Atomic Heart Review

By
Last updated:

Atomic Heart provided intense sensations when announced in May 2018, so much so that it immediately raised the public’s fantasies of a Soviet-style Bioshock.

The first title from the Mundfish studio has been a long time since.

Freshly landed in the game pass on February 21st, and surrounded by numerous controversies on social networks, we finally had the chance to try the Russian developers’ proposal.

We have to admit that we were a bit disappointed.

Because if the introduction is impressive and gives confidence in the overall quality, the whole thing is unpacked quickly and wears out more rapidly than expected.

A promising basic pitch

The plot of Atomic Heart takes place in an alternative reality of the 1950s, where robotics, the internet, or even forms of holograms are present everywhere.

The title plunges us into a credible dystopian universe where the USSR is a natural paradise and technology serves civilisation.

Robots now perform all the most tedious tasks by obeying the finger and the eye, allowing humans to pursue more artistic occupations.

Thanks to the Kollectiv network and the Polymer (a multi-purpose material) discovered by Professor Dmitri Sergeevich Sechenov fifteen years earlier, the Soviet nation has become the ultimate world power with a bright future.

We start the adventure with an efficient prologue setting up the stakes in an admirable way.

Relatively narrative in its first hour of play, we discover the beauty of this fictional world through the prism of the city of Chelomei, an architectural jewel of the Motherland.

This idealised megalopolis floating in the clouds, with barely concealed similarities to the city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite, is the starting point for an adventure that, at first glance, looks enchanting and epic.

We find the philosophy of “always higher, always further” until the climax, when the dream becomes a nightmare.

Indeed, for an unknown reason, the robotic beings will go crazy and become hostile to all human life, thus transforming the Soviet Eden into an absolute hell.

We play the comrade-major Sergei Alexeyevich Netchayev, more commonly known as P-3.

This KGB officer, who doesn’t seem in his right mind, wears a glove on his left hand that allows him to connect to different objects and is, in fact, a character in his own right.

This device, equipped with an artificial intelligence called Charles, with whom our hero chats between two shots, is a natural ally who will accompany us throughout this adventure that turns into a fiasco.

The world created by Mundfish has a singular atmosphere and is full of small details making the whole credible and worked.

In the first hour of the game, the title introduces us to its gameplay by exploring a research centre of the 3826 complexes in “walking-simulator” mode.

This is mainly the opportunity to discover the scenarist’s context based on bureaucratic intrigues and controversial innovations that punctuate our path, which ends in a flying car.

These few minutes’ journey through the air reveal the immensity and beauty of this military-scientific installation that mixes Soviet traditionalism and unbridled progress.

The world created by Mundfish has a unique atmosphere and is full of small details making the whole credible and working.

An unsympathetic hero immersed in a narrative of uneven quality

Atomic Heart’s storyline appears complex and mysterious at first glance, with many twists and turns due to the themes of artificial intelligence, madness, and scientific experimentation.

Despite its intriguing story, some of the story elements can seem confusing or poorly developed, leaving the player sometimes a little confused as to the motivations of the characters or the direction the adventure takes.

Moreover, if the staging of particular passages is of excellent quality, notably the immersive phases in first person view, the overall level of the cinematic sequences in the third person is lovely, sometimes even disappointing.

This is an opportunity for us to notice that lip-synching is not always up to scratch and that the character animations are stiff.

If it weren’t for some nice graphic or lighting effects, we could believe that the cinematic phases of the 2010s have aged poorly.

It’s a pity when the rest is rather pleasing to the eye.

Yet animated charmingly by the relationship between P-3 and Charles, the dialogues are far from unforgettable, with a few exceptions.

We are thinking in particular of the “naughty girl” who has recently caused controversy on social networks: Nora, the artificial intelligence with the voice of a boiler who lives in a sort of fridge providing improvements.

We admit to having laughed at first, so much that her particularly lewd comments took us out of the more serious context of the title before finding it a bit heavy and irrelevant in the end.

We hear her especially at the beginning of the adventure, before she disappears, just like that, after a few hours, without the scenario explaining us.

