Atomic Heart is the craziest, most bizarre, and most bombastic game I think I'll play this year. It has a self-referential, even self-deprecating sense of comedy that astounded me, and its allusions to the games it so desperately wanted to be—see any BioShock game—were spot on. To put it bluntly, Atomic Heart is pure pulp schlock.
Based on my preview, I expected Atomic Heart's story to try to imitate BioShock's thoughts on determinism and free agency. Anyone expecting caviar and instead get mince and mashed potatoes will be dissatisfied. That being said, mince and mash is perfectly enough in a pinch, and Atomic Heart does the job; it simply never reaches the lofty heights of those it imitates. Its ensemble of people is completely unpleasant from start to finish, and the "hero" displays levels of vulgarity that should have died when Duke did aeons ago.
There's one character whose insanity is so unwarranted that it's almost offensive. It all feels like another act of self-sabotage aimed at an unreachable gold standard. In the end, Atomic Heart's biggest sin is that it pushes us to reminisce about what is ultimately a better game.
It's a shame, since I believe that if all of the game's action were condensed into a more linear experience, the game could be much better. The two prongs of attack both feel terrific and appear to be the only areas where Atomic Heart may even outperform its predecessor. I only got blueprints for a few of the weapons on sale, but they were all powerful in their own right. I'm a sucker for a shotgun, and watching the shells in Atomic Heart rip shreds off the various automatons lining the corridors—and even shear them in half—never gets old.
The fantastic boss fights are the game's most brilliant moments, the ones that actually persuade me that bits of the Atomic Heart game I desired do exist. They're as blatant as the story's various "twists" via obvious arenas, but they're a thrilling exhibition of what the game does best, which is battle.
Charles, on the other hand, takes things literally. He's a polymerized artificial intelligence who rides in the backseat and serves as your other attacking weapon. You'll be able to deal elemental harm, use the wild powers of telekinesis, and shield yourself with Charles. While the gunplay in Atomic Heart is fantastic, the extras, such as the player's upgrading pathways for weaponry, Charles, and the agent himself, feel a little jumbled. Simply said, there are too many currencies to keep track of, especially when it comes to sprucing up your gun shed.
My first observations are that the game is structurally comparable to Metro Exodus rather than Halo Infinite.
The game is divided into overworlds by a network of utilities. The former are large enough, but ultimately devoid of anything worth viewing, so much so that they could just as well be a tunnel from point A to point B. Atomic Heart's corridor crawling is at its best, and I'll remember the first few hours fondly. It doesn't accomplish anything particularly novel with how it constructs fetch quests, but I do love how it generates a sense of place and allows Atomic Heart's design team's untapped talent to run wild.
When I played the game on PC, the performance was as smooth as you'd expect. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of the console versions. The frame rate was mostly uneven, pop-in was a guarantee, and I experienced a couple of harsh crashes during one very dramatic boss fight. Other niggles, such as the UI remaining throughout sequences, undermined the attempt to develop some tone.
Another area where Atomic Heart excels is in its art, but I'm willing to exclude any human characters from that otherwise broad remark. It takes from BioShock's playbook in delivering a world of extremes, displaying capitalist depravity through its magnificent marble auditoriums while also elevating man's arrogance through its decaying laboratories. Even though it is desolate, the overworld, with its lush foliage and abandoned cars, has a distinct Tales from the Loop feel about it. I'll even go so far as to argue that if you're interested in Atomic Heart primarily for its design, you should buy the inevitable art book instead.
While I did appreciate my time with Atomic Heart, I can't help but think of it as a letdown. Its ambitions eventually cripple it for the few things it accomplishes well, leaving it firmly in the frigid shadow of larger games that it so badly strives to replicate.
Atomic Heart will be released on February 21st for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The plot plays out like a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced popcorn farce, the upgrade shop could as well be Travelex considering the number of currencies it handles, and the execution is subpar. Atomic Heart is a strenuous workout. It has some obvious benefits, like as first-rate art direction and gunplay, but these are considerably overwhelmed by the game's flaws.
ATOMIC HEART REVIEW - ACHY BREAKY HEART
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