Is Atomic Heart Good? Everything You Need To Know
Atomic Heart has been one of the most anticipated, but controversial, games recently. The title was developed by Mundfish, a Russian game development studio. And, it’s been described as soviet Bioshock. But, is Atomic Heart good?
If you’ve read my work on FPS, you know I’m a fan of tactical shooters. That’s why I’ve covered games like Operation: Harsh Doorstop. However, Atomic Heart caught my eye a while ago.
Atomic Heart is a more arcadey shooter. It doesn’t focus on realistic gunplay. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a combination between an RPG, Doom, and Bioshock. Yes, you have guns. But, you also have melee weapons and superpowers. So, there’s a lot to play with here.
The game was released on February 25th, directly on Game Pass, too. So, it’s easy to get your hands on it. I got pretty addicted to it throughout the weekend. I’ll be honest, I only stopped to write this review.
It’s time to admit it. It became much more than a way to kill time while I wait for Dead Island 2. Just keep in mind that I’ll mainly focus on the start of the game. I don’t want to spoil the experience for newcomers.
So, let’s get right into it so that I can go back to playing.
What exactly is Atomic Heart? Kind of soviet Bioshock
The intro exudes Bioshock vibes, even from the art style.
Primarily, Atomic Heart is a first-person shooter. However, we can’t judge it entirely on its shooting mechanics. It’s more akin to Bioshock in its art style, mechanics, and overall “feel.” In reality, it’s an action game with shooting, melee, and power-up mechanics.
On the shooter side of things, we have a varied firearm selection. You have a shotgun, pistol, rocket launcher, and more. The guns feel heavy and hard-hitting. So, the combat has real weight to it. Plus, they feel great to use.
Then, we have melee combat. Again, there are a bunch of weapons here. You can use a fire axe, hammer, and more. Once more, the weapons feel heavy and satisfying. Plus, melee combat brings a bunch of unique mechanics. For instance, it’s more dangerous. So, you have to time your dodges to avoid heavy damage.
Lastly, there’s the “supernatural” side of things. Along with your weapons, you have a catalog of superpowers to use. This leads to interesting gameplay tactics, combos, and variety. You start off with a simple electric shock. But, you quickly unlock more abilities, like freezing your enemies.
Moreover, Atomic Heart has elements from other games. It feels like an immersive sim at times. That’s due to the atmosphere and player choices. Additionally, it has a fairly deep looting and crafting system. Thus, you’re always looking for crafting materials. They’ll help you craft ammo and upgrade your gear.
Finally, we can also compare the combat to Doom. At times, it feels more like the third entry. You’re traversing through hallways with a few enemies. But, other times you’ll be dropped into larger arenas. In these cases, you must improvise and find the most efficient way to take out all your enemies.
It also has an arcadey feel at times. You fight bosses at certain times. Also, you’ll be upgrading your character and guns in RPG fashion. So, there are many mechanics to unpack here.
My first impression before asking whether Atomic Heart is good
The humor was evident right after the first menu.
So, before we decide whether Atomic Heart is good, let’s dive into my first glance. What did I find the first time I booted up the game?
Immediately, you can see the tone the game is seeking. This game isn’t a serious story or commentary on modern society. Sure, it has observations here and there. But, the predominant mood here is humorous.
Right from the difficulty settings, you can smile at the descriptions. When you get into the gameplay, the same goes for dialogs and characters. Your glove has a mind of its own. And, it’s constantly arguing with the main character. Other characters and in-game notes have a couple of jokes.
I can’t lie. The graphics looked really good.
Other than that, the graphics also surprised me. Mundfish isn’t a triple-A developer by any means. In fact, Atomic Heart appears as their first game on their website. So, I really wasn’t expecting the quality of the visuals here.
The world feels alive. During the intro, you can see NPCS chatting and interacting with the environment. In some areas, you can get a taste of the lore. For instance, you can see robots interacting with people. And, you can listen to several interesting conversations.
Well, that escalated quickly.
However, that doesn’t last forever. After a few minutes (or an hour if you took your time) everything goes to hell. You’re tossed into a ruined environment. And, it also looks excellent.
Some of the interiors feel lived in. And, you can really feel the mayhem caused by the robot rebellion. Everything looks disorganized. Bodies litter the hallways. You get the point: everything looks great. And, traversing through the environment is fairly immersive.
The graphics and art style that help make Atomic Heart good
The graphics were admittedly breathtaking at times.
OK, I’ve been talking about the visuals for a while now. So, let’s get to the official section of is Atomic Heart good? Let’s dedicate this one to the graphics.
As I said, the graphics look fantastic. That goes double if we consider it’s the developer’s first game. It might sound like I’m too optimistic about it. But, I mean what I’m saying. If any of the developers read this, great job!
