Are you patiently waiting for the new BioShock game to inevitably be announced sometime around the heat death of the universe but, in the meantime, want something with less depth, worse writing, and frustrating first-person melee combat?
No? Well, here’s Atomic Heart anyway.
Now that I’ve killed any suspense this review ever had, let’s crack on with it while I get the red-hot pokers and Spanish inquisition ready.
Set in an alternate history 1955 Soviet Union at Facility 3826, the foremost scientific research hub of the Union, you are an amnesiac world war two veteran Agent P-3, so named because of the two extraneous cocks he’s got stapled onto his forehead. You’ve been called to the famous facility to assist with the rollout of Kollektiv 2.0, an upgrade to the wireless, networked artificial intelligence that links the robotic forces throughout Facility 3826.
As would be no surprise to anyone that’s played a game before or has a basic understanding of story structure, the update ends up being a bit buggier than expected. Unfortunately, unlike the typical Microsoft update, this flips the robot setting from Jeeves the Butler to Simon Phoenix.
You arrive as tits go sideways courtesy of a killer helicopter robot, thankfully interrupting the excruciatingly slow thrill ride that is this game’s introduction. I don’t know why the kamikaze chopper took you out at that point, but I assume it has something to do with the blood oath developers entered into with the Lord of helicopter crashes in exchange for game publication.
Now, with a robot massacre and revolution underway, Dr. Sechenov – the scientist behind the Kollektiv 2.0 with a massive sign above his head screaming Andrew Ryan surrogate every time he appears on screen – gives you the mission to hunt down the person responsible for the massacre and apprehend them.
After a solid period of combating killer robots and failed biomechanical experiments, P-3 or not, P-3 finds out Petrov is working with other scientists to achieve a mysterious “Atomic Heart” project headed by Dr. Sechenov himself. The game isn’t exactly coy with this twist, thanks to the heavy foreshadowing between P-3 and his sentient glove.
Like most of the writing in this game, the exposition that P-3 can’t remember his past and is convinced Dr. Sechenov is the soviet savior comes out of nowhere. As soon as I heard that, I knew exactly where this story was going.
Now, was I right in my prediction? I wouldn’t know. I had given up on the game as soon as I managed to exit the compound, and the open world spread out before me, as lifeless and unexciting as the romance between P-3 and his glove. To close this particular chapter of my life, before I lost any sleep over it, I looked up the endings on Youtube. Needless to say, every single point of my prediction came true.
To make it even worse, it’s got multiple endings which normally kneecaps any story at the best of times. The way it’s handled with a binary choice right at the end makes the entire 20 hours’ worth of story pointless.
Let’s give the story a break from the hobbling wheel for a minute or two and slide the main character across the firing range. Now, video game protagonists in first-person games aren’t exactly known for their complex philosophical views, and there is no danger of P-3 bucking this trend.
His character can essentially be boiled down to a twelve-year-old’s idea of masculinity if they’d been locked in a fallout shelter with nothing but all the bargain bin Steven Seagal movies in existence and a truckload of Alpha Bits: Fuck You edition to survive on. Every single word seems to be dripping in meta self-awareness that makes me want to beat the writer to death with their own frozen smugness.
I would have liked it if P-3’s character had been more three-dimensional… I would have also liked it if there was any hint of a character arc if we wish upon stars at this point. Having your character react to everything makes them nothing more than a balloon tied to a runaway shopping trolley. It doesn’t make your character interesting to have them be self-aware. You need some development for that.
Captain Martin Walker from Spec Ops: The Line has character development. Each action he takes is fuelled by a need to help others and complete his mission, with each subsequent fuck up a downward spiral that culminates with him firing deadly white phosphorus. The Prince in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time develops and grows over the course of the game, making the final tragic decision seem inevitable.
In homage to the creepiest video game romance ever conceptualized, P-3’s sentient glove is the writer’s exposition mouthpiece throughout the game, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character so blatantly used for exposition purposes. At the start, I thought they were planning on doing a Titanfall 2-esque setup like they had between BT and Jack Cooper, which I quite enjoyed. Needless to say, I was greatly mistaken.
Apart from those main characters, there’s a zany old grandma that’s a recurring character that fits the serious po-faced tone of the main story about as well as a six-lane pileup. The Andrew Ryan surrogate is pretty much nonexistent throughout the story, but unlike with BioShock, we get absolutely no insight into their motivations. Sure, Andrew Ryan may have had some weird ideas about sweat ownership, but at least he felt like an intelligent, charismatic villain that was five chess moves ahead of us. The writing, both in the characters and the story, feels like it doesn’t trust players not to be left behind, so it dumbs it down.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The scenery is breathtaking, with not too many graphical glitches in my playtime. The world design and enemy design are also quite impressive, with most of the enemies being visually distinctive enough that I could tell at a glance which enemy was rushing to send me to my grave.
Can you tell us about the combat Rohan?
And I suppose the lore behind the world with the alternate history is quite intriguing, considering how much I love Wolfenstein’s alternate history, and I would like to learn more about the backstory besides the typical random documents and audio logs.
What about the combat Rohan?
The various polymer powers you can invest in throughout the game are well implemented, although it’s just a stand-in of ADAM from BioShock without the thematic connection with the game’s story.
But what about the combat-
It’s not great, alright? It has the standard first-person melee combat issue in that your field of view is severely hampered. It’s way too easy to get yourself disorientated, and any attempt at strategy goes out the window as you smash the attack button, swinging wildly and blindly attacking until either you or the enemy dies. Apart from the melee combat, the guns I used were alright. The shotgun has a decent kick but nothing like the hip-thrusting joy I get from using any gun in Doom (2016).
Overall, the biggest problem I have with Atomic Heart, apart from the ankle-deep writing and character work and predictable plot with an insipid ending and frustrating combat is just that nothing seems to mesh together. BioShock had a lot of the same elements, but everything has a place in the game and themes raised by the story. The existence of ADAM and its abuse throughout Rapture feeds directly into the philosophical commentary of the game. It deals with the concept of objectivism and rams its point home in the iconic “Would you kindly?” scene.
In comparison, what’s Atomic Hearts’ theme? Is it the abuse of technology by those in power and the oppression of the masses to serve a select few in power? Yeah, decades of sci-fi have already picked that particular carcass clean. Thanks for contributing, Atomic Heart.
With the abundance of much better games on the market that tell a more impactful and engaging story, I can’t recommend Atomic Heart. Save yourself the money and just get the BioShock remaster or Wolfenstein: The New Order… I’d avoid Wolfenstein: Youngblood, though. Not the series’ best.