It seems we can’t go a week without the release of a controversial video game, as always this review will focus purely on the merits of the game itself. BioShock is one of my favourite games of all tine and this spiritual successor has had my attention for years, let’s see if Mundfish can stick the landing. And yes, there will be comparisons to BioShock, sorry not sorry.
Atomic Heart is set in an alternate timeline of post World War II. A Soviet scientist has developed a liquidised form of energy called Polymer. While this rapidly advanced technology, World War II raged on and in a final act of desperation, the Nazi’s unleashed a global pandemic that killed millions around the world. Owning the market on Polymer, the Soviet Union created an A.I called ‘Kollektiv 1.0’, that began construction on robots designed to ease manual labour a dying human race could no longer do and it was a huge success, building cities and giant factories at rapid pace.
Cut to the beginning of the story and you play as Major Sergey Nechayev (also known as P-3). You arrive at the flagship city in the sky and are briefed on your mission. Your mission is to travel to Facility 3826 and oversee the development of Kollektiv 2.0. When you arrive on scene, you find the facility’s robots have turned hostile and killed the human workforce. Your superiors point you towards Viktor Petrov as the perpetrator and task you with capturing him.
Atomic Heart starts off on the right foot, it wears its BioShock influence proudly and the opening has a strong resemblance to the idyllic opening of BioShock: Infinite. Of course everything descends into hell and it starts off almost like a Wolfenstein game married with the dystopia of BioShock. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take Atomic Heart long to reveal all its cards and lose steam. The majority of the story is at a plodding pace and overwritten. You could argue BioShock was overwritten (especially Infinite) but it managed to keep the player interested, Atomic Heart doesn’t. The finale presents two options, one option leading to a relatively satisfying end and the other goes in a really stupid direction. I can see what the writers were trying to do, it’s just daft. The game suffers with a completely unlikeable cast, seriously not a single character is worth investing in.
If you’ve played BioShock, you’ve played this. It’s almost identical. You start off with a melee weapons and slowly build an arsenal of generic weapons you can modify. The ‘BioShock’ element of the game is the powers system, much like Plasmids. There’s a little less fun to be had, less variety I should say, but they’re relatively useful. Weapons all handle serviceably and modifications change up things and give you reason to search every nook and cranny for components.
There’s a pretty commendable range of enemies to fight and they all offer up a decent challenge. Much like BioShock, everything works fine, if slightly clunkily. Never felt too challenged, never felt too exhilarated, but never felt bored. The game boasts a bunch of puzzles and they’re mostly passable, but a few are quite interesting. I was surprised at how much the game opens up later on, there’s a lot to explore. As I mentioned, upgrading your weapons and powers is a big part of the game. It’s all done simply, but the upgrade machine is a frustrating mechanic. It’s an A.I that was once a sexbot and the dialogue is so cringe inducing and explicit to the point of annoyance. Overall, Atomic Heart never excels but it never fails.
On a visual front, Atomic Heart is great. The art department have done an incredible job utilising BioShock and Wolfenstein as inspirations and adding their own personality to it. It’s backed by a excellent use of Unreal Engine 4 and Atomic Heart is one of the very few modern PC releases that runs extremely well. Voicework for the cast was okay, nobody stuck out and it felt like a budget production in that regard, it could be an issue with remote recordings, not sure, but hey, it did the job. Mick Gordon’s score is….well, it’s Mick Gordon. You know what you’re getting and you get it. Sound design is a little mixed, machines sound great and weapons sound good, but the overall mix is a little off. Strangely, as a game that showcased its ray tracing capabilities, the game launched with no ray tracing support at all.
So, this is a tricky one. Atomic Heart doesn’t do anything wrong. The story is solid, sure it meanders but it’s fine. The combat and puzzles do their job, the upgrade vendor is horrific, it looks awesome and sounds great, but there’s something missing. It’s not heart, because the devs have really put their all into this. I think the marketing has oversold this title a little and it hurts the game. This is a AA game, like Dying Light. That’s not a criticism and I think the developers have done a great job with their debut title. As a package, Atomic Heart is worth a playthrough, but I don’t think its destined to be remembered as anything more than a solid game, and given the current state of the industry, that’s not a bad thing.
Atomic Heart was reviewed via PC Game Pass subscription owned by the reviewer.
Publisher: Focus Entertainment / 4Divinity Developer: Mundfish Release Date: 21st February 2023 Reviewed On: PC