Atomic Heart review

Atomic Heart is the debut game from Mundfish, and it’s an impressive mash up of a few genres which is bursting with ideas including first-person shooting, stealth and survival-horror.

Atomic Heart is an interesting game, it has a gorgeous exterior and wears it’s inspiration of BioShock on it’s sleeve for all to see. You play as agent P3 and his AI glove in a Russian science complex set in an alternate reality. In this reality Russia has grown very powerful, plus people here are dealing with a robot slash zombie uprising, and it’s all down to you to fix it. Early on in the game you work your way through Facility 3826 and Atomic Heart takes on the form of survival horror, giving off BioShock and Half Life vibes. Before too long Atomic Heart hops around morphing from survival horror, to action first-person shooting, then to puzzling.

While this genre hopping works most of the time, when it doesn’t work its very jarring, and takes you out of your immersion pretty quickly. For example, combat is smooth, weapons have a good feel to them, and moving your character around the playspace feels nice and fluid. Getting in there up close and personal, dogding and moving, maybe a shotgun to the face and dodging out of lethal range all feels great. Much of the combat feels good, however there are various issues. Combat encounters feel too long, with enemies feeling like bullet sponges. Often you can get overwhelmed by enemies, and when they can take too many bullets, than they becomes annoying rather than satisfying. The sheer amount of enemies can get a bit too much, given the amount of resources you have.

The power glove is an interesting concept, although it feels like Atomic Heart doesn’t really flex its muscles. The amount of glove powers is fairly limited. For example, Shok acts as a jolt of electricity. This can be upgraded to a telekinesis lift ability, which is useful, but not very innovative. Cryo sounds better than it actually is, and Mass Telekinesis is always impressive. You can combine these powers, and they don’t really interact intiuatively with the environment.

The action is there, but there are also stealth elements too. Enemies appear to be honed in on your presence, so while you can approach situations in stealthy manner, it’s not the easiest way to make progress. You will likely make more progress by simply shooting your way through situations, but as mentioned before while that can work in some situations, it can become a bit of a slog due to the reasons mentioned previously. The environment this all takes part in is beautiful and well put together, grand soviet landscapes like science labs, museums, ballet theatres. The set dressing for the game is great to see, it’s a shame the gameplay that takes place here doesn’t live up to it.

One issue that presents itself early on is the constant chatter from P-3. This issue isn’t isolated to Atomic Heart, it was present in Horizon Foribbden West and to a certain extent God Of War Ragnorok. When we first start out in Atomic Heart much of it’s focus is on survival horror, so constant chatting throughout gets on your nerves. Rather than being funny or endearing, the chatter grates and doesn’t add to the experience in a positive way. After hearing P-3 exclaim “Crispy critters” for the 4th time in the opening hours, I just wanted to shout “shut up” at the screen. One of the potential great features of the game, it’s environments and atmosphere, are spoiled by chatter.

After you trudge through the opening of the game and get out of the research station, you’ll be able to explore Facility 3826. This is an open-world formula where you can decide to check out the next chapter in the story, or you can go hunting for materials and stock up on items from the test sites around the map. Again, the open-world itself is well crafted. You can explore the research sites, a dense forest and other huge structures. While it looks nice, it doesn’t really serve a purpose. The story beats are self contained, mainly underground, and the open world is just kind of there. You can explore but often you’ll hit a blocker and you’ll have to turn back from where you came, given you the illusion of this wide-open space, but in reality it’s empty and lifeless.

Atomic Heart feels like it’s started a whole bunch of ideas, but many of them feel unfinished, or appear to have been abandoned half way through. Working your way through this survival-horror, action-FPS, open world with a hint of puzzles, feels like it would serve it’s audience much better if it focused on one or two ideas, rather than four or five.

While the game feels messy in places, it does look great. Visually this is on par with AAA releases, plus the graphic design and overall aesthetic of the game looks great. I played the game on the Xbox Series X, and it ran very smooth, and I didn’t have any issues with bugs or crashes at all. The audio work is fantastic also, with astomspheric music and tension build sound effects. I did have the occasional issue with NPCs talking over one another, but that was a minor issue in an otherwise well executed audio design for the game.

Overall, Atomic Heart is a very mixed up game. There are decent moments, the environments are gorgeous, but the overly complicated game mechanics, mised in with the confusing blend of genres makes this one hard to recommend. Given it’s on Game Pass, then I’d recommend giving it a try, however, I wouldn’t go out and spend money on this title.

Developer: Mundfish
Publisher: Focus Entertainment and 4Divinity
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Cloud Gaming
Release Date: 21st February 2023