The beginning of Atomic Heart tells a lot more than it seems and turns out to be a subtle declaration of intent. A boat ride through a canal allows us to take a look around and observe its retro-futuristic setting.
We are presented with a scenario that seems perfect, with whitish structures, exuding purity, and people celebrating, with balloons, confetti and music at full blast. Without moving from the site, we glimpse that all this is thanks to the robots, which we see incessantly sweeping the stage while humans celebrate, remarking that the machines have contributed to achieving this climate of happiness and to making the lives of others much easier.
One of them helps a married couple carry their bags to their room, while the couple argue trying to remember the security code. It’s 0451, a recurring combination in video game safes ever since Warren Spector put it on the first locked door of System Shock’s first level. It was the key used in the offices of Looking Glass Studios, and in turn was a tribute to Fahrenheit 451, the legendary dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury. He would say that I have not seen a single book throughout the entire game.
It is evident that Mundfish has been inspired by a multitude of science fiction works of different genres to shape his Soviet uchronia. It is not the first time that a rebellion of the machines has been used to design a story that makes us wonder twice what we are going to ask Alexa or that we look askance at the toaster.
Obviously, the apparent social happiness of which we spoke earlier is short-lived, because it doesn’t take long for problems to arise and the machines that used to broom happily become hostile to any trace of humanity.
The reasons? Obviously there is someone behind all this and we will have to find out playing P-3, a misguided and amnesiac protagonist who only has the company of a chatty glove named Char-Les. A narrative conspiracy that, although it revolves too much on the same axis throughout the work and can err on the obvious, has very inspired moments thanks to the charisma of the leading duo. And it also leaves the occasional bit of subtle political criticism, but without taking too much of a position on this aspect. As the situation is, and taking into account that they are a Russian study, almost better.
Comparisons are hateful, but referring to BioShock is almost inevitable, because Atomic Heart draws a lot from the work created by Ken Levine, both for its dystopian setting and for its style of play, which combines the power of firearms with the powers specials.
Here we do not have plasmids, but the aforementioned glove increases the range of options when it comes to fighting against tin beings, taking advantage of the situation to attack with the hackneyed but always effective telekinesis, hitting enemies with lightning or throwing a kind of mass at them reminiscent of Prey’s Gloo, but a little less tasteless and practical.
Atomic Heart takes the best of environmental shooters and immersive sims to offer all kinds of possibilities when it comes to facing the numerous enemies that will come short-circuiting towards us, and take advantage of the scenario environments and combine the possibilities that we have in our hands, never better said, is key. It is true, however, that it may take you a few hours to get used to the pace of the game, which has a point of speed less than that of other shooters like Wolfenstein, Doom or Bioshock itself.
This can be a problem in the first hours of the adventure, coupled with the strange decisions that Mundfish has made in the field of accessibility in general. Atomic Heart is short on explanations, and that’s not all a bad thing.
In the first bars they guide us with brief tutorials on the operation and understanding of the scenario, but afterwards we do not have a glossary in the menu that serves to refresh our memory. Inventory management is not too optimal either: we have a recurring element that we use to make new weapons, make ammunition or improve glove abilities, and the objects that we obtain leftovers will go to a kind of warehouse, but we will not be able to find them there.
indicate what is what with a pop-up window to learn the capabilities of the object or the type of ammunition in question; We can only check it once we leave that menu and access the central panel with the selections that we have equipped at that moment. It is something that will surely be addressed soon with an update, but it is that detail time that is strange that they have gone through a testing phase without anyone realizing how impractical it is and the time that is lost on something that should be instant .
You may be thinking that this is something trivial, that this is a shooter and you just have to shoot. However, one of Atomic Heart’s differential points is its structure, which combines the most immersive missions of the main story with open world elements that seem like a good accompaniment to continue delving into the exceptional setting of the work.
Exploring these environments is optional and serves to get fully involved in secondary tasks with juicy rewards in the form of diagrams to get new weapons or improvements for those we already have.
The fun here is discovering how to access the areas that allow us to obtain that material. Generally it is through fun and brainy processes in which to play with security cameras that allow us to open doors with which to access these secret areas.
The process is great, although it is hampered a bit by the fact that the exterior is full of enemies, urging us to combat and hindering exploration. Mundfish has kept it simple with its more open areas and, although we would surely prefer that they were not infested with robots that seem to be simply placed there to hinder us, and that perhaps it would have done well to add a more elaborate secondary narrative component, with other characters fighting for surviving, it more than fulfills as a complementary facet that engages.
If we are overwhelmed that they won’t let us explore to our heart’s content, we can always take a car and go to the settings in which the adventure progresses. Here everything becomes much more linear, but it is where the essence of the game is best identified, that oppressive style a la BioShock and the fear that, anywhere, they are going to ambush us. Atomic Heart manages to be overwhelming, and it does so not only by having dark corridors, but by an excellent design of environments and enemies, which impose even being robots with absurd mustaches.
This sensation deepens that each fight is multitudinous and overwhelming; the blows come from several places at the same time and with a devilish speed, as distressing as it is fun. A constant hostility to deal with based on powers, dodges and bullets that culminates with various battles against imposing bosses that, although they are more spectacular than fun, do not give the player any rest either. And it’s not all about crushing circuits: although almost everything ends up shining in combat, there are also platform sectors in which we must rack our brains to solve elaborate puzzles with magnets, structures or panels that will have our heads spinning for a while to find out how to resolve the situation. Some puzzles are as majestic as they are macabre, like having to stage murder by moving the poses of ballet dancer statues.
But without a doubt, one of the most attractive aspects of the game is a visual section that is obvious, impressive. It is inevitable to be amazed by the details of the settings and the careful appearance with which any element that we see on the screen has been endowed.
This reaches its peak, again, in combat, which with a lot of enemies simultaneously, effects and particles, maintains an exquisite solvency that benefits immersion. Despite all this affection, yes, we have come across some annoying bug at very specific moments with which we have had to restart the game. It is curious, however, that at least in the console version, the game does not allow changing the image mode, something that has become common in current generation titles, and that there are hardly any configurable options in the menus, nor even for the size of the subtitles, which is tiny and will make you consider a visit to the ophthalmologist.
Fortunately, the game is dubbed into Spanish, with excellent work that rounds off a masterful sound section, which with well-known melodies accompanies feeling more within the murky world that its authors have designed.
Atomic Heart may be one step below the ladder of greatness inhabited by the greats of the genre, but it cannot be denied that its developers have put their hearts, never better said, when creating an interesting universe that serves as first stone so that, paradoxically, a hopeful future can be built, either on this brand or to take into account the future projects of Mundfish.