Let’s take the liberty of saying a few words about our heroes: P-3 and Charles, whose appreciation has changed throughout the adventure.

Let’s start with the hero, P-3. At the beginning of the game, he seems to be an icy and distant character.

Still, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he has a more human side than he appears, motivated above all by his loyalty to his country and his desire to discover the truth about these strange events.

But he becomes unbearable in the long run with his profanity and constant disdain.

He doesn’t like anything; he doesn’t like anyone; he’s never happy, and he’s a real pain in the ass.

Fortunately, Charles’ writing compensates a little for that of his sidekick.

He has a special relationship with P-3, providing wisdom, humour, and a little fun in the darkest moments.

The critical element in an arsenal lacking in variety

A wise partner in dialogue, Charles is also a multi-functional tool.

He allows us to pick sure locks, activate numerous mechanisms, hack into cameras, and suck up upgrade ingredients or ammunition from a distance.

Above all, his most excellent utility comes from his talent for giving us certain powers.

Amongst these, a lightning spell electrocutes our enemies by repelling them.

It is also instrumental in reversing the polarity of the magnets that we have to play with during the not-always-obvious puzzles.

Frostbite, which we admit to having used a lot, immobilises our assailants very nicely, giving us time to escape or hit them before they come to their senses.

Mass telekinesis turns us into Jedi, lifting objects and opponents into the air before smashing them to the ground with a hand wave.

As for polymer projection, it deposits pools of this viscous liquid that we can then ignite, electrify or freeze to inflict damage over time.

Finally, as its name suggests, the polymeric shield envelops our hero under a protective layer, temporarily annihilating the reduction in our health points.

We can equip up to two of them simultaneously, but we have to juggle all the options regularly, as our enemies do not have the same resistance to the different elements.

The Nora fridge can upgrade these powers with classic talent points in the dedicated boxes.

It is also via this rather dodgy appliance that we develop our arsenal.

This element should not be neglected, as the title gave us some intense moments.

The difficulty is very present, as of the normal mode.

To increase our longevity, we have no choice but to use the various ingredients collected everywhere.

We have several tools of destruction with relative handling and damage. While some of the weapons look pretty crazy on paper, we’re not ashamed to admit that we used the basic shotgun against the robots most of the time.

First, it offers the best feel in hand, and second, when adequately upgraded, the handling/damage ratio is more than sufficient.

Against organic enemies, the Makarov pistol is more effective, especially once you’ve added an explosive element cartridge.

Finally, the Swede, a mighty two-handed axe, does its job in case of lack of ammunition.

Once well boosted, we hardly needed to touch the other combat tools, except for occasionally using the IEM of the Elektro gun or the Big Bertha bazooka.

The inventory has a limited number of storage slots, and once it is 100% full, all the resources and ammunition we collect are sent directly to Nora’s storage.

It is, therefore, advisable to mass-produce potions and ammunition to save them for later use.

Resources fall in industrial quantities, but we still have to make some tactical choices: making weapon upgrades, healing potions, or ammunition using the same six or seven ingredients!

Whether it’s better to make a bazooka with three rockets, or ten small adrenaline potions with the same resources, we have to adapt.

Concerning the fights and the bestiary, Atomic Heart blows hot and cold.

On the one hand, we sometimes experience exhilarating sensations as the assailants are numerous and devious; on the other hand, if the bosses generally come out with honors, the basic enemies are essentially clones of a small number of archetypes.

The combat phases are very dynamic and require vigilance.

Indeed, it is essential to subtly manage dodges significantly, as we cannot block the opponent’s blows.

This creates a feeling of redundancy during the first few hours of play, mainly when we arrive at the so-called “open-world” part.

The open world, what for?

Let’s be honest: the curiosity to discover the universe created by Mundfish and its credibility immediately got us on board!

The title fills the gaps in its scenario with an environmental and visual narrative that immerses us in a unique and fascinating retro-futuristic world.

However, after the first graphic thrills, it is true that the open-world component, rich in beautiful promises, quickly brought us down.

Let’s dwell for a moment on the purely technical aspect.