The graphics don’t get in the way of the game, either. Atomic Heart is pretty well optimized. I played with all settings on max. Then, I had my browser open at the same time with YouTube on. I didn’t experience any frame drops that I can remember.
The interiors look nice, as well.
Both exteriors and interiors look great. The lighting is excellent. Outside, you can see the Sun’s rays going through the trees and their reflections. Inside, you can see the dim lights in the hallways. The halls at the beginning also feel grandiose.
I’ll admit one thing, though. The beginning sequence did look a bit better than the main game. It was kind of cutscene-heavy, so everything looked better. Once you’re thrown into dilapidated hallways, things look more basic.
Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And, as I already said, the entire game looks good.
Characters and their animations are also solid.
Then, we have character animations. The seamless transitions into cutscenes. It doesn’t feel forced or clunky. Once in the cutscenes, the animations look great. Sure, the characters aren’t hyperrealistic. But, not everything has to be.
In reality, they fit the general aesthetic very well. The facial animations look human and smooth. Again, a huge win for a first game.
Playing Atomic Heart: Gameplay, movement, mechanics
Things start off pretty slow, just an axe and basic enemies.
Sure, the game looks great. But, how does it play? After all, we’re talking about a video game, not a movie.
Well, I’m glad to announce that everything works as it should. Your character moves fast enough not to be boring. However, it’s slow enough to let you appreciate the environment. That’s great since there’s no sprint button in the game. Yes, you read that right, bold move in today’s market.
Instead, the SHIFT button lets you dodge in the direction you’re moving. That did feel kind of awkward at first. After all, I’m used to SHIFT + W everywhere these days. But, the dodge quickly came in handy.
Gameplay is often precise, high-stakes, and engaging.
That’s because enemies can deal devastating attacks at times. That’s particularly true for melee combat. You’re constantly dodging attacks while dealing damage to enemies. Thankfully, the game’s movement doesn’t get in the way.
Your character actually feels like an experienced soldier. There’s no weird rotation movement or stamina bar. You’re free to move, dodge, jump, and punch to your heart’s content.
As for the mechanics, you already know it’s a varied game. There’s melee, shooting, and superpowers. Some sections add a bit of platforming. Exploration and looting are also crucial. Between that, arenas, bosses, and puzzles, there’s enough. You can be entertained for a while.
How do Atomic Heart’s weapons feel? Gunplay, melee, and combat
I’m not a huge melee fan, but you can’t go wrong with fire axes
Let’s talk about the combat for a bit, now.
As I mentioned, melee is a fairly large part of the game. That’s particularly true for the beginning. The first weapon you get is a fire axe. Luckily, it makes a good first impression. That has little to do with my love for fire axes.
As for the combat itself, it’s a solid experience. I’m not the biggest fan of melee combat in games. I like shooting way too much for that. But, the hits feel brutal. Then, mix in dodging and high damage on both sides. The result is a tense but fun combat experience.
You soon get a gun, though.
Not long after, you get your first gun: a KS-23 shotgun. If you know this gun, you know how powerful it can be. Thank God, Atomic Heart didn’t miss the mark here. From the sounds to the damage, it’s a great gun.
You can also find a bunch of other weapons. There’s an AK rifle, a pistol, and a rocket launcher, for instance. When you combine ranged and melee weapons, the combat gets more interesting.
Just keep in mind that you have to be mindful of your ammo. At least at the start, ammo is fairly limited. So, you’ll be relying on your axe for a while. That’s why I’m glad the melee combat is so satisfying.
Enemy variety, difficulty, and more about Atomic Heart’s baddies
The first, and most common, enemies are these creepy, uncanny-valley-resident, AI.
Let’s dive into enemies now. At the start, enemies are simple enough. You’ll be facing some creepy robots that punch and kick you. They’re pretty easy to kite. The only issue comes with their special attacks.
Special attacks deal a ton of damage. They also knock you over. So, you need to be careful when attacking them with melee weapons. You get an indicator when they’re about to hit you, though. Thus, you have a chance to dodge their attacks.
Even the basic enemies can be quite dangerous.
Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. If you’re not careful, a single one can take you out. That’s more prominent in the hardest difficulty. I got destroyed by a single robot like 4 times in a row. I couldn’t time to dodge correctly.
However, the game soon throws more enemies at you. From gunner drones to zombies infested with plants, there’s a lot to unpack. Some enemies form a type of symbiosis with each other to become stronger, too.
Bosses are also a thing in this world.
Additionally, the game throws bosses at you now and then. In most cases, bosses have some unique mechanics. However, it’s a matter of shooting till they die. So, I would’ve liked to see more unique mechanics with bosses.
Still, it’s not often you find boss fights in today’s games. So, I’m still all for it.
