After months of trailers and snippets of gameplay, Atomic Hearts is clearly vying to become a BioShock successor. This is immediately made clear as you kick off the campaign which sees the protagonist descend from a city in the sky. If it isn’t clear from the opening moments, it seems obvious that Atomic Heart wears its heart on its sleeve.
Atomic Heart takes place in a utopian retro-futuristic version of the Soviet Union in 1955. It combines elements from Fallout and BioShock Infinite to create its atmosphere and style. Set in 1955, scientist and former neurosurgeon Dmitry Sechenov has achieved the ultimate in technological innovation — Polymers. With the use of Polymers, the Soviet Union evolved rapidly, gaining a leading role in the rest of the world after World War II. Polymer technology allows the inhabitants of the Soviet Union to coexist peacefully with robots. Sechenov, wanting to fully realize the vision of the then communism, creates the Kollektiv, which he wants to introduce to human organisms through polymers, in order for everyone to function as one thinking entity and fully control the robots with their minds.
Atomic Heart feels familiar
Of course, such visions of this magnitude have a huge chance of failure and huge political games hidden behind them. On the day the Kollektiv is revealed, something goes wrong and the robots start attacking humans, murdering them in cold blood. In the midst of this chaos, you meet the main character, Major Sergei ‘P-3’ Nechayev, who has been sent by Sechenov to solve his problem before it goes global and becomes known to the Soviet government and other superpowers like America. From here on, the story ramps up and while it sometimes lands, it also misses the mark. However, what does stick out is how well the developers transposed the Soviet ideals of that time, as well as the communist vision of the time, with all its good and bad. The story has an interesting plot filled with surprises, interesting characters, and a decent flow. The protagonist and the AI that accompanies him in the Polymer glove he wears called Charles, steal the show. Atomic Heart is not lacking in humour and satire, which successfully meld together here offering a decent and entertaining campaign.
Coming back to protagonist P-3, your character is a specially enhanced agent who has been sent to tackle the situation. You have an AI implanted in your hand that will comment on the situation and guide you forward. He can also remotely collect loot from both dead enemies and closets, as well as lift things into the air or electrify things. This is already an area of the character’s abilities that you’ll gradually expand and unlock. I’m going to say right here that you won’t level up everything, and you won’t use all the options either.
You upgrade everything in special machines, which spit out the collected parts, whether it’s a weapon if you have a manual, but also ammo and first aid kits. There is also disassembling useless things into parts, and upgrading weapons. By the way, be sure to always look for rooms with vending machines both inside buildings and outside, as there’s always a vending machine for saving ranks. Atomic Heart does save itself in places, but it’s a good idea to make sure you do this so you don’t have to replay the last hour, which was something I had to do a few times.
The levels themselves combine indoor, mostly large underground complexes and an outdoor open world. Here you’ll be taken to various presentation buildings and research centers, where you’ll see and experience something different everywhere. For example, there’s a museum that shows you in detail the individual robots, and the inventions of this world, but there’s also a research center that, for example, shows you a puzzle room almost like Portal but with a different concept. There are various strange presentations, or even animal research, various underwater, alien research and even research on plants.
In doing so, a lot of the research will backfire on you, with plant life being a big threat alongside robots that can attack humans and make zombies out of them. There will be several types of them, and they will be able to band together and work together to destroy you. Similarly, the robots will be diverse and although they are disguised as regular robots, their combat mode is deadly. For example, such a kitchen robot will happily chop you up with its knives. Mainly all of them will be dangerous and only gradually you will learn what applies to whom and what weapons to use on them.
All this will be complemented by bosses, of which there will be several and each will be interesting and unusual. Ultimately similar to the design of everything in the game. At the same time, they won’t be easy to take out and you’ll need to be sufficiently equipped with bullets and first aid kits. It’s also ideal to upgrade everything continuously and learn how to use additional options.
An unlikeable protagonist leaves a lot to be desired
Major P-3 uses his left hand for all Polymer properties inherited from Charles and his right hand for the weapon he is holding at the time. Polymer abilities are spread between electricity, fire, ice, telekinesis, and shield for protection. These abilities are divided into five different skill trees that you evolve from the beginning of the game and experiment with so many different combinations. A sixth skill tree contains passive skills for P-3 and focuses on survivability. You can at any time remove an upgrade from any skill tree and get the Polymer back to invest elsewhere. Each opponent has specific sensitivities and resistances to items that come from Charles’ Polymer skills. These details are generously given to you by your assistant if you scan your opponent before fighting them.
Weapons are divided into three categories: melee, energy, and normal. You can build a collection of very peculiar weapons if you first find their blueprints. You can have a shotgun, Kalashnikov, Glock, and several other familiar weapons, all modified to fit the steampunk aesthetic of the game. Energy weapons do not have normal bullets. Instead, they use the energy stored in Charles in your glove to launch various crazy attacks. If the energy runs out, you must replenish it either by waiting for it to refill itself, using a consumable or by striking with your melee weapon, which returns energy to your glove on each hit. The system works, pushing you to choose when to use each type of weapon based on each opponent’s weaknesses and the resources you have with you at the time.
A curious case Déjà vu
Inside buildings, you will have to wander and wander you will. That is to say, the developers made a lot of missions interesting, but several times they will send you around big buildings on fetch quests. It’s not something repetitive, as you always go to different parts of the building and each time the quest introduces you to a bit more of the world, but narratively it’s also stuck it stops the momentum. Not to mention how you wander off in places. That is, you often find that in missions the mission objective pointer shows you the objective itself but doesn’t show you how to reach it or what to bring there.
The puzzle locks on the doors are an interesting diversion to navigate through, and you have to either solve a simple puzzle, activate all the lock components at the right time, or enter the right code, but you have to find it first. And there will be robots running around behind your back in places and you’ll be running out of time, as sometimes even if you destroy the enemies, the repair robots will come running and start fixing them right away.
I wouldn’t say Atomic Heart necessarily needed the outside world, though it’s a good thing to let players have some additional options. At the same time, there’s a unique rendition of the entire Soviet world to admire, with gigantic statues towering over it, and flying cities, all while being destroyed by its own inventions.
The communists are not exactly portrayed positively here either, the developers show the effects of the style of government. In their ideal society, everyone is supposed to be equal, but visibly some are more equal and especially want to control everything. Along the way, you’ll also learn more about the main character, who is a gruff character who is almost unlikeable — I’ll explain more about P-3.
That’s what mainly brings the experience down a peg — Sergei is a major dick and he excels at antagonizing those around him. This wouldn’t be an issue if it was explained why he’s such a negative person and I feel like the developers would have had a better game on their hands if they left P-3 as a silent protagonist instead, at least that way Sergei would be far more bearable.
Atomic Heart utilizes the capabilities of PlayStation 5 and the DualSense controller successfully. Recordings collected by the player are played through the controller’s microphone. The 3D audio works well, even without headphones. Adaptive Triggers have different resistance for each gun, based on the bullet and weight of each gun. One minor complaint is that they don’t work at all on melee weapons. The haptic feedback helps to determine the direction from which you are being attacked.
Atomic Heart has a lot of moving parts and it is filled with ambitious gameplay but it’s also got some lingering issues. It seems like Mundfish’s ambition was held back by its budget and while I think the environments and aesthetic are impressive, the protagonist is a dick and he’s a huge reason I didn’t like the campaign nearly as much as I would if he kept his mouth shut.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5