We played through a good portion of Mundfish's new game "Atomic Heart" and overall we were surprised about our experience in the game, though not how we'd hoped. Ultimately the game is visually appealing and animated nicely, however, polish is needed in many other areas.
The game's main story takes similar notes to Bioshock. You play as Comrade Major Sergey Nechayev, code-named P-3, a WWII veteran who lost his memories and was rescued by the esteemed Dr. Dmitry Sechenov, who P-3 treats like a father. P-3 does everything Dr. Sechenov asks, hunting down anyone in his way and doing the duty of the Soviet Party's special forces. Sent to Facility 3826 to capture Viktor Petrov, a fellow scientist accused of sabotaging the facility and smearing the illustrious name of the world-conquering USSR, you must fight off violent robots connected to the hivemind internet called Kollectiv 1.0. Using the hand-worn device, Charl-les, you manipulate the powerful substance Polymer, which makes up the lifeblood of the Soviet Union's technological super-power.
The story works, at its core, but its surface elements falter as we continue on our adventure throughout Facility 3826. Overall, the story is fairly clean with few holes in its construction. The main strength of the story is how natural it feels and keeps us on track. +1
Lore-wise, the game takes place in an alternate universe where, instead of collapsing, the Soviet Union succeeds and proceeds to take over the West, with more Soviet Unions popping up in China, Germany, and other nations. The United States remained Capitalist, however, as it and its allies began applying embargoes against the Soviets after the revelation of combat modes in civilian robots when 3826 collapsed. The science behind much of the sci-fi aspects of the game is explained almost immediately upon introduction, though it can all be boiled down to "because of Polymer" which remains relatively unexplained and isn't given any real limits as to what it is capable of. +1
Characters are where Atomic Heart starts to fall apart. The main character, P-3, comes off as a Communist Duke Nukem, despite the game's tone and theme of idealism vs. reality, politics who can't decide if he wants to be a foul-mouthed jock or a jerk with a no-swear policy. Char-les routinely tries to get P-3 to think critically of the political scene, pulling him to question the Communist Party and Dr. Sechenov, despite being an AI who is supposed to be working for the Soviet Union.
We also have the uncomfortably horny and rapacious NORA, an AI-powered machine we have to interact with for creating ammo, weapons, upgrading stats, gear, and storage. Thankfully, she chills out some time through the game.
The huge disconnect between the game's themes and tone, and the cartoonishly displayed characters, gets them a -1.
Dialogue is fairly clearly written, however, the game has its issues in carrying tone or properly using foreshadowing. But there is some clever banter and bouncing off of each other between the characters, such as Char-les and P-3 ribbing at each other, or dealing with the frustrations of interacting with AI services, like the train operating Rafik robot who insists we need a ticket - until we don't. The dialogue is fun, though it does get dreadful quite frequently. -1
Throughout the main story, we are slowly exposed to the reality of the political situation that Kollectiv 1.0 and 2.0 are embroiled in. Stuck between the Communist idealism of everyone being absolutely equal in caste, the Communist reality of iron-fisted political control where the political elite enjoy every luxury and power while the rest must work to fuel the political elite, and the usage of the Kollectiv systems as a means of a new military war-machine Dr. Sechenov does everything within his power, including murder, brainwashing, and treason to achieve the Communist Utopia with him at the top - not unlike Andrew Ryan from Bioshock who used Objectivism to maintain control of the underwater utopia of Rapture.
The game does well on its themes, though it plays them subtly in the beginning. Similar to Bioshock, which asks about objectivism, individualism, collectivism, and American Exceptionalism throughout the series, Atomic Heart challenges Communism, Russian Pride, the power of propaganda, collectivism, and hyper-progressing technology. Ultimately, the game does its themes well and paces them cleanly. +1
Sadly, the game's writing falls to a 3-out-of-5 for its mismatched tones and characters. Individually, the B-Movie action-hero character that is P-3 works, but only in a similarly B-Movie world, which Atomic Heart doesn't posit. The seriousness and political tones of the game work well but are grating against the main cast that can't seem to take it seriously, save for Dr. Sechenov.
The game's controls are clear-cut and simple, making the game easy to pick up at any point, which is an important aspect to have. Movement ramps up depending on how long you're moving, giving the game it's doom-shooter feeling.
