a good punch to them, and I like the vocal pitches used on the robot voices. They make me laugh. The voice acting does not lack vocal direction, but shows a general lack of understanding as to how Americans actually speak. Attempts to make the character sound cool, often sound ridiculous.
Atomic heart is a good game with some serious flaws that keep it from being great, and me from recommending it to everyone. But I do think it is for fans of cyberpunk and other forms of dark sci-fi, and that it brings forth an art style many will be enamored by. A story that loses focus at times shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the overall narrative. I think most people who end up playing AH to the end will want to see a sequel or DLC, even if only to experience more of the imaginative aspects of the world-build. Gameplay and UI may be nothing special, but it’s okay given the game isn’t too long, and when you adopt a playstyle things get better. The game has good localization for what it is, and its grade A soundtrack shouldn’t be ignored. I see myself coming back to this one despite the flaws and look forward to any additions to the story, even if you play as a different character in the same universe. *Hint *Hint.
Thanks for reading Spirit Game by Howl Blake. Please let me know any of your thoughts on Atomic Heart in the comments section. Did you like the game, or are you interested in playing? I’d love to hear from you guys. Peace.
Score – 7.0 out of 10, Good!