Review | atomic heart – It can be safely said that the BioShock franchise has left a void for many action-adventure game fans. After all, BioShock Infinite dates back to 2013 and we’re 10 years in without a new sequel. It is not surprising that many players with this empty feeling have followed the development of Atomic Heart with keen eyes, which seems to present the same game / atmosphere. After a long period of development and many delays, Atomic Heart is finally out. Is it the new BioShock, or are we getting something completely different?
A utopian Soviet Union or a clean look..?
In Atomic Heart, we find ourselves in an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union is now the greatest superpower in the world. He invaded the Third Reich and from then on the Soviet Union’s focus was on science. This focus is justified, because great leaps in technology have been made since World War II. Robots live in harmony with humans, all thanks to one man: Dmitry Sechenov. This scientist has developed a special material called polymer, which is mainly used to make robots. To make the bots work better, a highly advanced neural network called Kollektiv has also been created, to which all bots are connected. Sechenov’s ambitions know no bounds and he is about to present the thought to the public. With this device – which is installed on the temple – people can control robots with their thoughts.
It’s 1955. The government is about to launch the Kollektiv 2.0 with THOUGHT and it’s celebrated in grand style with festival, parades and all the trimmings. This is also the beginning of the game, as we are introduced to this quintessential version of the Soviet Union. You play Major Sergey Nechaev – better known as P-3 – who has a mysterious past and suffers from amnesia. After the festivities, you will be called to go to Facility 3826 where the robots are being produced. Once he arrives, things go wrong. The mysterious hack causes all the robots to go on a rampage and slaughter the humans one by one. Then Sechenov sends you to investigate and then the adventure really begins. During the story you discover that utopia is just an appearance and dark secrets play in the background. So, Atomic Heart has a great story full of mystery, which will definitely make you play because you want to know more about this futuristic version of the Soviet Union and its secrets.
Solid game with minor improvements
Now that the mysterious hack has turned all robots against humanity, it is important that you can stand up for yourself. Major P-3 has a reasonable arsenal of weapons for you to use. One of your most used weapons is the special gauntlet called Char-Les. This is a kind of AI assistant and will keep you company during the adventure. Much of the story is also revealed in the dialogues between Char-Les and P-3. In addition to its intelligence, the gauntlet has a SHOK ability, which fires a short electric shock at enemies. It is also used to disable cameras for a short time and such so that you will not be seen. In addition, you can upgrade Char-Les with other skills. For example, with Frostbite, you can freeze enemies for a few seconds, and with universal telekinesis, you can allow hordes of enemies to float briefly in the air and then throw them to the ground. You can choose two skills at once and it all looks quite similar to plasmids from BioShock. In addition to weapon skills, you can also upgrade your maximum health as well as other skills to develop along the way. It all goes through a clear system and feels balanced, because no force feels too strong or too weak. So they are particularly useful tools that can help you for a short time.
In addition to the Char-Les’ abilities, you have melee weapons, energy weapons, and normal shooting irons at your disposal. You can craft these weapons one by one after you find a blueprint for them in the open world. Fortunately, many of these blueprints can be found at the beginning of the game, so you can quickly experiment. To be able to craft these weapons into a NORA machine you have to look for parts. You can craft bullets then, but you can also craft special cartridges that you can mount for elemental damage – fire, ice, electricity – and other useful tools. You generate energy for your energy weapons by striking with your melee weapons. This also adds a tactical element, because your ammo is scarce and your inventory is limited in space. The combat gameplay is smooth, fun and solid. You can see that it’s a mix between BioShock, Dying Light, Fallout, and Wolfenstein. You’re competing against hordes of different robots in often tight spaces, which makes it intense. The larger and more unique robots, which act as bosses, offer intense battles and a spectacle in terms of presentation. Sometimes you also have to get creative, as some enemies are weaker than specific items so Char-Les skills and basic cartridges need to be combined well with normal weapons for maximum effect.
