When the initial trailers for Atomic Heart dropped, my perception of the game was somewhat different from the final product. Surprisingly, it didn’t turn out to be overtly horror-themed or highly fixated on rewriting history. Instead, it plays more along the lines of a Bioshock or Fallout title, sprinkled in with some serious, yet Borderlands-esque writing and zany weirdness. However, Atomic Heart may have been a little too overhyped.
Taking Out the Metallic Trash
While the game takes heavy inspiration from the Bioshock and Fallout playbook, it doesn’t offer anything particularly impressive besides it’s oddball presentation. Yes, Agent P-3 can pull off some slick skills like freezing targets for an easy-peasy axe kill, or levitating enemies with one hand to mercilessly shotgun them with the other. Albeit, it looks like jank city at times and the combat is lacking the flexibility and big-time impact of other AAA titles.
The bosses can be pretty fierce on the higher difficulties, but a few foes seem to lose their marbles at the sight of Agent P-3 running in a circle. The faster-paced ones that can actually compute a 360° turn give players a very small margin for error however, emitting an orange glow for a brief moment before they unleash their strongest strikes. In general, the large ground-based AOE attacks and long-ranged assaults do require some dexterous fleet-footedness, though I just wish the challenge was more consistent across the board.
One thing that helps personalise combat is the upgrade system. Players can invest in the usual gun enhancements for increased capacity, rate of fire and damage (to various enemy types), as well as handy perks like being able to heal with one hand, converting melee hits into energy (for electrical weapons), and granting Agent P-3 a roll ability so he won’t take fall damage—because it’ll happen an ungodly amount of times. Believe me. A handful of games in this genre make upgrades seem trivial, but Atomic Heart has found a sweet spot for making them feel largely beneficial.
Retro-Futurism in Action
During the game, players will discover a selection of decent puzzles and encounters that Agent P-3 and his AI partner, Char-les will have to face within the four main facilities/dungeons. Each withholds their own distinct visual style and features that are worth checking out. While they aren’t the most memorable stretches of gameplay you’ve ever experienced, they’re still compelling enough to trek through over the game’s 20-25 hour main story length.
The puzzles are mostly fun, with some solid setups for players to knock down, especially the rhythm and coloured, locked-door minigames… at first. They’re all fine and dandy early on, but by the 10-hour mark, I wanted to spam Alt+F4 like nothing else. Conversely, Agent P-3 can vacuum up loot with his fancy polymer glove to alleviate the resource-gathering process.
In between the facility crawling, players will move or drive around large areas where they can find hidden bases for upgrades and discover extra loot under robotic supervision. Active cameras and patrol bots lurk around the map, hoping to spot you and raise the alarm level so they can summon a battalion of metal troops to dramatically whomp Agent P-3. This does make the outside sections feel tense, but it can be quite tricky to keep track of all the robots in the surrounding area, often resulting in a mad dash toward the next objective marker. That all being said, it does feel a little undercooked overall.
A Surreal, Bizarre and Intriguing Presentation
The story is a saving grace; opting for a mix of Bioshock-themed shenanigans and serious scenarios, as it’s main themes of morality and existentialism build up to a fairly satisfying crescendo towards the end—and off-the-wall absurdity. Atomic Heart also contains some cheeky banter between it’s two leads, even though it does take some time to warm up to Agent P-3’s rather ‘colourful’ language… Speaking of colourful, the collection of Slavic-themed tunes from Tchaikovsky to Bitamina, along with Mick Gordon’s hardcore, banging metal and trance tunes create a strange, yet surprisingly satisfying soundscape.
Having said that, I made a big mistake in reviewing Atomic Heart on the “optimised” PS4 version—according to the devs—because you’ll all too quickly realise that the cutscenes and in-game visuals could’ve used some significant polishing. The frame rate is all over the place and the graphics on Sony’s last-gen console are severely lacking in texture and fidelity. I’m well aware that this is Mundfish’s first game, however the standard of quality for these types of games is tremendously high nowadays—maybe try another platform if you’re keen for this one.
Atomic Heart has been steadily building up steam for the longest time now, but the final product hasn’t quite matched up to the hype. Agent P-3 can choose from an array of weapons and skills which can shield-burst, shock, freeze, burn or levitate enemies, although it doesn’t nail the impact, nor polish of similar AAA titles. Moving through the four main facilities of puzzles and encounters can definitely be fun, but the story, characters, music and presentation are where this game shines in it’s own eccentric way.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PlayStation 4
It’s been 5 years in the making for Atomic Heart. While the game stumbles at points, the overall package has turned out to be a sufficient take on the Bioshock and Fallout formula. The story ramps up well, the characters are wacky, yet somber and the music/presentation gives Atomic Heart it’s own unique identity. If you’re looking for something a little ‘out there’, Atomic Heart might just fill that void.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Focus Entertainment. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.