Because of its impressive visuals and all the Bioshock comparisons people kept talking about, we had Atomic Heart high on our list of most eagerly anticipated games for ages. We finally got to play it – here’s our review.
And when we saw we’ve been waiting for this one for ages, we’re not joking. Atomic Heart was originally announced way back in 2017 as an incredibly ambitious title, and the development team behind it has only grown since then to try and reflect that kind of ambition. And yes, we can see the Bioshock inspirations here, especially when you consider the retro-futuristic visual theme and the “Polymer powers” that bear more than a striking resemblance to Bioshock’s Plasmids, but at the end of the day Atomic Heart definitely feels like its own thing.
Part of that is the game’s setting – an alternate history version of the USSR that’s dystopian in nature with a mix of 50s/60s architecture and modern technology. You play as kind of B-movie action hero in this setting, complete with cheesy one-liners and plenty of attitude. Think Duke Nukem or BJ Blazkowicz – which is certainly a different vibe than you’d get from a Bioshock game.
Story-wise, Atomic Heart is a lot more sci-fi than we had expected, revolving around the creation of an artificial intelligence (dubbed Kollektiv) that allowed citizens of the USSR to live in a peaceful society alongside robots that made life easier. That’s until Kollektiv was sabotaged and turned on mankind, leading to a war between man and machine. Sure, it sounds a little overdone, but fans of premises like that will certainly enjoy the story here.
That story gets brought to life with some impressive voice acting and great facial animations for the characters – some of the most impressive work we’ve seen in this area thus far, bringing real personality and individuality to the characters. This is of course especially true for the story-related NPCs you come across during the campaign, as the robot armies you go up against tend to consist of many of the same types of robots – which of course makes sense.
What’s worth pointing out as well is that Atomic Heart is a game for mature audiences. While some of its content can be seem as political satire and most of the combat isn’t all that gruesome, our protagonist is a bit of a potty-mouthed individual and some of the conversations you have can be quite explicit and gruesome – especially when you tap into the ability to converse with those who died to find out more about what happened to them while living.
Beyond its narrative-driven first person shooter action, Atomic Heart also features puzzle game elements and has plot twists that make it feel like a mystery you want to try and unravel. In that sense it’s definitely like Bioshock in that it’s a richer experience than what you typically get in a shooter, and the team’s ambitious goals in terms of the game’s scope have paid off here. The game also has a very flexible tech tree system that allows you to reset and redistribute your resources at will, giving you access to different weapons and playstyles even during a single playthrough, which should take close to twenty hours to complete – making this a nice long campaign for a game of this type.
Not everything’s great though – we could have done with less of the somewhat awkward first person platforming in the game, some of the writing felt like a big tonal shift and could have used more nuance, and we experienced a few crashes while playing this. Having said that, we assume those technical issues will be fixed in a post-launch update and we enjoyed exploring Atomic Heart’s world – a place we’d be happy to return to for a follow-up.