Atomic Heart paints a pretty picture of humans and robots living together in harmony, but then goes and spoils it by turning on combat mode.
It’s sabotage, of course; someone isn’t quite happy with what appears to be a utopia on the surface, and so has flipped the switch that turns usually servient robots into human-killing machines. Unfortunately for you, as seemingly the only agent that’s capable of sorting the whole mess out, you’ve now got a massive fight on your hands. And so begins Atomic Heart, a game that doesn’t play quite as good as it looks.
Of course, you only have to take a glance at screenshots to see that Atomic Hearts looks absolutely wonderful, so it’s not quite a disaster. Though playing on PS5 for review, while we’ve been impressed by the detailed world that’s on offer and the smooth performance, we’ve encountered a myriad of bugs that have soured our experience. Things like trophies not popping when they should is one thing, but machines awkwardly glitching out and elevators not being summoned when you press their buttons? They’re much more problematic.
Look past the bugs and there are other issues as well. Throughout your time with Atomic Heart you’ll find that it offers a mix of indoor and outdoor environments, with the latter offering a lot of freedom. An abundance of hard-to-spot cameras that alert robots to your presence makes the outdoors somewhat of a nuisance to explore though, especially as if you kill your attackers, repair bots soon arrive to put them back together again. The game really wants you to employ stealth in these sections, but it’s often easier to simply run to your next objective.
When indoors, Atomic Heart feels very much inspired by Bioshock. There are claustrophobic corridors and open rooms where combat often breaks out. And as you explore, all-too often tasked with finding numerous objects to progress, looting everything is key. Thankfully looting here isn’t as tiresome as it is in other games, though. Simply hold the right shoulder button and you’ll raise your hand, equipped with a futuristic talking glove. Then you can just point in in the direction of a lootable container such as a chest or a filing cabinet, and it’s contents will come flying out, right into your hands. Neat.
It’s up to you what you do with the materials you collect. If you have blueprints you can craft new weapons, ammo or consumables. Alternatively, you can use them to upgrade the weapons you already have. Your options will be limited when it comes to upgrades, however, unless you engage with the outside world, as that’s where you’ll find Testing Grounds. Locate, gain entry, and complete the challenges that lie inside these Testing Grounds, and you’ll unlock the best upgrades that Atomic Heart has to offer. But are they necessary? Not for the most part, no.
Alongside crafting items and upgrading weapons, you can also develop the abilities made available to you by your glove. Some might choose to upgrade the capabilities of their characters, allowing them to carry more items, move faster and take more damage, amongst other things. Others may instead prioritise unlocking and upgrading new abilities, like being able to chain electrocute enemies or employ cold against them. But these abilities aren’t very well balanced; unlock the ability that allows you to suspend a group of enemies in the air for a considerable period of time, and most encounters become trivial.
Without that handy gravity defying skill by your side, Atomic Heart can be tricky at times. Enemies often attack en masse, and ammo is generally scarce unless you craft large amounts of it every time you encounter a kiosk. It doesn’t help that so many enemies rush you, eager to slice, ram or kick you to death. Fail to keep an eye out for charged attacks, indicated by a glowing orange circle, and you might be knocked off your feet. Using the dash mechanic to dodge such attacks is a must, then, but it can be awkward when there are so many attackers, and when environments are often cluttered.
Ultimately, Atomic Heart feels like a game that tries to be too many things. It has puzzles, open world elements, melee combat, platforming, crafting, stealth, and a whole lot of shooting, but none of these things are as tight or polished as they should be. Altogether, it all adds up to a game that feels unpredictable but also a bit disjointed and scrappy. Still, chances are, even after you’ve stopped caring about its story after a few elevator rides where your talking glove dumps a confusing amount of exposition on you, you’ll want to play on to see what the next area has in store for you.
Atomic Heart leaves a lot to be desired, but its unique setting, varied gameplay and often inventive enemies go a long way to keep you interested in your traipse through its ruined utopia. Just bear in mind that while it may look like a AAA game, it’s not; Mundfish has achieved a great deal here, but there are signs of corners being cut and a considerable lack of polish. And so, you might want to wait for a patch or two to sort out some of its unfortunate bugs and other blemishes, but you could do a lot worse than venture into the hostile world that Atomic Heart offers.