Atomic Heart review: Stylish shooter is anything but robotic
Atomic Heart is the creation of Mundfish, a first-time developer, and their first-person shooter title gets a lot right and not too much wrong in this captivating debut effort.
From the outset, Atomic Heart is like the lovechild of Bioshock, Dishonored, DOOM, and Prey – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The game is likely inspired by these titles, evident in different aspects of the game, and Atomic Heart ends up becoming its own game.
While there are a few kinks in the system that could be ironed out if the studio ever intends to produce a fully-fledged follow-up, there’s a tremendous basis established here in Atomic Heart to move forward with.
Atomic Heart: Key details
- Price: £49.99/$59.99
- Developer: Mundfish
- Release Date: February 20, 2023
- Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC
Atomic Heart trailer
A slow-burning story
We’re thrust immediately into Atomic Heart’s very different 1955 timeline where Soviet Russia has greatly benefitted from Polymer – a unique, programmable substance that has allowed the Russians to create an army of robots to serve humankind and connect them together via a network called the Kollectiv.
The Prologue gives players a stunning tour of this version of an alternate Russia, but things very quickly go awry as the robots go rogue.
Atomic Heart’s answer to this powerful Polymer insurrection is Major Sergei Nechaev – also known as P-3. He’s a special agent for Soviet Russia and I’d say that he will be a divisive presence for many gamers. His lines are delivered with clear conviction and oomph, it’s just that the script lacks elegance at times and feels a bit brash and immature for the sake of it.
A lot of P-3’s mannerisms and attitude actually get explained much later on in the story, but it comes at the expense of an unnecessarily foul-mouthed and perplexing protagonist for the majority of the game — although the incredible Granny Zina does her best to steal the show and desperately needed more screen time.
P-3 will grow on you as his character and personality develop over time, as does his relationship with his Polymer Glove, CHAR-les, but, again, sacrifices are made to actualize all of this and help chemistry blossom fully.
It’s a classic example of needing a second playthrough to truly understand the twists and turns of this emotional rollercoaster. The ride does become exhilarating towards the end and the thrilling final third of the narrative unravels beautifully with explainers left, right, and center, and Atomic Heart delivers a dramatic conclusion ahead of the forthcoming DLC.
Atomic Heart’s gameplay delivers
The (Atomic) heart of a first-person shooter is always its gameplay and gun-touting antics, and Mundfish very much manages to tick this one off the list. Melee weapons wallop robots with a nauseating thud and the game’s weapons each have different, but strong, qualities that will force your hand into deciding which ones to carry as inventory space is limited — but upgradeable.
Working in tandem with the game’s able arsenal, ranging from a Shotgun to a full-on Railgun, are Polymer powers that are channeled through your glove using Energy.
You can shoot out streams of ice to freeze enemies, telekinesis will hoist any enemy caught in the vicinity of this intangible blast into the air, and you can zap robots with a small wave of SHOK electricity.
Again, you can see where the influence comes from, but it doesn’t stop them from being fun to use nonetheless.
Weapons, powers, and P-3 himself, can be upgraded in multiple different ways to suit your playstyle and save rooms are a good source for this. They are frequent and provide an immediate safe haven akin to Resident Evil’s save rooms, only, Raccoon City didn’t quite have oversexualized upgrade machines that were desperate for P-3 to “enter them” repeatedly — the less said about this the better.
New weapons and parts can be obtained through Atomic Heart’s Polygon Testing Rooms. These chambers represent the game’s main side content and once inside, you’ll be tasked with either killing various enemies en route to the area’s three main prizes, solving some ingenious puzzles, or both.
From brainteasing magnet puzzles to figuring out the perspective and dynamics of interchangeable platforms in a room, these clever distractions can take you a fair bit of time to complete.
When it comes to enemies as a whole, there are a ton of types, but AI is a mixed bag. Sometimes enemies will expertly use the environment to deceive you, but other times they’ll try to close the ground to you and get stuck on an object and repeatedly run into it, allowing you to easily take them out.
Early encounters with even just standard robots are heart-stopping affairs though as these mechanical maniacs will sprint at you like you’re a plague that needs to be eradicated. There’s actually an underlying sense of horror playing Atomic Heart, which is what I imagine Mundfish were going for, and there’s always a feeling of uneasiness and tension in the air – which I loved.
It was sometimes easy to forget about the tension though when I was too busy being wowed by the game’s innovative looting system. Using P-3’s glove, holding one button would automatically loot a ton of containers consecutively. It was a breath of fresh air and is a dream feature that every looter shooter needs from now on.
Areas in Atomic Heart are fairly sizable and the game as a whole will take you 20-30 hours to complete. Interiors can end up feeling quite samey with almost identical offices being repeated throughout, yet its semi-open-world, despite some difficulty navigating, is packed with enemies and gives you a deeper insight into the game’s alternate setting.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give high praise to the game’s boss fights. They are some of the most visualizing striking and stage-setting boss fights I’ve ever seen in a game — and I’ve played every God of War and FromSoftware game. One particular stand-off takes place in a theater and when people talk about “the stuff of nightmares,” then they were surely talking about this duel.
Beautiful art and an eclectic soundtrack
I want to delve into one of the game’s strongest components — its top-notch soundtrack.
It’s a weird and wonderful mix of genres with the game’s internal, diegetic music being a fascinating touch as despite the technological differences and advancements, it retains the kind of classical music you’d expect from the 50s blaring out of radios.
Whereas legendary music composer Mick Gordon, the mind behind DOOM and DOOM Eternal’s music, will drastically u-turn from this and drop iconic metal blasts away during heated combat encounters, with other fights featuring a chorus of booming bass and electronic beats.
Atomic Heart’s graphical prowess is quite impressive too with a nice early display of reflective ray tracing effects that set the game up and the overall graphics are crisp and sharp.
Sadly, the frame rate does have a tendency to drop if too much is happening on-screen, mostly in cut scenes, even if you’re on PS5 with a top-end TV. Not only that, but I did come across examples of floating objects, enemies t-posing, and even off-putting visual bugs such as boss health bars remaining on-screen despite not being present.
Lasting visual effects help to counterbalance this though as swiping and slicing away at an enemy will leave giant cut marks on their body, even a giant metal robot’s armor, and traditional guns will rip away at enemy exoskeletons.
Verdict – 4/5
For a first game from a new studio, Atomic Heart executes many of its ideas very well, delivers a solid story, and actually manages to innovate in a genre where it would be easy to remain stagnant.
Yes, its main character won’t live long in the memory, the narrative takes some time to heat up, and the modern-day curse of technical hitches are noticeable. But as a whole, Atomic Heart is an electric and enjoyable FPS title with surprising puzzle aspects, and I can’t wait to see how Mundfish builds on this hot start in the future.
Reviewed on PS5
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