It seems like forever since Atomic Heart’s teaser trailer first came out. That one-factor kind of makes it harder for Atomic Heart, in that we expect it to completely wow us with the plenty of development time the game had. Anyway, high expectations aside, I have been itching to do the Atomic Heart review as it is out now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. Even from early footage, you could see how spectacular the graphics were. The fact that this is an alternate history game further raises interest in exploring what exactly this new world order has to offer.
Xbox owners are lucky enough to enjoy access to Atomic Heart via Game Pass from Day 1. The other consoles, not so much, as you’ll need to buy a copy of it for a whopping $70, variable by state. In that regard, it’s totally understandable to want to take a pause and assess just how worthwhile it is to spend your bucks on Atomic Heart. Is the game really as cool as everyone says it is? Are the graphics up to par and beyond? Does the world fulfill the desires of the heart? Most importantly, is the combat fast, fun, and satisfying across each mission? For answers to these questions and more, get comfortable with this deep-dive Atomic Heart review of the good, the bad, and the ugly (if any).
First Things First, The Story
Without giving too many spoilers (I’ll certainly try to reserve the juicy bits for first looks only), Atomic Heart is a story you’ve heard a thousand times before. It takes place in the 1950s, right after the Soviet Union won World War II. The alternate narrative of how things went down says how much the world evolved into this unstoppable technological force.
Robots roam around like they own the place, having completely taken over the working class. Even with such a feat, humans still feel the need to advance further, so they start to work on a sci-fi idea you may have heard of before: to recreate the internet in people’s minds. This “hive-mind” is mere days away from launch when you get called to Facility 3826, the Soviet Union’s foremost research center, to investigate some kind of anomaly.
Joining your amnesiac self is Charles, a talking sentient glove with polymer-fed telekinesis and cryokinesis powers. So, you hurry on over to Facility 3826 to find a partially destroyed underground facility packed to the brim with mutated beings and blood-hungry robots. The situation escalates throughout the world, and your new mission becomes getting to the bottom of all the chaos.
Sergei, The Earth Savior
I want to shine a spotlight on Sergei, the main character, because he’s quite a, uh, character. He seems to have no recollection of his past and is sole-focused on his mission to destroy all enemies that cross his path. It’s quite a heroic ask, given that the whole world has turned dystopian, and it’s up to him to find a way to restore world order. “Earth’s Savior,” if you will.
But, Sergei isn’t the most likable savior, is he? He’s unfunny and, quite honestly, annoying. On the other hand, Charles is quite a thoughtful sidekick, even bringing up the morality of a “hive-mind.” But, Sergei couldn’t give a damn about Charles, merely using him for his abilities and wanting to complete the mission he'd been tasked with. You’d think he’d have a change of heart a few hours into the game, but no. So, all you’re left to do is tolerate, rather than empathize, with the guy.
While we’re at it, the writing seems off, too. It’s neither engaging nor thought-provoking. Sure. The first few hours of the game unveil this premise we’ve seen before that could possibly go somewhere really cool. But, the premise pretty much dies down once we’ve completed the first mission. On the one hand, the game jumps into an ambitious romp, poking at deeply complex themes like capitalism, socialism, and communism. On the other hand, we get treated to short conversations that do spike some curiosity to some extent but pretty much fade out towards the latter parts of the game.
The World, Oh My, The World
From the front cover to the premise to the first few hours into the game, Atomic Heart presents itself so ambitiously you start to get drawn into a game even before you’ve gotten to the meat and potatoes of it. It’s so inviting, so riveting, at least for a time anyway. There are just so many things I can’t put my finger on that fail, which, when put together, drown an otherwise potentially triple-A title.
Let’s start with the first few hours that are spent in a linear fashion, taking down the previously nice robots turned bloodthirsty enemies coming at you. It’s a fun, fast-paced combat experience that throws at you a variety of interesting mutated or robotic beings. All along, the plot gets unraveled via shrunken subtitles and mostly annoying dialogue. With the plot out of the way, you finally get the chance to explore the world outside of the facility.
It’s no question. Atomic Heart’s open-world environments are to die for. It’s absolutely gorgeous. So inviting I doubt you’d hold any reservations getting lost in awe of it all. This makes it all sadder that Atomic Heart lost the opportunity to capitalize on such luscious open-world spaces.
For the most part, you’ll be taking up minigames and hunting down quests. It even, for a time, started to feel linear, seeing as you’re given an outline for how to progress. Of course, you’re free to wander around, but getting to the predefined facilities, however linear they present themselves, does seem to hold more of an advantage. Let me explain.
Lost in Soviet Utopia
See, Atomic Heart is a sight to see. No one’s questioning that. But, even with such jaw-dropping graphics, there still needs to be a variety of things to do, see, or find. When first stepping into this stylish retrofuturistic Soviet utopia, you feel a rush that needs quenching. The fact that it’s the exact same structure as BioShock Infinite only elevates one’s expectations more.
In no time at all, worldwide anarchy ensues that keeps you busy taking down managed corpses and robots out for blood. Combat-wise, it’s fun to play around with the melee, ranged, and elemental skills involved. When you thought Facility 3826 would have been the worst-case scenario, the open world proves otherwise, with much, much worse swarms of enemies coming at you.
How Do I Breathe?
The outside world is so chaotic you almost want to run back to enclosed spaces. But you are still fascinated by the beauty you just stepped into, so you keep at it. See, there are tons of security cameras all over. All it takes is one to spot you to alert the bloodthirsty bots to your presence. You could be swarmed with bots in a matter of seconds, even eight of them at once, cornering you.
However good in combat you are, the imbalance just takes over. Not to mention the drones swarming the skies, repairing fallen bots, shooting lasers at you, or worse, airdropping to release even more bots in huge crates. You could resort to stealth, but Atomic Hearts isn’t exactly built for stealth. Sooner or later, they will find you, and they will kill you.
At Least, Loot
Some of the facilities you visit hold pretty cool sci-fi innovations you can explore. Plus, you’re free to craft new tools and experiment with them. Whether you pick them off of fallen enemies, acquire them whilst completing main missions, or go out of your way to explore what more Atomic Heart’s world has in store, rest assured you do get rewarded for your curiosity and will to survive.
Hey, I could go on and on about the features that Atomic Heart has to offer. No one said you’d ever lack things to do there. The only problem is the passion and motivation actually to do these things. While playing Atomic Heart, the world draws you in like a magnet, but the grind becomes too much to bear. To what end? The game forges swarms of enemies against the one opponent. Why curate such a gorgeous, jaw-dropping world only to fill it with things we have no compelling interest in? It’s like a wasteland—an advanced wasteland with robots gone wild and a plot that leads nowhere.
I’m not saying Atomic Heart is a complete waste of time, no. If you’re an Xbox owner with a Game Pass subscription, definitely have a go at it. But, if you’re not, perhaps it’d be wise to take a step back before making the purchase to really be certain that this is what you’d like to sink your 20+ hours into.
Atomic Heart Review (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, & PC)
A Mostly Fun Soviet Utopia Turned Awry
Atomic Heart is a jaw-dropping title featuring a mostly fun combat system. It has satisfactory elemental, melee, and ranged gameplay, like freezing enemies and taking them down at peace, which certainly also makes for a good crowd-control option. The weapon variety isn’t too disappointing either, especially the shotgun that does exactly what it’s always intended to do. You’ll find upgrade stations that allow you to replenish your gear or craft new fun stuff. These stations also act as save stations that you should definitely make use of, given Atomic Heart’s infrequent auto-saving. Overall, this is a pretty decent entry that is more of a double-A than a triple-A title to consider.