Atomic Heart impresses when you remember that it is the first game of the studio, so much it seems mastered from the very first minutes, visually or in terms of atmosphere.

The title runs in 4K at sixty frames per second most of the time.

On Xbox Series X, we noticed some framerate drops and strange jerks occurring while animating particular objects, such as these forklift robots used to store goods in a warehouse.

The title runs under Unreal Engine 4 because the developers did not want to switch to version 5 of the engine not to delay the game’s release.

The particle effects are still numerous and relatively prosperous.

Most of the textures are clean and detailed, except for some when we look at them too closely, such as the vehicle dashboard.

The reflection or explosion effects convince of the talent of the developers by their realisation.

Without being a huge technical feat, either visually or artistically, Atomic Heart still provides some friendly little ophthalmic slaps from time to time.

The lighting effects are impressive, especially indoors, served by an inspired art direction, halfway between Dishonored and Bioshock.

An FPS inspired by other FPS with unique universes that have proven themselves in the past, there are worse references!

On the other hand, we are invited to explore a relatively weak variety of environments, from high-tech laboratories to ruined factories and abandoned cities, all filled with meticulous details and intriguing elements.

The whole thing denotes a creepy, heavy industrial feel indoors, seemingly a little more engaging outdoors, yet just as dangerous, if not more so.

The joy of discovery gradually fades.

And then, of course, there is the drama.

The graphic orgy is not enough; the joy of discovery gradually fades away.

The fault of an open world that has no other interest than to make us go from point A to point B while harassing us ad nauseam with enemies flirting with immortality.

Well, not really; we can indeed shamelessly kill them all. BUT!

Because there is a huge “but” unfortunately spoiled the game experience for us: the robots we dismember with buckshot are kindly repaired ad infinitum by other small flying objects well-identified as wasp robots.

Nests of these cute little choppers are placed every twenty meters, ensuring them an infinite repop because, of course, we can’t destroy these famous hives.

And we have tried everything, freezing them, setting them on fire, firing dozens of rockets, but nothing works.

So why spend time clearing the map, wasting our precious ammunition?

You may say to loot a few small gears to upgrade our arsenal.

Well, you still need to be able to pick them up between two circular blade shots, as there are so many enemies.

Why not try to explore in infiltration mode, then?

Simply because it doesn’t work, “daisy” cameras are placed in strategic places and are also repaired in two.

The only solution is to overload the relay of a Falcon with voltage, this fake balloon distributing energy to the enemy cogs.

This temporarily disables the droids in the area, but they won’t hesitate to pounce on us if we have the misfortune to fire a bullet into their carcass.

The result is a particularly challenging exploration of this open area, and it’s not the few objectives available that make you want to spend more time there.

Apart from the main missions we decide to complete, several secrets are hidden in abandoned areas, where we locate some resources with our neural scanner.

Other locations of relative interest, called “Polygons” or testing grounds, each hide three aesthetically improbable chests containing recipes for upgrading our weapons, such as a thermal sight or a more prominent capacity magazine.

In these mini-donjons, thinking and skill are put to the test, but some of the rewards are worth it.

Apart from that, we can find many lifeless human bodies with whom we can converse through their cranial implants, giving rise to some hilarious palaver, most unaware of their demise.

Like a few holographic computer terminals, it is an excellent way of delving into the lore when the horde does not continually harass us.

When this is the case, or to travel longer distances, we can borrow a red car.

We specify the colour of the vehicle for the simple reason that they are the only ones we can drive.

Don’t expect to use the school minibus or the tanker to blow things up.

Similarly, interactions with the scenery are minimal.

The windows of the buildings are indestructible; the security barriers don’t break, even if you run into them at full speed.

It’s all very well to create such an immersive and believable world, but it’s a shame to make it so uninteractive: it’s simply an aberration in 2023.

In the end, apart from picking up a few improvements in the Polygons, we had very little desire to explore this open area, as it becomes so tedious from the very first moments.

If it brings variety to the environments we cross, we wonder about its actual utility and the relevance of its existence.

