I forgot I downloaded Atomic Heart via Game Pass amid the controversy and minor issues during launch. Before Zelda TotK’s release, I wanted to play another PC game. The lack of needing to wait on another download made Atomic Heart the obvious choice. It can really be summed up as Bioshock Russian style.
Controversy Amidst the War in Ukraine
Developer Mundfish is a Russian company and the game appears filled with Russian propaganda. The possibility that Russia would benefit financially and politically from this game turned off plenty of players. No strong anti-war stance by the developers also sparked some hate.
The way I look at it, developers more than likely want nothing to do with the Ukraine war. I sort of understand them not taking a firm stance against it. Atomic Heart’s release would put a spot light on any comments they make. That would increase the chance them or any relatives could face consequences. It’s not strange for Russia to jail the family of people the speak out against them.
Soviet Union Propaganda
The game is beautiful with great art direction. A very pro Russian styling is immediately obvious. Before the war, it’s unlikely this would be much of a big deal, but it’s very apparent. The game is based in an alternate Soviet Union, so the whole “Russia thing” should really not be a surprise.
There’s plenty of “Russia is great” and “our scientists are geniuses” in Atomic Heart. The whole technology the game centers around was created by the Russians in game. It’s an alternate reality where the Soviet Union is the technology leader in the world.
The strange thing though, is the dialogue is very American and not even Russian accents. I’d prefer characters with authentic accents and use some Russian catch phrases instead of some of the cringe American ones we are all over.
What I think was lost in the whole propaganda discussion is how the game shows how all that Russian greatness is actually an illusion. The whole society basically falls apart at the hands of a single scientist.
The whole game also explores how the Russian leaders lie and use their people. In the end, I don’t think any of the Soviet leaders come out looking good in the game. That’s why I think the whole propaganda issue is overblow.
Atomic Heart’s Story
Atomic Heart’s game world is very much alternate reality Russia with floating cities and lot’s of robots. The entire game centers around those robots and the main resource in the game, Nueropolymer. It’s the technology that changed the world. It’s also a short explanation for how all the super advanced tech exists.
There’s crazy tech that powers the robots everywhere and floating islands in the air. What could possibly go wrong? No secret that those robots turn into murder bots. Their original plan was to release Kollectiv 2.0 where everyone can control the robots with their minds.
Of course that whole plan goes wrong when someone turns all the those robots against almost every human. Instead, my player character, P-3, has to try to find ways to fix the mess. He’s able to gain an advantage over the killer robots with help of his polymer glove, Charles. It houses an AI that adds to story beats, add gameplay mechanics and drops hints.
The industrial robots meant for cutting and welding are scary enough, but none are more creepy than the bald headed, full mustached, humanoid robots. Their faces are just weird and I don’t remember what their “normal” function was. If there were a pedophile robot, they would be it by the looks of them.
There’s also a weird robo-eroticism surrounding the game. From the overly sexualized ballet robots, to the upgrade machine’s begging submissive dialogue. It’s a bit cringe and seems targeted at incels. That parts pretty obvious when a lot of the Atomic Heart “reviews” on youtube seem to center around those female-like robots.
Overall, the story was decent, but not really the strength of the game. Luckily, the gameplay complimented the great visuals well.
Atomic Heart Looks Great, but How’s the Gameplay?
I was happy to find the gameplay is good. Playing with the Nueropolymer power glove’s abilities is a definite plus. The most standout ability is the looting mechanic. That glove can pull objects toward it like the force, but holding that button allows looting any drawers it’s pointed at.
I loved being able to basically vacuum up resources hidden in the room like a shopvac is attached to my characters hand. It reminds a lot of a higher tech version of Luigi’s Mansion ghost vacuum.
There are a few abilities to unlock with the glove, but I stuck with shock, freeze and shield. Shocking robots is an obvious plus, but freezing also helped slow the fast ones down. Shield was obviously important to deflect projectiles and melee attacks.
Upgrade Those Energy Weapons
The looting mechanic helped ensure there were plenty of resources to upgrade with and I enjoyed maxing out my abilities. What I liked even more was upgrading my weapons. I tended to lean more toward the energy weapons since robots were everywhere. I did craft plenty of big guns, but the energy pistol was my go to for while.
It was the first gun I upgraded all the way and I loved it’s versatility. I could take long range energy shots or charge it up to release an EMP style blast around me. That was very useful for times the robots ganged up on me. The game did throw other enemies at me that encouraged upgrades to the Mad Max style melee weapons later on.
The need for resources to complete my desired upgrades incentivized my exploration of the test sites. Each offered a different challenge in finding the entrance and completing the tasks within. They are not all required to complete the game. My favorite of all the various challenges was playing with the giant magnets. It’s a great change to usual platforming puzzles.
Those test sites were fun and well worth the rewards of weapon upgrades plus plenty of resources to craft them. Another great way, I found, to gather resources is driving the cars through robots until they are broken. I’d then come back to collect their resources. It kept me from getting pinned down.
Beyond the various test facility puzzles, the game is packed with plenty of science based puzzles. Locks are a little more simplistic, but fun with it’s finger snaps and color sequence combinations. They were nice chill out moments between fighting robots.
Atomic Heart Inside and Outside
There is a sort of open world layout to the game, but the outdoor areas were mostly a pretty break between the lab facilities. Inside labs is where the best of the gameplay and story resides. Still I’m glad the outdoor areas exist.
Driving the cars between the various mission areas is great. It also prevents the frustration of the ever aware security apparatus that sends every robot in an area at you. Seriously, driving cars into robots is a ton of fun and good strategy.
The various boss fights are mixed between the outdoor and indoor areas. Each fight was unique and rewarded my previous exploration and resource gathering. I enjoyed how a few boss fights that are meant as a challenge, but my upgrades blew them apart fairly quickly. Nothing like overwhelming an enemy vulnerable to explosives with plenty of RPGs.
A Good Appetizer Until the Next Proper Bioshock Game
There’s definitely some Bioshock DNA in Atomic Heart. It’s a fantastic add to the Game Pass library. The story telling, level design and gameplay might not be as tight, but it’s a great effort by a studio I never heard of. I’m glad I spent the time to experience the game, but now it has me wanting to revisit the Bioshock games I never finished.