Atomic Heart Review

Atomic Heart Header P-3

Atomic Heart gives quite the first impression. Major Sergei Nechaev makes his way through a highly advanced, floating city shortly before the release of Kollektiv 2.0, the second major version of the network that connects and controls all the not at all unsettling robots that help build and maintain the place. It’s a lengthy sequence that looks gorgeous and idyllic, at least until Kollektiv 2.0 actually launches and all the robots immediately start slaughtering everyone, to the inexplicable surprise of literally everyone who hasn’t ever so much as glanced at a science fiction novel.

That’s right, it’s robopocalypse time and they are really not here to play around. After a few more cutscenes that will delight and make you swear in shock in equal measure, you’ll find yourself inside a facility that’s just a little bit dangerous. First there’s the humanoid robots – think Sonny from I, Robot – completely ignoring self-preservation and sprinting directly at you, where they’ll do a showy flip kick to knock you off your feet. Also, some of them can open their face to fire lasers at you. Shotgun one of these and it’ll be knocked back for a second or two from the impact before resuming its sprint at you, as unfazed by the new hole in its chest as it is by the slashes from your melee weapon.

These things would be terrifying in their own right, but they’re joined by quirky smaller robots and are then surpassed by a gaggle of other, less humanoid bots, like the gigantic drill worm that is turning the building into swiss cheese or the one that turns into a ball to crush things. These giant robot bosses are fantastic and pretty challenging if you’re not careful with resources, though they can be a little hard to keep track of with them zooming all around and bouncing about at high speeds as they try to flatten you into a paste. There’s a decent variety to the regular bots, but after a few hours of the open world you start to wish for some more, as you have fought them so many times.

Atomic Heart Robot open face

Speaking of the open world, here it’s… quite strange. It’s pretty large in that it takes a long time to traverse, with the only ways to get around being on foot and in specific cars that you can find dotted about. However there are robots everywhere, so your vehicle is likely to explode as you drive through them, leaving you back on foot until you find another. These robots are especially persistent as well and they even have security cameras. If a camera sees you it’ll summon all nearby robots to attack and keep summoning reinforcements that arrive in big crates.

You can try to avoid or shoot them, but as soon as you dismantle any robots in the open world, several little robots are sent along to repair it before things can calm down… for a while. The security cameras are very loud, constantly making a strange beep/knock sound whilst it’s active, which gets frustrating when you’re trying to loot a nearby building. This frustration applies to other bots too – kill bots outside a building before you go looting, you might come back outside to the same enemies wandering about again. While I like the idea to start with, it’s poorly explained how to escape this cycle of repair bots – you can take down the hawk, which disables them for around 20 minutes.

In addition to being time consuming to navigate while battling robots, there are no waypoints to point you in the right direction.. You can’t mark a place and have the marker guide you somewhere in game, which isn’t great when finding your way to some places can be awkward even on the map.

Atomic Heart open world

Thankfully you’re not unarmed. You start off with a fire axe and quickly gain a shotgun, but from there it gets weird. In a good way. You can craft weaponry once you find its blueprint in the world – if you don’t have it yet, the crafting menu will tell you where to go looking for it. Then you can craft it with resources also found throughout the world – the way you can hoover up resources with telekinesis is fantastic – and then you can upgrade it too. Some of these upgrades are simple, such as increasing damage or maneuverability, but they usually build up to a more significant upgrade, like the Electro, an energy pistol that unlocks the ability to stun and damage all nearby enemies, or the short sword that can detach its blade and spin it around using a magnetic field.

Then there’s upgrades for your glove, CHARLES, which has all kinds of abilities, from creating a shield to protect from damage, to zapping things with electric or ice, to telekinesis. You’ll need polymer – the miracle material that allowed the creation of all these robots and created this alternate history Soviet Union – to upgrade these abilities and doing so is extremely important if you want to survive for any amount of time.

Atomic Heart Electric Shock

The way the story is told is occasionally a little ham-fisted, such as your glove guiding Sergei through chains of logic as if he was a child taking a political science class – to be fair, Sergei keeps demanding for simplification and telling it to shut up, and his dialogue in general gets repetitive with the phrase “crispy critters”. It’s often a surprise where it ends up going, though there’s one or two things you might anticipate when they finally happen. Either way, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and has kept me interested the whole time.

Unsurprisingly for a game with a Soviet settings and hero, it’s also pretty pro-Russia and pro-Soviet throughout. Five years ago when the game was announced, few people would have batted an eye at this, but in the current context with a Russian developer and a lack of clarity around the company’s ties to Russian financial backing or their stance on the war in Ukraine, it adds an unsavoury undertone to the game’s creation and casts its themes in a different light. It’s disappointing that Mundfish, publisher Focus Entertainment, and Microsoft who secured the game for Xbox Game Pass have repeatedly skirted the issue, and this feels like a reasonable justification to avoid the game entirely. For his part in its creation, composer Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is fantastic, choosing to donate his payment to Ukraine.

Atomic Heart is incredibly distinctive, from the designs of its world to its enemies, its weaponry, its sense of humour even. It takes inspiration from other franchises – you’ll notice elements of Dying Light, BioShock, and Dishonored mixed in here – but what it’s created is a pretty unique take even on the things it takes from other places.

Summary
Atomic Heart is a bit of a surprise. It's not perfect and the open world is an unneeded dilution, but when you're in the story missions it's always entertaining, despite occasionally dragging things out a little. It can be a bit strange, but it's the self aware kind of strange that can be a bit charming. And the robots are pretty great.
Good
  • Inventive and interesting murderous robot designs
  • An intriguing blend of BioShock, Dying Light, Dishonored and more
  • Story is enjoyable throughout
Bad
  • Open world area detracts from the whole
  • Clumsy dialogue and characterisation
7

4 Comments

  1. It’s a shame, i was looking forward to this but i just can’t support something that is pro-russian atm.

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