Fortunately, the developers have thought of providing regular rest areas, both indoors and outdoors, to make a makeshift backup or an “Upgrades” break.

Beware, crossing their threshold does not guarantee total security.

Atomic redundancy

The title does not limit itself to inopportune bourrinage.

With few objectives to accomplish, the feeling of always running into the same unstoppable enemies and despite the coherence of its universe, the title is tiring.

Leaving aside the disappointing open area, we are surprised that we only want to complete the main missions, the rest rather uninteresting.

When exploring the very first complex, the surprise was rather good.

Indeed, we noticed a balance and an almost good alternation between the puzzle, platform and combat phases, breaking the rhythm of the progression firmly and cleverly.

The title does not limit itself to untimely brawling but occasionally requires us to warm up our brains a little, which is far from unpleasant.

When we explore the second environment, the soufflé falls again.

The puzzles based on light balls are similar; we open the same locks as in the first complex, the enemies are more or less identical, and we once again practice platforming phases that are not always very precise.

The exchanges between P-3 and Charles keep us slightly on edge, and one or two gloomy shadow puzzles give us a semblance of variety, but that’s about it.

In addition, some ergonomic issues mar the game.

Amongst those we found, we deplore numerous collision problems.

Indeed, nothing is more annoying than finding yourself stuck in a piece of scenery, with a dozen enemies around, without being able to get out of the way: it’s guaranteed death!

A few hitboxes and aiming problems sprinkle the not-always-easy confrontations.

Another issue we noticed frequently is rather aesthetic: we had some textual problems concerning the materials we pick up, which are then permanently displayed on the screen, thus spoiling our beautiful captures.

Finally, if the translation remains well done, some punctuation marks and other typographical characters are absent; among them, the apostrophes seem not to exist.

That said, it is essential to note that not everyone may share this impression.

We believe that the quality of the experience can vary depending on individual preferences.

Many players will surely enjoy it, but it was not enough for us.

Something is missing to make it work for us.

On the other hand, where Atomic Heart shines, in our opinion, is the sound design.

The big highlight of Atomic Heart? Its OST!

Nine languages are available, including English, Italian, Spanish and French. Authenticity purists can take the opportunity to play the adventure in Russian for more immersion.

Weapons and enemies make convincing sound effects, supported by some tremendous robotic voice effects, to the point of being disturbing when combined with the total fixed faces and lifeless eyes of the automatons.

The collectable bugs distil conversations with a successful radio effect while developing the context of a universe already rich in information to be detected.

The music is varied and adds an immersive atmosphere to the game.

The tracks are mainly composed of electronic and synth-wave sounds, reinforcing the game world’s retro-futuristic atmosphere.

Several artists have contributed to the Atomic Heart soundtrack, some of whom are well-known in the electronic music scene.

For example, the Russian band Molchat Doma is present with the song “Sudno”.

Other more traditional Soviet folk artists also rock our ears, such as Alla Pugasheva, Vyacheslav Dobrynin, or Aida Vedishcheva (we warmly thank the Shazaam application for its precious help).

For their part, fans of orchestral music will unashamedly recognise some of Tchaikovsky’s most famous creations, such as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker”, as well as Ravel’s famous “Bolero” and Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, which are used in the game to reinforce the strange and surrealistic atmosphere of the universe.

In addition to these classics, Mick Gordon, known for his work on the soundtracks of games such as 2016’s Doom and Doom Eternal, has composed several tracks that reflect his signature industrial metal musical style, with heavy guitar riffs and powerful percussion.

His compositions enhance the action and intensity of the game, creating a dynamic soundscape that fits perfectly with the gameplay, especially during the boss battle phases.

These popular and classical music choices reflect the retro-futuristic atmosphere of the game and its world, adding a touch of sophistication and class.

They also contrast with the more modern elements of the electronic and metal soundtrack, creating a varied and immersive atmosphere for us to enjoy.

Myriam

Myriam fervor for gaming extends beyond her personal experiences; she finds true joy in sharing her love and knowledge with others.

For Feedback - myriam@gamedelux.com
Join Our WhatsApp Channel

Related News

Leave a Comment