There is much fun to have in Atomic Heart. This 25-hour-plus shooter is likely one of the most refreshing games I have played in a while now. Sure, there’s some clear inspiration to note here, especially from the Bioshock series but somehow, Atomic Heart finally delivers something worthy of the word “unique”. I say this because the setting on its own is truly spectacular. Sure, the story is often hard to follow and the protagonist is an absolute douche bag but I was constantly in awe at how unique this game is.
Within the first few hours of Atomic Heart, the game delivered its “Welcome to Rapture” moments perfectly. I was welcomed to the streets of Chelomey City, a floating metropolis high in the sky. I was introduced to the weird and whacky robots that are meant to serve the people but instead, become vile mechanics horror stories ready to rip me apart. There’s one particular moment in the early parts of the game where you float down to the surface in a car and it is just perfection. The world is introduced in such a wonderful way and taking in the sights made me pumped for things to come.
Of course, Atomic Heart is full of these moments. A simple Training Facility is ridden with secret areas to find, mechanical contraptions that all move and look alive and the set pieces are the cherries on top. Not to mention that the game loves throwing in a classic song here and there while I was blasting away mutants and dismembering robots. I could not help but hum away at the Queen of the Night aria while it played in the background of a boss fight. If Atomic Heart has one thing, it is personality.
I don’t want to get into the game’s story too much here because I won’t lie to you, often had no cooking clue about what was going on. I can tell you that Atomic Heart stars Major Nechaev as he gets thrown into this war against machines. For some reason, the very robots created to serve humanity have turned against them leaving bloodshed in their wake. Major sets off to Facility No.3826 to try and investigate what exactly happened. Of course, you get thrown into an all-out action game with guns, loot, explosions and more.
At its core, Atomic Heart is an FPS action game but it is also so much more. The game blends stealth, puzzle and even an open-world experience into one. There’s also a lot of freedom to play Atomic Heart the way you want to. This is mainly thanks to the vast lineup of weapons and so-called “abilities” at your disposal. Major can equip himself with basic weaponry which can then be enhanced through upgrades. These include attachments, barrels and other goodies.
So far, you’re probably thinking “this game sounds amazing” but sadly, Atomic Heart falls apart faster than it took for the robots to take over. After a lengthy introduction, the game’s general pacing relies on exploring an open world and doing mindless stuff. This is where the wheels fall off. Atomic Heart’s general approach to every scenario is to shoot stuff or hit stuff, collect stuff in boxes and move on to the next thing. This shallow gameplay doesn’t go anywhere and after a dozen hours, I could not help but feel over it.
The alternative Russian history aspect of Atomic Heart is likely the game’s shining star. The locations I visited looked incredible and the idea of the world as it stands with AI and robots being the master race, felt fully realized. But even then, the focus is so heavy on the world that the general mechanics at play here take the backseat.
I spent most of my time hitting things with an axe in Atomic Heart and it was clumsy and underwhelming. Besides the impressive gash mark on the robot where I hit it, the general hand-to-hand combat in the game doesn’t go anywhere exciting. You slash an axe, hit stuff and move on. I could also quickly dash my way out of attacks and put a shield up to avoid damage. Sure, new weapons become available which add variety to the game but they still don’t take it anywhere exciting.
Guns try to do stuff differently with barrels that contain elements and some big-hitter weapons. But they too lack depth. I then realized well into Atomic Heart that maybe it wasn’t the weapons and guns that were boring but the combat instead. Perhaps the combination of the two? It then dawned on me that Atomic Heart’s gameplay is just mediocre. The game relies on its setting to carry the experience here and everything else is superfluous.
Even once I reached the open-world section, the landscape was empty and dull. There are cool buildings to look at and some draw-dropping vistas to gawk over but the open-world gameplay is a snore-fest. I literally ran from one facility to the next, went down, did some stuff, came back up and repeated the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun… until you’re doing the same thing seven hours later.
It sadly is as sandbox as it comes. These Training Facilities scattered around the map rely on a boring puzzle whereas I had to control a camera to unlock a door that only the camera could access if it was pointed in a certain position. Once inside, I then ran around holding down R1 to collect stuff from cabinets and boxes. I hit some robots in the head. Shot them with electricity and pushed them away with telekinesis. I then looted the room and moved on.
It makes it worse that these horribly boring facilities hold upgrade blueprints for your gear. So if you want a specific attachment for that melee weapon, you’re forced to put up with them. There was no sort of variety to add to the experience here.
Combat does have its moments where there’s some fun to be had. Much later in the game when you have better weapons and new abilities, the new robots put up a good fight. There are enemies that also include specific weaknesses to exploit and ways to kill them. However, after a few fights, they become predictable and shallow.
I can’t blame the enemies here. Atomic Heart’s combat just doesn’t do enough to feel exciting. The limited abilities also don’t feel powerful once upgraded so after a while, I didn’t even bother with them.
I also struggled a lot to like the game’s protagonist. He is absolutely awful. His writing is likely the worst thing I have seen in a video game this decade. He is loud and arrogant, doesn’t stop swearing and has this constant need for the player to know how little he cares about stuff. No joke here – he mentioned a few dozen times how “he doesn’t care” whenever his glove named Charles brought up something to chat about. I don’t know who sat down and thought this was a good idea
It also doesn’t help that Sergei’s utter assholeness is never explored or explained in the game. He is just a horrible person…. That is it. At one stage I even turned down the volume of the game to avoid hearing his voice. It was just torture after a while.
So while Atomic Heart has a lot going for it, sadly, apart from it being eye candy, it just isn’t great. The only good thing it has, its setting, is also often diminished by an asshole of a protagonist that gets in the way.
This Atomic Heart review is based on a code sent to us by Focus Entertainment. You can pick up the game starting at R1099. The game is also available on Xbox Game Pass.
Atomic Heart Review
Story - 6/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 7/10
Atomic Heart’s historical setting is spectacular and its world is excellent but sadly its shallow gameplay, wonky story and unlikable protagonist ruin the few good things it has going for it.
Some nice boss fights and set pieces
Bland sandbox world