Jumping is where the game can suffer, however, as I found myself over-shooting and under-shooting what felt like makeable jumps - or worse, landing on the platform and then rolling off the platform. The inconsistency with the platforming made a good portion of the game's navigation a pain. -1
The world is large, which gives us plenty of room for the doom-shooter controls to take the stage. Though, set pieces can be boiled down to 3 scenes; small towns, hallways, and small lab rooms. The game utilizes these spaces neatly by packing them with plenty of terrain and sub-obstacles to navigate around. Finding loot and exploring can be a puzzle in and of itself, however, it starts to feel like a chore when you're trying to hunt down specific weapons or weapon mods. Overall, we give the game a +1 for utilizing its visually stunning world.
The content in the game is entirely what you get with the story, a few weapons, though you'll find yourself sticking to 1 or 2 weapons primarily with proper ammo management. The world itself is fairly gorgeous, but the scenes you have to engage in can be limited to the same 5 enemies 90% of the time.
Where the content shines is its variety of puzzles. Various different lock-picking mini-games, puzzles to solve, and tricky areas to figure out navigation in. The team at Mundfish really knows how to craft an intriguing puzzle. As a majority of exploration is navigating these puzzles, it's crucial that they be fun from beginning to end. +1
Replayability is lackluster, as there's no reason to play through the game more than once unless you intend to go for all the achievements and 100% the game. Once you've played Atomic Heart once, you've played it 1000 times. -1
Mechanically, Atomic Heart is charming and feels quite like the good old days of Bioshock. The guns are clean and simple to use, melee combat is impactful and worthwhile to pursue, and the game's balance is nicely packaged. Utilizing the Polymer abilities such as electricity, Ice, and Telekinesis opens up some engaging combat functionality and puzzle solving. +1
It is undeniable that the game has style, and more than enough of it to boot. The designs of everything are uniquely Russian, hearkening back to the old designs of Soviet toys and propaganda made a reality with hyper-advanced technology. The music is jam-packed with oldies-styled Russian tracks, jeweled with the classic fatalism that followed the Soviet Union. Walking around, the world looks like a piece of concept art made real, it is an absolute stunner. +1
The game utilizes shaders exceedingly well, a great showcase for how using the technology can allow developers a visually stunning scene with minimal performance hit! From the giant freestanding blobs of Polymer to other unique and dazzling effects that dot the landscape of Atomic Heart.
Its animations are also top-of-the-line, and every movement is stunning and full of character and detail, we've never seen anything quite like it. If the Mundfish team is ever hired on elsewhere, we certainly hope it's to lead the animations of further projects.+1
Sticking to design theory found in old Soviet art and propaganda, the team at Mundfish was able to create a genuinely fun and charming cast of enemies and characters, animated to such great detail that everything lives and breathes, even if made of metal and plastic.
Overall, the gorgeous world runs quite well despite its scale and intensity, we have to give the team a +1 here as well.
Sound in the game is top-notch when it comes to enemies and everything else, but the standard background music falls flat with its one-note drones that make you immediately shut the background music off to spare yourself from reaching for the nearest bottle of Ibuprofen.
The huge dissonance between the game's in-world music being the charming Soviet Oldies, and the game's background tracks having a hard time choosing between half-felt Dubstep, One-note drones that go on forever, and orchestral pieces. We have to knock a point here for a game that can't decide what its audio tone is. -1
The game utilizes the first-person camera well, though the lack of an in-game FOV slider is a painful loss. Mundfish developers are looking into adding the slider via an update, thankfully, so we won't be knocking them a point here. The clarity of the camera is crucial as well, and the game's HUD stays out of the way, as do its object-locked subtitles. +1
Final Result 3.3/5
Atomic Heart is a fun game, easy to pick up for some after-work play, but ultimately the game suffers from its lack of engaging play and story, carried heavily by its graphics and animation. Atomic Heart doesn't make our Must-Play list, in all honesty, it's a passable game where players won't be missing much. We appreciate their wonderful, artistic design and animation, but Mundfish needs to master their writing skills more and work on their ability to revolutionize their gameplay design as much as they have mastered their animation and art.