Updated: May 21
Atomic Heart is an…interesting game to say the least. It is very common for games to emulate if not directly copy other games. However, there are occasions when they straight up copy certain aspects. The other series that it has taken inspiration from are clearly visible, but this isn’t a question of if the game emulates well. The real question is whether or not the game stands on its own as something worth your time.
Atomic Heart was released on the 21st of February 2023 developed by the Mundfish. The game has been released on all major consoles and has also been released onto Game Pass, which was the version that I played. Now, as with any multi-platform release nowadays there is always a question that has to be asked. Is this game worth paying for, especially as you probably won't buy a PC or Xbox to play it, So, is this game that is worth your time, or is there nothing here worth looking twice at?
Normally, when I do a review I will start by looking at the plot, then focus on the gameplay and finally take a look at what issues the game has. However, I don’t believe that would really do Atomic Heart justice, instead, I want to look at it from the games it takes inspiration from. This will also give us a chance to look at if it learnt the important lessons that those games took to heart. So, the plot follows the adventure of Agent P-3, an agent in an alternate universe where soviet Russia developed a specialist polymer that allowed it to, essentially, win the war. P-3, a person struck with a massive amount of memory loss, must explore facility 3826, but alas it has been overrun with killer robots and only a few humans survive.
If the idea of a gun-wielding amnesiac running around an alternate reality technological marvel while following the voices of the dead sounds weirdly familiar then WELL DONE, you played a videogame. To say that the basic set-up is incredibly Bioshock in its design, or System Shock if you’re as old as I am, would be a fair comparison. The player only has limited information, most of the lore comes from computers and audio logs. I will say, the talking corpses mechanic is one to remember, it’s ultimately nothing, but cool nonetheless. However, is this a bad thing? Bioshock was a great game, there’s nothing wrong with aping it. The problem is that the story characters just…aren’t there.
Gameplay is a nice mix of, once again, Bioshock and a little bit of the Metro series. Players slowly unlock new weapons and powers, can make use of numerous upgrade stations, including a fridge with some…questionable views, and slowly make themselves more and more powerful. There’s a clear sense of progression here, at least at first, but it slowly falls down as the game progresses. Players can slowly build new equipment and add new pieces to each of their weapons which certainly appears to make a difference to melee, but the issue arises when it comes to shooting.
The main problem is that guns have some of the worst hit detection I have ever come across. It isn’t all that surprising that players will initially get the shotgun because that is the only gun that will reliably hit anything. This accuracy issue means guns are often less effective than melee, especially in the early game as most opponents are melee focused. However, with the upgrade system and the general ease in finding ammo past the initial stage, there is enough here to make shooting at least worth trying even if there is a clear bias.
However, there is more to combat than simply whacking things with an axe or missing with a gun. P-3’s magic glove is used for more than just gathering supplies, it gives him plasmi…abilities. Essentially these act as status effects or direct damage, as well as the occasional puzzle. They don’t add a huge amount and won’t break the gameplay but they certainly help to break up the monotony and add a certain flashiness to the gameplay. Although frankly, their lack of ‘necessity’ does mean that they are easy to forget.
Puzzles are completed by more than just abilities, some have to be done by either memory, exploration or simple skill. For the most part, the puzzles are finding ways into certain rooms and past locked and blocked doors. Either swimming through polymer or unlocking doors can do this. However, this is more complex than you’d think. There are several different ways to unlock doors, ranging from finding specific codes to completing light puzzles. They also range in terms of tedium from bearable to an utter nightmare. Obviously, there are other kinds of puzzles, but the less said about fetch quests the better because they don't count as puzzles really.
Graphically the game is surprisingly strong, especially the design of the environment and the locales that the player will visit. The design of the levels, buildings and even the enemies all fit with the idea of the ideal soviet world. Everything appears clean and shining, but it all hides a level of decay and corruption. The robots all seem simple in their design but their uniformity and general simplicity fit the themes well. It all comes together to make a world that’s interesting to explore, but it is unfortunately let down by some poor writing.
One of the strengths of games like Bioshock and the Metro series is that the writing was used to make the world. Having the character move through the worlds with only the sights and sounds is fine, but the writing helped to make the worlds feel lived in. This is one of the areas that Atomic Heart fails because the writing is just tedious. The main plot is fine, if a little dry, but P-3 is an uninteresting, unfunny character despite the best attempts. Adding to this is the issue that the majority of other characters are, well, robots. They can have some funny moments but it isn’t enough to save the day.
Atomic Heart is by no means bad, there’s plenty to have fun with here if nothing else. However, there isn’t anything here that is particularly new or anything that is offered that can’t be found somewhere else. Bioshock does the post-destroyed world better, as does the Metro series. The writing, implementation of powers and combat is all done better on a much older game. If you want to scratch that itch then this might be one to check out. However, I initially stated that you need to consider if the game is worth paying for when it can be found on Game Pass. Unfortunately, I would say no which may be a blow to potential PS5/PS4 players but there is better out there worth your money.
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