Atomic Heart (Impressions)

Stories of utopias collapsing have become a popular genre in fiction and gaming with the Bioshock series being one of the most notable examples. Developer Mundfish appears to have been inspired very much by that series with their game Atomic Heart which to all intents and purposes comes across as a “Russian Bioshock” and does an impressive job of achieving that too. Set in an alternate past where Russia both triumphed in World War II and became a robotics driven superpower, you play the role of Agent P-3 who has been called in to report to his superiors just as society’s robots turn on their creators. P-3’s ordered to apprehend those responsible but in doing so begins to learn the truth of the matter.

The game plays out like a first-person shooter/brawler with adventure elements tasking the player to complete objectives and advance the story. In a lot of ways, it does feel like Bioshock because of this. You have the scene setting opening that sets up your character’s situation and holds your hand as the game leads you to the chaos about to unfold. Helping you on your travels is an AI driven glove that boost your abilities and provides additional narrative as you play. Resource collection comes into play for upgrades and consumables, but a limited inventory space means you have to be selective in what you bring to a fight. Including a melee weapon seems like a necessity just to allow opportunities to conserve ammunition but they do take up a lot of inventory space too.

During combat it can be hard sometimes to get a good feel for the weapons at your disposal. Of those I’ve been using so far, the shotgun feels the most familiar (you aim and stuff blows apart) but melee can be hard to judge. I think it might be that it just doesn’t feel like you get enough feedback from melee attacks (apart from cosmetic damage) to allow you to determine timings or impact. When you are out of ammo you really want it to feel more precise. With enemies able to knock you down when you fail to dodge you can quickly be left feeling at a disadvantage as your health starts to drop in large chunks.

Visually Atomic Heart really sells the early Soviet design with some excellent environments and robot design. The opening section sets the tone with both the architecture you see and the robots which you’ll clearly face off against soon – it’s definitely borrowing from the Bioshock/Half-Life playbook but it works. During the game I’ve seen the occasional moments of stutter in the framerate but nothing that’s impacted progression. Audio works well and the voice acting isn’t bad, but I do wish it leaned further into this Soviet setting – many of the accents used felt out of place. Cheesy fake Russian accents might have actually worked here.

I’m only a few hours into the game and it’s not bad at all. From a presentation standpoint I’m impressed with what’s been achieved in the world building and design and there’s enough in the game that if you like what you see in the first half hour you are probably going to stick with it for the long term. There’s room for improvement for sure but even if it stays as-is Atomic Heart will appeal to enough players wanting to play a game that feels inspired by similar games from the past.

Atomic Heart is out now on PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.

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