Unlocking the real meat of why Atomic Heart is good: Superpowers
After a while, you start getting a taste of what your glove can do.
I have to come clean now. Sadly, I have no screencaps of myself using the SHOK power-up. I completely forgot to take a screencap. And, if I go back to play for the pic, this article isn’t coming out.
However, as you can see above, there are a bunch of superpowers. SHOK is the first one you get. It’s basically a short stun that does little damage. But, it can stagger enemies while you deal with others.
It might sound disappointing. Yet, it’s just a matter of time until you get better options. After a while, you’ll be shielding from attacks, freezing enemies, and more. That’s where the game really reaches its full potential.
Once you’ve got a couple of superpowers ready, your options multiply. You’ll be freezing enemies and blasting them. The game really ramps up as you unlock abilities. And, it really takes off when you have all of them unlocked.
All that said, I’m not saying the game is dull before unlocking them. Quite the opposite, the game actually manages to keep things interesting throughout. You don’t really notice you’re missing out on features. At least, that was my case.
Is the sound in Atomic Heart good? Diving into the soundtrack and SFX
I can’t describe the audio with screencaps. Instead, I’ll link a playthrough by DeadlySlob to illustrate. As you can see above, the weapons and abilities sound great. The voice acting is actually pretty good for a first game.
Again, consider my praise heightened because it’s the studio’s first game. And, sound design is something I’m usually critical of. Luckily, that’s something I won’t complain about in this game.
Going back to the voice acting, it’s exceptional. The most common characters are naturally pretty good. Each one instills personality into the characters. Your glove and NORA are great examples.
That being said, even minor characters talk like real people. Sure, that’s giving props to the script. But, it’s also because the voice actors are pretty good. Naturally, there are some hiccups. Some characters and lines come off as weird. The good thing is, it’s not offputting.
As for the soundtrack, it’s just what I enjoy in these games. The music is solid and fits the context perfectly. You get different sound cues depending on what happens, too. On one hand, it’s hard for enemies to sneak up on you. On the other, encounters feel more tense thanks to the soundtrack.
It complements the game perfectly. Yet, it doesn’t get in the way. It won’t distract you from what’s going on unless you want. And, you might want that sometimes. Some of the tracks are quite good. Therefore, it pays to listen to it from time to time.
The general gameplay loop in Atomic Heart: Is it good?
Looting is a surprisingly big deal in this game.
Sure, the mechanics may be good. However, that doesn’t mean they mesh together well. How do they work together? Is Atomic Heart good when all elements are in place? I’m happy to report that it is.
As I mentioned, the combat really takes off when you have a few upgrades going. Yet, you’ll still find yourself exploring and looting to keep moving forward. You’re never powerful enough to escape the scavenger life.
Overall, the gameplay loop is exploring, fighting enemies, and cutscenes. From time to time, a boss fight will roll in. It might sound dull. But, it’s surprisingly engaging. That’s because of the great environmental design in this game.
On the other hand, I’d understand if that isn’t your thing. It’s easy to get carried away, getting every bit of loot available. And, that can slow down the flow of the game. Luckily, that wasn’t my case. And, I’m usually a loot goblin.
You must also upgrade your weapons and character.
When not exploring or fighting, you’ll be upgrading your gear. You can upgrade your guns and melee weapons. The same goes for your abilities. In this sense, it has a strong RPG feel, which I can appreciate.
If anything, it adds a bit more depth to the game. You can feel your character getting stronger with each upgrade. So, looting really pays off with time. That helps keep the boredom at bay.
Also, progressing through the game will have you doing a bunch of stuff. You’ll be picking locks and jumping platforms. Traveling through the world is also a major part of the game. You’ll even get vehicles to help you out.
An interesting open world to explore in Atomic Heart
The game has good attention to detail most of the time.
The most interesting part of the game is the open world. Now, it’s not an open world in the traditional sense. It doesn’t offer Ubisoft levels of exploration. Yet, you’ll spend quite some time traveling between sites.
That is after you leave the first underground level. The game definitely doesn’t feel open at first. In fact, it’s fairly linear. You’ll be traveling through literal hallways for the entire beginning of the game.
Luckily, it doesn’t take too long to get out of that facility. And, you’re treated with even greater visuals and exploration.
You quickly get a nice ride to move everywhere you need, too!
Now, the car you see above isn’t the actual vehicle you get to drive. That one comes later. But, you can see the general style of the game. It really feels like a futuristic, utopian Soviet Union.
The cars are classics you’d find in a collector’s garage. However, they don’t feel particularly good. Driving can feel clunky at times. And, your rides can’t take too much damage before blowing up.
As you might expect, that may detract from the experience. I didn’t find the mechanics to be bad enough to make it a chore. But, I could understand if people feel put off by the driving.
It doesn’t take long for you to see the real, open world.
