Atomic Heart is a smart shooter full of surprises
Atomic Heart wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s a graphical first-person shooter with superpower abilities and owes a lot to genre classics Bioshock and Half-Life. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot of his own unique ideas and surprises hidden in that same round as well, and after playing a considerable amount of early Mundfish, I found there were plenty reasons to be excited.
Atomic Heart immerses you in familiar territory from the start, albeit in a very unfamiliar world. Its opening is inspired by Bioshock Infinite’s masterful introduction to Columbia as you take a leisurely journey through a peaceful alternate-history Soviet town. Thanks to the big brains of the fictional establishment 3826, the robots have been integrated into society and help relieve the public of daily stress and work. The calm is short-lived, however, as – inevitably – the AI becomes less friendly and the game begins in earnest. From there, I jumped to several different spots in Atomic Heart to get a good idea of what it has to offer, constantly being surprised at what was to come next. It’s not the simple hall shooter some may envision, nor a sprawling open world full of nooks and crannies to explore, or a puzzle-filled puzzler. It’s all of these things and more. Atomic Heart’s scope is impressive and seems to unfold and build as you progress through its many distinct and vast sci-fi complexes over its 20+ hour campaign.
Structurally, Atomic Heart’s closest analogue would probably be Halo Infinite – an open world littered with crowds of enemies and linear story dungeons to draw from. These dungeons are where the majority of the main missions are and are all about finding out more about the facility, the people behind it, and what exactly happened there. You fight through sections patrolled by rogue AI units before facing a difficult boss. Atomic Heart isn’t reinventing the wheel in this regard, but definitely adds its own flair to the mix.
One of the first things that struck me about Atomic Heart was its utterly distinctive art style. It’s a gorgeous game filled with lush forests, eye-catching architecture, and all sorts of crazy machines. It’s visibly expansive, endlessly creative, and frankly hard to take in all at the same time as you drive, zipline, swim, and run from killer robots. These robots are each a visual delight to grab, but you rarely get to do so as razor blades, electrical pulses, and flying kicks are hurled at you with frightening regularity. They each emphasize the “smarts” of the AI, never shy away from a battle or afraid to show off their varied arsenals. Of course, there are larger scale enemies and plenty of boss fights, both in the linear story sections and in the open world arenas. They often offer equal parts challenge and spectacle as they unleash one devastating attack after another while you nibble away at their monstrous health bars.
Atomic Heart isn’t afraid to switch fights either, frequently switching between frantic firefights against rushing hordes and slower, more deliberate melee duels. It’s an exciting way to keep you on your toes and a testament to the work Mundfish has done to maintain balance. It’s a shooter first and foremost, and has an impressive collection of guns to prove it. These range from relentlessly chattering AK-47s to heavy RPGs. Then there’s the more experimental end of the spectrum, reserved for firearms that detonate powerbombs at something that can only be described as a tall metal pole that fires whirling blades that slice through enemies before blasting away. back in your hand. Overall, the shooting feels competent if not spectacular, falling somewhere between the rustic feel of Fallout and the snappier gunplay of Call of Duty.
Speaking of your hand, an essential part of the Atomic Heart kit is the gauntlet – sci-fi gear that grants elemental powers. It’s great fun to play with and add layers to combat as you learn to start combining weapons and abilities. Using the Electrified Shok to stop mechanical enemies in their tracks before following up with a flurry of bullets is a surefire way to cause a deadly circuit malfunction. Likewise, some of the telekinesis attacks are glorious to wield as you lift a group of enemies into the air before knocking them back to the ground with a violent thump. It’s a joy to play with and, even more, fun to experiment with. Freezing an enemy before shattering their fragile metal shell with a massive ax is always a good time.
Atomic Heart Screens [2022 Update]
A stellar example of melee combat can be found in one of Atomic Heart’s early missions. You are thrust into the depths as you are taught to survive the dark hallways of the facility’s many underground laboratories. Atomic Heart isn’t an easy game – it was designed as a hardcore shooting experience first and foremost, and while difficulty options are available, it doesn’t take much punching or kicking from a mustachioed android to bring you down. Dodging and knowing when to attack requires precise timing and reading your enemy’s movements. Luckily, more powerful charged attacks are signaled by a glowing red ring moments before impact, which signals when you should dodge. Miss it, though, and you’ll be on the floor looking for a health kit.
This kind of patient back-and-forth melee combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played nearly every action game over the past decade, but it’s a surprise to see it appear in a game nonetheless. first person shooter. It’s far less forgiving or fast-paced than something like Dying Light or Far Cry, instead making every heavy swing meaningful rather than relying on a flurry of blows to get out of a sticky situation. It’s almost survival horror in the wild, with moments from the aforementioned first tier leaning into it. Its dark hallways are lit only by the occasional flicker of light and the oppressive silence broken by the sound of breaking glass, as bloodthirsty robots practice what to do with your skull. As I hesitantly progressed, I couldn’t help but recall the first time I entered Rapture or some of Half-Life 2’s scariest moments.
Another Valve game, Atomic Heart, seems to take inspiration from Portal, not from any of its robot designs, but from the startling revelation that puzzles play such a huge role. Test sites are puzzle boxes lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to complete. They’re basically abandoned lab facilities, requiring you to put your combat skills through a brain exam. For example, use your glove’s Shok ability to magnetize nodes, which in turn move platforms to help you on your way. The puzzles I tried weren’t the most difficult, but still provide a welcome change of pace and come with the added bonus of granting valuable upgrades at the end.
Weapons and abilities can be modified and upgraded throughout, an essential process for eliminating the many threats. The robots are controlled by a central AI always listening to you. Ways to combat his glare are to avoid his cameras, either by disabling them or by having the gauntlet perform its best gravity gun impression to throw objects as a distraction. Make one wrong move and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by enemies, as the facility sends them straight from the production line to attack the higher the alert level. It really evokes the feeling of bumping into an intelligent and aggressive global ecosystem that acts as a unit, rather than occasional pockets of activity.
The hours I spent with Atomic Heart made me want to know more. It’s a captivating world to get lost in, with dynamic combat and inspired art and enemy design. I have some doubts as to whether the main story will deliver a tale worthy of such a stellar location, and I’ve seen authoritative writing and performances that leave a bit to be desired. Then there’s the nauseating forward roll animation that made my stomach turn on more than one occasion. I can’t say that those gripes were ever enough to completely eliminate all the exciting things I found myself engaging with along the way. Time will tell if Atomic Heart lives up to its lofty aspirations, but it certainly makes a very strong first impression.
Simon Cardy thinks we should stop trying to build robots that might turn against us. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.