A game that could've launched Mundfish as an instant Triple A developer ends up showing too many of its weaknesses.
Atomic Heart shows off the promise in the developers' abilities, but gives room for improvement in future titles.
What lies behind the utopian dream of #AtomicHeart?
Witness the deadly consequences of innovation as Agent P-3 and take on a journey full of artificial intelligence on the brink of madness, unsightly mutants, and killer robots.
— Focus Entertainment (@Focus_entmt) February 20, 2023
With a few new additions to a beloved style, Atomic Heart takes very heavy inspiration from the likes of Bioshock Infinite. Not all games with similar combat systems have to necessarily be ripping off of each other, but Atomic Heart very obviously takes its core systems from Bioshock. The way they are translated to this game are very smooth though, and the ease of using both abilities and weapons in succession and at the same time is an improving on the days of old when games couldn't manage the transition quite so well. There are several different classes of enemies, and plenty of enemies within those types.
The enemies and enemy utility will make you play a few different ways based on what they can do and how they can stop you. From straight-on combat, to stealth, to horde-based group battles, there are plenty of combat challenges that will be thrown at you.
There are a few repeating puzzles through the game that are short and simple enough to just be a decent momentary change of pace. Some of the more fun puzzles come in the form of individual missions, such as the one where you have to guide the coolant spheres into the overheating furnaces, fighting duos of enemies between each coolant you successfully apply. Or moving a train car around the map by platforming around with dynamic platforms that have controls on them. The variety goes on and on in Atomic Heart from action, to stealth, to platforming, to puzzles.
Most first person games never show off this level of variety in their gameplay, but it is obvious Atomic Heart was made for love of the art of video games, and not as a completely heartless attempt to recreate a popular style that has faded out lately.
The part collecting and upgrade system is another facet of the gameplay that successfully builds a fun experience for the player, and allows the experience to be customized by the player themselves. The main upgrades are standard health bar and energy upgrades, but when it comes to ability types, that is where the game really evolves. After the mandatory selection of electricity, I chose to put my points into two different trees.
Firstly was the Polymeric Jet which can be combined with the elemental abilities to create powerful effects. At first this was only decent, but over time was the cause of lots of awesome combo attacks. Secondly, I invested into Mass Telekinesis the ability to stop my enemies in their tracks and dish out damage was an advantage that was very welcome as the enemies became more difficult. Without breaking the game, it felt like it helped to even the playing field when I was against multiple enemies at a time.
Overall, there is very little wasted in the way of time or mechanics as you venture through the well-designed enclosed areas and beautiful open spaces. Yes, its a formula already known and beloved, but the adaptations made for this game really do feel fresh and enjoyable.
Buckle up, cause we're about to take a ride. This environmental storytelling starts immediately with the opening scenes in which you're only looking and walking around. There are memorials to look at, people to listen to, and robots showing off what they are made for. In fact, environmental storytelling is just about the only storytelling you're be yearning for after only a little time in the game. Names are introduced without faces to attribute them to for a bit, and the main character seems to like or dislike those characters based off of preexisting history, which gives the player no reason to really feel anything about those characters since they don't feel the same history.
It isn't exactly easy to relate either, since the main character is voice acted by one of the interns at the last minute (or at least that's what is seems like.) Seriously, the environmental storytelling is very well done from creating setting and atmosphere without dragging on too long on one thing. If anything they could've dragged on longer with how interesting the world is.
The protagonist of the game does actually have some stake in the story that gets uncovered with time, rather than just being a stagnant soldier man like so many FPS campaigns use. By the time characters start to actually mean anything to the player though, the game is just about over. There is something in there that shows promise in Mundfish's ability to create a cohesive and entertaining plot, but it takes far to long in this game, and thus feels like a drag to complete any of the fun gameplay because it all feels pointless for quite a while.
The rollercoaster ride is going right back up folks, so I hope you're still strapped in. Atomic Heart is one of the best designed, and polished games to release ever. That's right, of all time. We live in a world where Triple A studios get away with horrible graphical bugs and clipping because they are seemingly pushing the limits on next-generation graphics. Are they really innovating though, if the desired outcome doesn't work? Atomic Heart suffered absolutely none of these issues on my playthrough, and despite being severely disappointed with the slow-moving progress of the game, I couldn't deny how fantastic all the different environments, enemies, and abilities looked.
There was no clipping, no lighting effect bugs, I mean we shouldn't be praising simply doing your job correctly, but when nobody else is doing it, it speaks volumes when a studio goes through every possible process to ensure their game is 100% ready for release.
Let's be honest with ourselves, motion blur is the dumbest thing in video games. It makes your screen turn into a bunch of garbage every time you aim at a new target. Mundfish, in all their wisdom, puts an option for the player to turn off motion blur before the first cutscene even begins. Thank you Mundfish. No point in ruining your beautifully crafted game for a horrible interpretation of “realism”.
It's not just about how good the graphical technology is either. It takes a talented artistic team to mix an old Soviet environment and add advanced circuit technology into it without taking away from the fact that it takes place seventy years ago. Atomic Heart makes you fully aware then entire time that it takes place just after World War II, while still pushing the originally designed technology to the forefront. That's all in the design from characters, to history, to landscape, and every piece of design feels very intentional.
The soundtrack for Atomic Heart is… freaking awesome. Head banging, air punching, foot stomping awesomeness from start to end. Most of the really good stuff is used on cutscenes and big action sequences, but its well worth the wait. The backing tracks for a majority of the game are very forgettable, that's for certain, but coming across a radio playing futuristic music designed by a mathematical algorithm or making an open field your stomping grounds while you shoot down a boss is really what its all about. The music helps set the tone of the game with modern rock overtaking the feint hints of mid 20th century Russian music.
The electronic music takes centerfold when it comes to background tracks, and though it isn't packed with super memorable tracks, the gentle electronic music that plays while you walk the halls of bunkers sets the tone for a world overtaken by science that's lost too much of its original culture. The soundtrack isn't just one that helps push the game forward, its one that is enjoyable to listen to all on its own, any time of day. All in all, plenty of great tracks.
Atomic Heart – 8/10
I did not start off the first few hours thinking that I would score this game so high. I was looking forward to this game, and then thought I was being let down just a few hours in. With annoying voice acting, no goals to reach, and tutorials into the middle hours of the game, I really thought my most anticipated FPS of the year was going to drop the ball. For many people, they may never experience the best parts of this game; the parts that surpass many Triple A games because of pacing issues. Once that tough exterior is finally broken through though, it really is a glorious experience that provides some really powerful and memorable moments.
For a studio's first game, Atomic Heart shows way more than promise, it shows the ability to execute. On the next run, a better spread over the entire length of the game would do wonders for creating to next hit title or even series to go multiplatform across the globe.