The game constantly teases you at the start with glances into the world. During the intro, a robot takes you on a flight around the world. You get to see why Atomic Heart is good in terms of world-building. Players get to see factories, mountains, towns, and more.
Of course, that’s a teaser for what’s coming. But, getting there requires you to go through the linear start. I know players can feel frustrated with linear gameplay. Most games today have foregone that approach. But, I’d advise you to soldier on to see what Atomic Heart can really offer.
What about Atomic Heart’s plot? Good, bad, or passable?
Welcome to the alternate-universe soviet utopia following WWII.
Admittedly, the plot in Atomic Heart isn’t going to break conventions. It kind of feels like a post-apocalyptic game. Again, think about Bioshock for an idea.
The gist is that you’re living in an alternate Soviet Union. The nation made strides in AI and robotics. Now, almost the entire country is maintained by robots. They make up the majority of the workforce.
However, an insider causes a malfunction. A hidden protocol triggers the robots to see humans as threats. In a second, the entire place gets turned upside-down. Robots start attacking everything that breathes.
Things go to hell fairly quickly, though.
During the intro, you’re suddenly taken down by drones. Now, it’s up to you to survive and try to resolve the mess. The game conveys a lot of the plot via cutscenes and dialogs. But, there’s a lot of environmental storytelling, too.
You’ll constantly find corpses around the environment. And, many of the areas look looted or disorganized. But, a lot of exposition comes from notes left around. You can find emails on computers and recordings of different events. That’s true before and after the disaster began.
It’s up to you to restore peace to the Motherland.
There’s a lot of world-building in these logs, as well. You can catch a glimpse of how the world ran before the story started. Some logs talk about roles and workers. Others are more lighthearted. One of the logs talked about a chess team, for instance.
Overall, these entries are reminiscent of The Last of Us or Resident Evil. You won’t miss out on crucial plot points by ignoring them. Yet, they help shed light on how the world functioned. So, they’re great additions if you’re into lore.
Important note: Characters, personality, and overall tone
Everything feels tongue-in-cheek: from politics to values.
At first glance, the game might feel like a serious take on its subjects. From the setting to the plot, I wouldn’t blame you. You might expect political and moral commentary. Yet, it’s not as explicit in the actual game.
In fact, the game is fairly light-hearted. Most of the characters have amusing dialog. And, others are entirely for comedic relief. It’s mainly a game to relax and have a chuckle. I’m really grateful for that.
This guy right here—yes, the glove—is fantastic.
Take your glove as an example. He’s a constant presence during your adventure. You’ll often hear him arguing with the main character. Yet, the latter mostly acts as a vessel for the player. He does have a personality. But, don’t expect too much character growth throughout the story.
Though, that doesn’t mean everything is tongue-in-cheek. Some characters have clear morals and beliefs. You can easily get somewhat attached to them. Just don’t expect this to be as serious as Bioshock.
Meet the absolute best character in the entire game.
There’s a good mix of character types in the game. Some are mainly for chuckles, like Granny Zina. She’s a warmongering old lady with an arsenal at her disposal. Others are more down-to-earth. Thankfully, most of them are a mixture of both.
Therefore, the game doesn’t feel like an all-out comedy. As I said, certain characters might even grow on you. Just don’t expect serious philosophic questions.
NORA deserves an honorable mention, though.
NORA is an exception, though. She’s easily the most eccentric character. She’s basically a sex-crazed robot that’s constantly suggestive. You’ll also use her to upgrade your gear. So, she’s a constant.
Closing thoughts: Is Atomic Heart good?
Overall, I can say that Atomic Heart is good. Moreover, it’s free on Game Pass. Thus, you lose nothing by trying it out. As I mentioned, this review focuses mostly on the start and general features. I don’t want to spoil the experience for you.
Before I close the article, I want to mention the controversy around the game. A lot of people discredit the developer over its political stance. They’ve mentioned they don’t condone violence. That’s in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Being a Russian developer, people thought they weren’t direct enough. Moreover, they take the setting as an apology to the government. However, we must consider a few things.
Not everyone has to be heavily involved in politics, regardless of what’s going on. Plus, being a Russian developer makes it a bit risky to take a stance. So, consider judging the game by its merits. As I said, it’s a game focused on entertainment. Let’s take it for what it is.
In conclusion, Atomic Heart is a great entry to the market. It’s a light game on morals, which many may need. I’m fine with games tackling serious subjects. But, we can’t forget the escapist nature of entertainment.
The game itself is a high-quality product. And, that deserves praise and attention. Keep in mind, it’s the developer’s debut. So, I’m even more respectful of what they put out.
What’s my verdict? Yes, it’s a good game. Thus, give it a try and tell me what you think!
Featured Image Credit: Mundfish.
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