Playing Atomic Heart is like riding a rollercoaster in desperate need of maintenance. The beginning sets an excellent stage, the gradual introduction and growing intrigue in the world spiking with every new view and vista the game shows you. Like the frightened babbling screams of other riders, our protagonist ‘P3’ spouts constant inane verbal waffle until the sound of rushing wind fills our ears, making us believe we are on the cusp of pure excitement.
But wait. The rushing wind is not the fast and intense drop down the first vertical section of rollercoaster it appeared to be. What you are actually feeling is the ride itself plummeting down into the cold abyss of copy-pasted vanilla shooting, corridor safari, and even worse, a promising new IP with a sub-standard execution. Welcome to my review for
Forspoken Atomic Heart.
The opening I described takes place in a visually stunning and finely detailed flying city, but unfortunately thanks to the fixed camera angle throughout every second of cutscene which dominates the first 30 minutes of gameplay, we’re not allowed to turn and look at it. Things get worse after leaving the flying city segment very early on when heading for the map the actual game takes place in. The game proudly takes the player on a flying taxi ride across an expanse of map which does look very pretty, but is vexingly also marred by being another fixed camera section, so I felt I couldn’t appreciate as much of it as I should have been able to.
Finally, combat begins, and after butchering some chickens and pigs with an axe because I’m a sadistic prick, I could turn my attention to fighting the robots the game was marketed with. This was incredibly satisfying for a couple of minutes before I was confronted with the realisation an hour or so in that yes, this is what I would be doing for the entire game!
If you’re expecting an experience like Dark Souls, you’re going to be disappointed. While it is highly encouraged to dodge and zip around the environment to avoid enemies, a lot of them move so unpredictably and erratically that it borders on the unfair. Atomic Heart’s difficulty scaling is the exact reason I play all games on easy mode, because if I had to redo combat this repetitive often enough I might be inclined to try and eat my own hands.
The environments tackle both ends of the quality spectrum by being either astoundingly pretty with gigantic majestic statues dominating the landscape, or tragically bland with the multitude of corridors I keep being forced down. I find it truly baffling that a game released in 2023 is so dead set on recycling the horrible video game trends we had for the most part abandoned a decade ago.
One feature I cannot help but praise is the soundtrack, which is comfortably Atomic Heart’s strongest feature. Legendary composer Mick Gordon, of DOOM and Wolfenstein fame, created the music for the game and I can commend him (exclusively) on a job well done. No notes.
While the music and sound design are excellent, another factor which hugely stands out, though for the wrong reasons, is the amount of repetitive tasks and banal busywork the game expects you to complete. The earliest gameplay sections of Atomic Heart are dominated by fetch quests and aggressively devoid of substance grey and brown environments, with players expected to grit their teeth and earn the ability to freely explore an open map. The pay-off for finally stepping out of the murky basement hours and hours are spent in at the beginning of the game is tragically underwhelming.
Back to the gameplay; it’s astonishing to me, a power-hungry gamer with a penchant for video game violence, how quickly my mood soured on the powers in this game. Look at franchises like Dishonored, none of whom’s game abilities raise a protagonist to godlike status, but who manages to remain fun and experimental even after several playthroughs. Atomic Heart achieves the opposite of this, with each power being established as boring early on. I will always remember the first time I used the lightning ability on one of the most basic enemies in the game, only for them to react with nothing but a look of condescending pity before dropkicking me in the head.
I did enjoy using the first power I chose to dump more than one upgrade point into, telekinesis, and it did lead to some of my most satisfying moments with Atomic Heart. I relished catching a robot in their run-up to dropkick me with it before fluidly blowing their gormless head off with the shotgun. None of the other powers ever felt quite as fun to use, even when upgraded, so I predominantly used telekinesis during my play time.
My time with the game was regularly plagued with bugs, even after patches. A couple of times enemies attacked P3 with such ferocity that they clipped right through him, leading to me attempting to end or escape the fight with a flailing robot lodged in his windpipe. If the game wasn’t solely first person this might have found a way to be more funny than annoying, but it was not to be. I also didn’t appreciate the way dead robots and human carcasses would constantly glitch around when the camera thought I couldn’t see them, and I’d often launch into what I thought was combat, only for my opponent to transpire to be long since vanquished.
Atomic Heart was one of my most anticipated games of 2023, but within mere hours of starting it my excitement had transitioned to groan-filled boredom. A common criticism of the game lies with its writing, and while I don’t loathe P3 as I do Frey from Forspoken, the majority of lines he comes out with are filling silences I would have much preferred remained silent. P3 is partial to a good chain-swear, much like Frey, but at least his are directed at enemy robots rather than the act of existing itself.
To anyone who is desperate for a new Bioshock inspired game I would suggest locking yourself in a hyperbolic time chamber until the new Ken Levine game, Judas, releases in (probably) a few years. Let me save you the trouble if you don’t have Xbox Game Pass, Atomic Heart isn’t for you. All games that are free are worth trying if you do have Game Pass, but you’re going to have to commit a lot more hours to getting anywhere with it than you’d probably like to.
I do intend to continue playing Atomic Heart after the posting of this review, which counts for something, but overall I think it is a bland game made by a development team who should have without a doubt known better.
5 / 10
Written, edited and images sourced by Alexx.
Game code provided by publisher.