Atomic Heart: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The phrase, ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ is pretty well known but if you’ve never heard of it, it basically means that you have to choose between two different but equally difficult choices. Like picking between having to get up early and buy a train ticket to get to work or sleeping in a little but having to drive through rough traffic instead. This is a choice that I constantly felt while playing Atomic Heart. The only difference here is that the in between of these choices is where the game actually shines! But does it shine enough to out weight the rock and hard place it’s sandwiched between? Sadly, no.

Atomic Heart is the first game from developer Mundfish, and in that regard it’s a pretty good first impression of the studio! The game very clearly takes inspiration from Bioshock when it comes to it’s game play and structure as a whole. Both take place in a paradise where everything seems amazing until something goes wrong and you have to fight your way through it with guns and weird powers. The main difference between the two games is the setting though. Atomic Heart takes place in an alternate history where the Soviet Union discovered a substance called Polymer during World War II. What is Polymer exactly? Well that isn’t too important honestly. What is important is that it allowed them to make robots and other crazy scientific inventions way back in the 1950s. Going back to the Bioshock comparisons, think of Polymer like ADAM in Bioshock. It’s basically a made up thing that is used as an excuse to explain away the crazy technology of the game’s world. So! After that discovery, the Soviet Union became a major player in the world as it’s influence sky rocketed. Especially as they started to spread their robots all throughout the world giving them away for free. All in all, the setting of Atomic Heart is probably the best part of the game! It gives the game a very unique look and style and makes it a treat to explore. However, this sliver of greatness is stuck between terrible dialog and a terrible story…

It is a real pain trying to get invested in the world and setting when you have to listen to the Major, the main character of the game, constantly say his catch phrase “Crispy Critters” while talking about a story that is so predictable that the only thing that really surprised me was how the characters in the story weren’t able to figure out such basic things. Seriously, when one of the game’s big twists was revealed, I wasn’t confused by the twist itself but rather by the fact that all the characters seemed surprised to hear it since I figured it out ages ago and assumed they had too!

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the story since I imagine there might be some people who actually want to experience it spoiler free, but I have to highlight the fact that it really is a low point of the game. Once again going back to the Bioshock comparisons, it’s clear they wanted to have a big twist of their own just like Bioshock had. But the problem with that is the fact that the writing team did not have the talent to come up with something on that level. Again, a real shame since Atomic Heart has a world I would love to explore and see more of. I was honestly way more invested in the game’s world building than it’s actual story. The set up for the story was far more interesting than the story itself which is understandably a massive problem.

Oh, and as a quick side note, do not play this game with the English voices! Unless you want the dialog to be even worse, change it to literally any of the other voice options. I’m being serious here. The Major in the English dialog might be the worst vocal performance I’ve ever heard in a game. His performance isn’t flat or dry, it’s all in the delivery of his lines. I have honestly no clue what they were going for with his performance… Then again, if you do change the dialog to something besides English you’ll have to deal with the game’s terrible subtitles that will sometimes pop on screen for only a second or just not appear at all. It’s a good thing I stopped caring about the game’s plot half way through. You see what I mean about being stuck between a rock and a hard place with this game? What was I talking about again…?

Anyways! Moving on from that, lets discuss something that Atomic Heart gets right for the most part. The game play! As I said before, Atomic Heart takes a lot of inspiration from Bioshock and that can be seen in the game play as well. Atomic Heart is also a first person shooter where you are using both guns and unique powers to battle your way through the world. However, the game play is actually where you can see some changes from Atomic Heart‘s Bioshock inspirations. Atomic Heart‘s game play is far more fast paced and frantic than Bioshock. It’s actually closer to the modern DOOM games in that respect. You are never meant to stop moving in Atomic Heart, you are always running, dodging and shooting around the robots and mutants that populate Facility 3826, the vast area the game takes place in. This fast paced, heart pounding combat is where the game play really shines! It’s a balancing act where you need to stay on your toes to make sure you aren’t getting boxed in while also trying to figure out the best way to take down the enemies gunning it for you. There’s this nice flow to combat that really makes it fun.

While the game doesn’t offer an insane amount of variety when it comes to your weapons and powers, it does give you plenty of freedom when it comes to finding your play style. Atomic Heart features a lot of upgrading and crafting but unlike a lot of other games in this style you can always get your crafting supplies back by dismantling whatever you just made with no draw backs at all. Normally when a game lets you do this, you often times don’t get all the materials you spent back. As someone who tends to always hoard supplies and such just in case this was a great feature as I never had to worry about wasting anything if I ended up not enjoying a particular weapon or power. Atomic Heart always wants the player to be exploring different ways of tackling each combat encounter. I had a ton of fun refining my play style until I found my favorite way of battling it out with the horrors of Facility 3826! Sadly though, not everything about the game play really works…

Along with running and gunning, Atomic Heart actually features a surprising amount of puzzles. They range from simple and quick puzzles you need to do to unlock some of the doors to full on dungeon style puzzle rooms you need to figure out to progress. Here’s an example of one of the lock puzzles. A quick and easy timing based puzzle!

