What do you get when you combine the alternate history story of the Wolfenstein series with the gameplay of Bioshock? The new developers asked themselves this question all the way back in 2017 when they first announced their game, Atomic Heart. After a long wait filled with controversy, the game has finally been released. So now the question is—is the game even worth playing?
Well, after having to restart the game on seven different occasions, one of which made me lose almost an hour's worth of progress, I’d say Mundfish went a bit over their heads on this one.
Wayyy back in the USSR…
Atomic Heart’s roughly 14-hour campaign follows Major Nechaev aka P-3 and his brand new talking glove known as Charles. The story is set in an alternate 1950s inside a floating soviet compound called Facility 3826. After all of the robots that keep Facility 3826 afloat start to go haywire and start killing humans, Major P-3 tries to make things right.
The cast of characters in this game includes quite a diverse list. One of the coolest characters that stuck out to me was the badass Granny Zina, an ex-communications officer for Facility 3826 with an armory that can take down a fleet of tanks, or in this case, an army of killer soviet robots. Zina helps you throughout the story by giving you weapon blueprints, along with simple tips that can help you get through one of the game’s many puzzles. Not like you need much help as most of the puzzles I encountered in my playthrough were either extremely simple or completely skippable.
Another set of characters you’ll meet throughout the adventure is Dr. Petrov and Dr. Filatova. These scientists are set on taking down your in-game boss aka Dr. Sechenov, who “raised” P-3 during the last two years of his life. Every single character in this game has secrets that you must unravel through the story. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go over what the secrets are, but know that while a couple of them are easy to spot, some others will hide in plain sight.
As previously mentioned, P-3 was “raised” by Sechenov. Early dialogue between P-3 and Charles quickly tells you that even though P-3 is a cool hardcore military guy, he has a very limited memory that goes back only about two years. You later learn exactly what happened to P-3 and his memory, but not until near the climax of the tale. All you initially know is that you’re a badass and that with the power of your new AI glove, you gotta stop the robots from killing everyone. Throughout the tutorial missions, I was confused as to why P-3 even cares about helping the facility other than the fact that he’s a soldier. You don’t even get the addition of an opening cutscene to give you a feel of the setting. The moment you click “new game” you are thrown into a tiny boat and are literally having a conversation with the palm of your hand. The only complaints that I have about P-3 as a character, however, is his voice dubbing, which can thankfully be switched to Russian if you get as annoyed as I did. Not to mention his catchphrase, “crispy critters,” which made me cringe every time the phrase was uttered, which was far too often.
Sechenov is one of the more interesting characters in the game. In the 1930s, Sechenov discovered something called Polymer, an electrical plastic goo that is able to transmit information. Right before the game starts, P-3 receives an injection of polymer that connects him to his talking glove, Charles. Charles is what grants you the ability to interact with doors and hack computers, but also all the cool Bioshock-esque abilities that are shown in the trailers. My favorite to use had to be the mass telekinesis ability, which you can use to lift up a horde of enemies, and quickly slam them down on the ground to induce some damage.
In Soviet Russia, video game plays you
Although the characters and amazing setting kept me hooked to the very end, the brutal AI and the many glitches I encountered almost had me dropping the game entirely.
In total, my game had one hard crash. The hard crash wasn’t too bad—as I had just recently saved, so very little progress was lost. What did set me back quite a bit, however, was how many times I got stuck in the game’s many elevators. The first time an elevator decided not to load on me I sat there for five minutes waiting for it to open, just for it to never happen. I had to reload my game because of elevators four times, which may not seem like a lot, but when it happens to you three times in one sitting, it starts to take a toll on your psyche. The glitch that affected me the worst was when an entire room didn’t load correctly, causing P-3 to fall infinitely into a dark void inside the skybox. After reloading that save, I realized that the game set me back almost an hour, meaning there was a lot of backtracking to do. The game also had small glitches such as guns not loading in or being unable to switch your glove abilities, which happened to me multiple times.
Needless to say, the game has its fair share of bugs and glitches. This doesn’t detract, however, from the awesome gameplay experience that the game provides. There are few things more satisfying than picking up a mustached robot, putting some holes into them with your trusty AK-47, and slamming its body into the ground all while Mick Gordon shreds his beautiful heavy metal sound into your eardrums. It’s truly a blissful experience that few AAA games are able to capture.
The gunplay here is cool, but I’m afraid that it's nothing we’ve seen before from the likes of Bethesda with their latest reboot of Prey. Some guns such as the PM and KS-23 use actual ammo that you have to pick up and manage in order to come out on top, but some weapons such as the Dominator and Railgun use energy that refills itself automatically, all weapons, however, can be upgraded to make them viable no matter the situation. Different enemies also have different vulnerabilities that make it so certain types of weapons are more effective. Some enemies can only be damaged using melee attacks, meaning that you can’t just run and gun your way through every situation.
Although all of these things can come together and ultimately make a good product, such as the one we got, I just can’t say that this game is the revolutionary spiritual successor to Bioshock like people were hoping it would be. The game simply just doesn’t make you fall in love with the world as you do with Rapture, it doesn’t give you enough cool toys to play with, it's way too broken to pay $60 for it, and it simply doesn’t take itself as seriously as it should for the heights it is striving for. Although I had a good time playing through P-3’s story, the whole experience just falls so short of what it was trying to be. Just like Soviet Russia, this game aimed for the moon and ended up being so close, but feeling so very far.
Contact Conor Butler with comments at email@example.com