Atomic Heart Review: Atomically ambitious but average
Screenshot of Pro Game Guides
Atomic Heart wears his Bioshock influence on his Russian uniform, combining alternating times with intriguing designs. Unfortunately, developer Mundfish has bitten off more than he can program, and Atomic Heart feels shallow compared to Bioshock’s groundbreaking entry into gaming. A lot of good ideas have found their way into Atomic Heart, but the game still needs to be polished and see through many of its mechanics.
Simply put, Atomic Heart is too ambitious to be good. While there are many good ideas and attempts at sound mechanics, most don’t feel heady or immature. This is most evident when you step out of the first facility and into the open world. The linear levels feel tight and fluid, filled with detail that the open world lacks. There’s almost no point in exploring the map, and a lack of fast travel makes it take forever to get anywhere. In addition, the map does not allow you to place markers, shows very little information and sometimes makes it impossible to see your location.
This also follows from the game mechanics. Combat is okay with some fun tools and weapons, but bullet-sponge enemies give even ordinary foes a hard time. The UI also makes switching between weapons difficult and tedious. Many enemies have big attacks or strong ones that knock you down. This is problematic because the dodge doesn’t feel good and it makes you stand still for a second after using it. And while many of your opponents’ attacks have weight, your attacks feel weightless in comparison.
Another semi-implemented mechanic is climbing, since you can’t just let go without throwing yourself in a direction. Vehicles are scattered around the map, but they’re so weak and the roads are so congested that using them is pointless. Stealth is also another pointless feature because robots are so perceptive. Stealth kills are lengthy and require quick timing, or you’ll have to drop the enemy and engage them head-on. Overall, Atomic Heart has far too many ideas and mechanics to give everyone the attention they deserve.
Related: How to power the elevator in Atomic Heart – Passive Safety Relay Puzzle
Another aspect of Atomic Heart’s weakness is its story and narrative. The world is presented as an ideal utopia, full of helpful robots that make life easy. But we quickly see that a single person can hack into this system and turn the robots into murder bots, effectively killing thousands of people in a matter of seconds. To make matters worse, most of the damage is done by civilian robots rather than actual combat machines. This leads the protagonist, Agent P-3, on a quest to fix things for his father figure, a scientist, with the help of his scientific conversation glove, Charles.
Atomic Heart’s ridiculousness could have been a satirical statement or delivered a humorous irony, but instead it feels like a chore. It doesn’t help that your character acts like a kid with a kid’s mental acuity, firing off quips for a second and then commenting on how awful all of death is. The Gauntlet is no better as it constantly delivers information at the most inconvenient time, making it difficult to understand and keep up with what is being said.
As for the story itself, it teeters in the absurd before plunging headlong into nonsense, especially at its endings. With numerous twists and plot holes, I couldn’t care less about P-3, Charles, or all of humanity. This alternate timeline Russian utopia could have explored its theme in a similar way to the Bioshock series, a huge inspiration for the game by showing the dystopian side of things. Instead, we get a boring, action-packed slog that tries to present itself as thought-provoking, humorous, and exciting.
Related: Atomic Heart – Polygon Proving Grounds 2 walkthrough
Atomic Heart’s pace is everywhere. It’s packed with extremely long and slow sequences, like the tediously long intro and the elevator rides that take ages. Many of the puzzles in the game were unnecessarily long and lacked any real challenge to justify their length other than the mechanics themselves being slow.
That wouldn’t be bad in and of itself, but Atomic Heart lacks any real content aside from the main story and the various polygon proving grounds scattered around the map. The side content is to search an empty map for loot to level up and craft. So I was pushed to continue this hot and cold adventure through Atomic Heart. This renders the open world obsolete as the game could have simply thrown you into a series of linear levels for a more impactful experience.
The Testing Grounds could almost be seen as Atomic Heart’s salvation – but the mechanics prevent these challenges from being fun. Testing Grounds often had fun puzzles to solve; A single mistake could have you starting over, especially if you didn’t save. I encountered bugs that caused me to get stuck in a platform, bounce, P-3 refusing to grab climbable objects, and more as I pushed through the game.
The strongest aspect of Atomic Heart, and probably the reason most players are interested, is Atomic Heart’s design. It features a stunning world and some of the most creative designs of its robots. Bosses like the twins or Hedgie are fantastically designed, as are many of the more common robots you encounter. Playing through the game, I enjoyed discovering new fighting machines or some of the more unique weapons and gauntlet abilities. Atomic Heart’s hostile design borders on innovation and terror, creating a unique atmosphere.
Atomic Heart’s open world is empty, but not devoid of wonder. Bizarre structures dot the skyline and horizon, and crazy contraptions can be seen everywhere. This is contrasted with the normal sights of everyday life: farm animals roaming the streets, real cars and normal houses. This combination of the quirky and the mundane makes the world of Atomic Heart stand out visually, although it’s a shame it couldn’t translate to other aspects.
Verdict – Atomic Heart is a clunky but visually stunning FPS that doesn’t live up to the hype
Although Atomic Heart is an ambitious project by the first developer Mundfish, it ultimately doesn’t live up to the hype. I kept asking myself why I play this game. Sometimes I found fun only to hit another segment and get frustrated. Atomic Heart shoots itself in the foot by taking on too much. Ditching the unnecessary open world, tweaking some mechanics, and improving the narrator would greatly improve Atomic Heart and make its delightful designs tangible.
For more information on Atomic Heart, check out the Atomic Heart – Polygon Testing Grounds 1 Walkthroughs and Atomic Heart Patch Notes in the Pro Game Guides.
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