Now I’m not going to lie, I actually enjoyed a lot of these puzzles. Most of them were pretty well made and didn’t over stay their welcome for too long. That being said, I very much understand that I am not everyone and suddenly having to complete puzzles in the middle of your fast paced frantic shooting adventure can really slam the breaks on the fun. Going back to Bioshock, again, when it came to hacking into anything in that game you had to do a pipe building puzzle. This aspect of the game was heavily criticized and was removed from future entries in the series. And while Atomic Heart‘s lock puzzles never took nearly as long as the pipe puzzles, I was still reminded of them so I can only imagine they will lead to the same criticism. On top of that, there are the actual puzzle rooms that are not quick in the slightest! These areas are called Testing Grounds, and while they aren’t mandatory to progress they are where you’ll find most of the upgrades for your weapons, so there really isn’t avoiding them if you want to up your arsenal. The Testing Grounds are pretty out of the way though as they aren’t located in the levels of the game but rather on the over world that you come back to between the game’s actual levels. So while you can argue that you can just avoid them, that still doesn’t change the fact that they don’t really feel like they fit into the game. Which is the exact same criticism I have for Atomic Heart‘s next problem.

Atomic Heart is too long of a game and a lot of this comes from the over world sections. As I was saying before, Atomic Heart does have traditional levels. Areas of the game that have clear objectives and are clearly designed to be levels. When finishing one of these levels though, you’re dumped back out into the over world of Facility 3826. This over world basically exists to explain how you get from one location to the next with some side content here and there to complete, like the Testing Grounds I mentioned. Not only that, there are plenty of areas for you to loot and get supplies. On paper, this doesn’t seem that bad. After all, it’s not like it’s confusing to navigate the over world when it comes to getting to the next level. Because of that though, the entire over world feels completely unnecessary. Not only that, towards the end of the game it actively bogged down the experience making it feel like padding. It got to the point where I was trying to get through the over world as fast as possible to get to the levels, only stopping here and there to do the Testing Grounds, but never to explore or look for supplies. A shame since it’s clear the art team put plenty of time into crafting the over world. The long travel times between levels really just feel like a way to extend the play time. Not only that, it just feels really out of place for this kind of game. It would have made much more sense to make levels around you traveling from place to place. The over world is already a straight line basically so it’s not like it would be that hard. I guess you could argue that they wanted to include these areas to make sure the player could have enough supplies instead of burning through them in more levels. The only problem there is the fact that there is already too many supplies in the game. Which brings us to the next problem with the game play!

Atomic Heart is shockingly easy. And while that isn’t a problem with most games, Atomic Heart promises a tough experience similar to games like DOOM or Bioshock, and that’s what I was hoping for! Which is why I decided to play the game on the hardest difficulty from the get go. So you can probably imagine how upset I was when I had far too much ammo and healing items. Like, seriously, my storage was filled with the stuff! I was dismantling most of it by the end of the game for supplies I didn’t need just to cut down on the clutter of my storage. The game gives the player plenty of freedom when it comes to how they want to play, but because of that it becomes extremely hard to make sure the game is balanced. And while you could argue that the game play doesn’t need to be too challenging or engaging let me remind you that the story is not good enough to keep players interested in the slightest! The story isn’t bad enough that I wanted to stop playing, but it certainly wasn’t the reason I kept playing either. So it really does fall to the game play to keep me going, and while it was able to do that just fine at the start it was not able to keep that up until the end. Honestly, if the game had just been shorter in length like DOOM, I probably wouldn’t be complaining about it right now. The longer the game dragged on the more stale the combat got. And as I mentioned before, it quickly stops being a challenge as well since I had so many resources by the end. This is the main reason why I skipped picking up resources and just plowing through the over world as quickly as possible towards the end. There was just no reason to do anything else.

Because of this, the game play of Atomic Heart really suffers and gets taken off the list of things you can recommend the game for. Bringing that list down to the art style and the music, which is pretty amazing in all honesty. But those two things are not enough to recommend this game.

Atomic Heart isn’t really a bad game, but it’s a painfully average one that is constantly making you weight the pros and cons. The game play is super fun! But it’s also painfully easy and loses it’s luster as the game drags on. The world is so interesting! But to experience it you have to suffer through terrible dialog, voice acting, and subtitles. Atomic Heart feels extremely polished and also horribly rushed. It’s this weird paradox of a game that constantly has the player between a rock and a hard place. And that in between, that does have some great stuff, is not enough to make this game worth it right now. Maybe wait until the price drops a lot before picking this up but even then you may just want to skip this game. Hopefully Mundfish’s next game learns a lot from the missteps of Atomic Heart.

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Do you think Atomic Heart has enough going for it to make it worth picking up? Are there any other games you’ve played that make you feel like you’re constantly between a rock and a hard place? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on WordPress or on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on new posts. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss sometime, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated, even just viewing this post, so thanks again for stopping by.

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