Remember Bioshock? Well take out all the philosophy and nuance, replace splicers with androids, and hire an edgy misogynistic 14-year-old to write superfluous dialogue, all while a copy of The Communist Manifesto sits unopened on a table nearby.
Privet, Atomic Heart. Kak dela?
Communism is so Len-in right now
Let’s start nice, shall we? Visually Atomic Heart is fine. It’s not pushing the envelope graphically in any way, but it looks exactly as you would expect this tribute to the Shock games to look in 2022. It’s nice, it’s functional, and frankly that’s a win these days. Elevators, flights, and other transitions take far too long, to the point that I’d probably rather a loading screen than standing around in a 6 foot box for 45 seconds doing nothing.
The music is fun, with Russian covers of various songs peppered in and reasoned away with AI learning. Mick Gordon’s score pumps in well, and although I’ll eternally think of DOOM whenever I hear those driving guitars and bass, it gives Atomic Heart a much-needed identity beyond simply being SovietShock. Design is great, but I’m a real sucker for the old Glory of the Soviet Union aesthetic to begin with. Seeing giant statues raising golden sickles to the sky is a way to get me interested, and honestly, it’s why I thought I’d love this game.
Unfortunately, it’s all skin deep. What we have here is a repetitive, sometimes frustrating first-person shooter paying homage to a series it can’t emulate and making confusing points about an ideology it doesn’t understand. Harsh, yes, but I once saw someone compare their first novel to “Homer’s Odyssey by way of George Orwell”, and the vibes are very similar.
If you don’t want me to be harsh, don’t compare yourself to Bioshock.
Writing is…. Not good. The main plot of Atomic Heart is predictable down to each story beat, and while that’s fine if the story is at least good, it’s really not. The bizarre part is that clearly the writers thought they were the cleverest group of people ever to exist in a single room together, and write as though they think that. This expands beyond the story and into the main script of the game; let me paint you a picture of the most egregious example.
Maybe 3 hours into the game, you need to get on a train. After making your way through a ruined village to get to the station, the robo-conductor says you need a ticket. You wander the station environs to ask the cybernetically-enhanced corpses (roll with it) lying around for a ticket. Hooray, you get one, but upon returning to the station, you’re informed that the ticket is invalid. Go further out to get a new ticket. Ignore the multiple ticket booths you could easily open to get a ticket. You leave and retrieve three times, and any will I had to play the game for pleasure completely evaporated.
I want to make it clear, this irritation of this 15 minute segment utterly ruined the entire experience for me; the clumsiness of this attempt to deconstruct the concept of a fetch quest was so poorly executed that I literally stopped playing the game. This is made even more insulting because the opening section of the game is LITERALLY a prolonged fetch quest, so I have to ask what the bloody point was. You can act like you’re too cool to do the thing, sure. But not half an hour after literally doing the thing in your opening act.
Nice job guys. Even the protagonist gets pissed off, and has to be talked down by his glove buddy.
A quiet comrade is a happy comrade
Speaking of Comrade Major himself, I’ve always been against silent protagonists. Fallout 4 shook my resolve there, and a couple of other dicey experiences haven’t helped, but Atomic Heart broke it. If you can’t write dialogue, don’t. Just don’t. I’m not sure which angsty teen they pulled off 4Chan to bring Agent P-3 to life, but they should have left him there. Every single goddam line he says is agony.
Let’s compliment sandwich this though; Granny Zima is a goddam treasure and I love the Baba Yaga stuff. That tiny chicken house inside the larger, flying, heavily armed chicken house is glorious. Blaming Stalin for making pipes sexy was hilarious and also probably true. Seriously, Google young Stalin and tell me that’s not a babe. And that’s why I can’t hate Atomic Heart. Yeah I stopped having fun, but brief flashes like this made me forget that for a while.
Ultimately, the narrative is weak, the dialogue atrocious, and the gameplay isn’t fun enough to make it worthwhile. I wish, truly, that I had better things to say about Atomic Heart. I was so excited for this game, and to play this instead of what I wanted was upsetting. It’s not bad, but it’s not good. It’s just sort of there.
And similarly, this review just sort of ends.
Nothing to write to the Motherland about