Atomic Heart could have been the next BioShock

atomic heart use your BioShock influences on your sleeve. Both games place first-person adventure mechanics in elaborate utopias gone wrong. Both feature bombastic, verbose leaders determined to make their grandiose dreams a reality; combat repertoires blend traditional weapons with the game’s “magic” (instead of BioShockplasmids or Infinite BioShock‘s Vigors, we have atomic heart‘s Polymers); a confused and amnesiac main character has mysterious ties to said leader, forming the crux of the narrative.

Crucially, however, atomic heart it fails to define what made the BioShock series – as divisive as it is – tick: a sharp focus on a few core themes.

Instead of carefully weaving a textured dimension into its plot and gameplay, atomic heart developer Mundfish has cast its net wide. And for hugging so much, he held very little. This lack of focus, intentional or otherwise, on careful narrative plotting in favor of ink bombs of settings results in a vague outline of BioShock rather than a detailed reimagining. None of this is to mention the mess of its writing bloodied the waters of its world, or the incessant wailing and unwarranted antagonism of its unlikely protagonist, all within a haphazard mess of levels that needed more editing, not more variety.

While my initial impressions of the game were (and continue to be) highly favourable, and I highly recommend trying it out on Game Pass – just not buying it – I can’t help but be disappointed by the consistency of the game’s inconsistencies. While the retro Soviet “aesthetic” is prominent, that beautiful, bombastic opening theme is abandoned in favor of occasional notes. It’s more symphony than solo.

Image: Mundfish/Focus Entertainment, 4Divinity

This diversity disease also seeps into the bones of the gameplay. While atomic heartThe approach is initially fun – it jumps from areas teeming with plant zombies to spaces with massive monsters – it quickly feels like the designers have taken the kitchen sink approach. There is no connection between these sections of the world, and as a result, the game feels more like a patchwork quilt rather than several strong ideas that are gradually repeated in each subsequent level.

Crucial parts of the game take place in underground facilities – interesting hallways, initially spooky and beautiful – but when Mundfish pushed me inside atomic heartopen world of, I really thought about turning off the game.

In the game’s semi-open world, the grim depths of an empire’s fractured flaws are abandoned in favor of a gaudy pastoral setting. The space is open and full of security cameras and robots and machines that make more robots when alerted by said security cameras. Everything you’ve spent hours learning is abandoned — atomic heartThe open world of may very well be a different ball game altogether. Filled with endlessly repairing robots and swarms of bullet sponge enemies that are positioned in almost every corner, these open world areas are some of the most poorly designed spaces I’ve ever encountered.

The Atomic Heart player character looks at his left hand, while an older woman looks behind him.

Image: Mundfish/Focus Entertainment, 4Divinity

In addition to hosting a bunch of useful crafting materials, I’d advise – if you insist on continuing – to skip the open world altogether. The game is stingy with ammo, which you’re better off saving for hallway fights and boss battles.

After all, let me repeat: atomic heart‘s open world robots respawn infinitely. I can’t understand this design choice or why it’s so antagonistic to its presence. Even FromSoftware’s games, famous for their worlds’ antagonism towards players, kill off enemies semi-permanently.

But the open-world design is illustrative of the broader point: the game is trying to do everything and therefore earns next to nothing. BioShock it had big beautiful spaces but didn’t inject such design into the gameplay – there was no need to diversify its focus as it stuck to a theme and played with it. atomic heart, in his attempt at complexity, spins a thousand plates and drops many. If the developers had worked more closely to BioShock, would have remained in its underground facilities, carefully playing its central theme. It would have turned a sometimes enjoyable game into a memorable one.

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