However, we do have some comments when it comes to the gameplay. For example, you have the option to crouch in stealth, but that’s almost useless. The game is very chaotic at times due to the huge number of enemies, which makes the use of stealth useless. You’d better just shoot it. In terms of movement, you get enough resources at your disposal to get into combat quickly, though the general pace is rather slow. For example, the game lacks an enemy button that feels like a loss, especially when traversing. Atomic Heart has quite a few large spaces, which can make traveling – especially if you don’t have a car – seem a little long at some point. Weapons can be switched in two ways. You can use the d-pad to scroll through weapons during combat. This can seem a little slow, as you’ll often be running around with 5 or 6 weapons, which requires a lot of pressure that can panic a bit in the heat of battle. Cartridges for your weapons cannot be selected via the d-pad, but via the weapon wheel. However, this wheel is not always obvious, because the cartridges are hidden under an additional layer and sometimes you have to look for the right weapon, because it is also behind another item.
A beautiful place, but an empty world
One of the biggest draws of Atomic Heart is definitely the style and setting of the game. This is deserved, because the artists brought to life a beautiful world. From start to finish, you come face to face with Mundfish’s creative talent. We see underground bunkers, large storage areas, giant statues in honor of the Soviet Union, flying islands and much more. It’s an interesting mix of communism and futurism. For example, on many sites you will also see funny designed props with characters that you can compare to Vault Boy from Fallout. The design of the enemies is also nice and the bots come in different shapes and sizes. You have the standard “helper” robots with white clothes and curious mustaches, small flying robots that can fix other robots and tougher robots that shoot missiles and lasers at you. In short: the place is a feast for the eyes. Facility 3826 feels the atmosphere, both on the surface and underground. Whether you venture into wooded areas, small outposts, an abandoned theater, or deep underground in an abandoned laboratory, immersion is palpable in Atomic Heart.
However, the immersion is broken by an “issue,” because the open world itself feels completely empty. You have smaller locations with houses, towers, tents, and containers that you’ll come across, but here you can often only find enemies and some simple loot. Here and there you come across cars that you can drive in to travel faster, but the world does not invite you to go out everywhere because there is no reason for that. The world is also full of enemies and it gets worse as you get into combat. There are cameras everywhere in the game and when they register your presence, the alarm level changes, causing more bots to come at you. So it is advisable to drive to the next location in the story in most cases. Atomic Heart does not have fast travel, so you have to get from point A to B by car or on foot. Do you decide to go out and fight every time? Then you’ll quickly notice that you’re often fighting the same enemies, because the difference is more or less non-existent. With that said, we have to especially mention the Polygon Hideouts, as they are a lot of fun to explore: underground lairs full of unique puzzles where you can find special weapon upgrades.
Visual splendor and powerful soundtrack
Fortunately, the graphic aspect of Atomic Heart is mostly good. The game basically runs at 60fps with some drops to 40fps at certain times. However, the frame rate can drop as low as 30fps, but this only seems to happen with select scenes. In terms of resolution, you can expect dynamic 4K resolution, with the overall presentation being very sharp most of the time. A nice detail that enhances the visual aspect is that the damage done to enemies is actually visible where you hit them. Scratches and dents from your melee weapons, as well as holes or burn marks from bullets and flames are clearly visible on enemies. The use of color also honors the game, which fits well with the communist setting. We see this, for example, in the military colors which then form a great contrast to the colorful and well designed propaganda. Moreover, the game has some surprises in store for you in this regard. It comes with glitches, like pop-up notifications for loot picked up that don’t go away or drawers that don’t respond to loot, but it’s not that bad. Finally, we would like to briefly mention the powerful and unique soundtrack. Opera and 1950s music were used, which DOOM author Mick Gordon gave a unique twist to. Are you getting into a boss fight or is there a key moment in the story? Then the music hits in an excellent way, adding value to the experience at such moments.
Played on: Playstation 5.
Also available at: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC.
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