Atomic Heart: The Russian Bioshock in preview

Atomic Heart: The Russian Bioshock in preview
Atomic Heart returned to the scene at the end of January with a breathtaking trailer. In a one-minute clip, the role-playing-shooter mix displayed its graphic splendor - including nice ray tracing effects thanks to Nvidia RTX support. Even we couldn't help but say: Hats off, that really doesn't look bad. Especially when you consider what the game's history has been like so far. The development of Atomic Heart was by no means problem-free, but was paved with setbacks and misunderstandings, as we want to take a closer look at in this special.

It starts with a first teaser in May 2018, with which Atomic Heart first caught the attention of the gaming community. The almost two-minute clip is a parade of absolutely bizarre scenes: furry creatures with apples on their heads, meadows that move as if in waves, people seemingly frozen in transparent polymer gel. It was a single cluster fuck that catapulted the title out of nowhere into the media spotlight, brought it to the front pages of major publications such as IGN or PCGamer and even gave it the name "Soviet Bioshock". Only one thing remained unclear in all the euphoria: What is Atomic Heart now? That question wasn't that easy to answer. Because apparently not even the makers themselves knew at the time the trailer was published.

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Table of contents

1 Is it all just a fake? 2 BioShock gameplay meets Dark Souls difficulty level 3 Rage against the Machines 4 Nice trailer, no release

Is everything just a fake?

In January 2019, the online forum Resetera published reports about catastrophic working conditions at the responsible Moscow studio Mundfish, up to now an absolute no-name in the industry. The conditions within the team are chaotic, internal anonymous sources reported. The first trailer, for example, is completely fake and just a kind of in-engine concept art that should somehow be converted into a game due to the massive positive feedback. For a long time there was no clear vision, which is mainly due to the lack of competence of the studio management, who has no experience in the field. So the title was stuck in development hell for a good year until the project was started from scratch, which supposedly led to an enormous reduction in the quality of the game. Atomic Heart in its current state lacks many promised elements, is overall very linear and far from what was shown in the trailer. A real bang!

An answer from Mundfish was of course not long in coming. In an official statement they denied all allegations and then published, as if to prove it, a new extensive gameplay trailer that practically screamed: Look here, Atomic Heart is real and not a cheap cash grab!

In Atomic Heart she examines a remote Russian robot factory where the mechanical helpers rebelled against their human owners. Source: Mundfish Instead, the creators showed what should really await us in their first work, namely an action role-playing game with shooter elements. Or is it a shooter with role-playing elements? Well, the exact definition of Atomic Heart is still a bit difficult today. One thing is clear: there will be blasts and pounding as much as possible. The combat system from the first person perspective relies on a mix of firearms and improvised melee weapons that are tinkered together from scrap, metal and other materials. Crafting and looting are therefore also elementary game components, as is the constant modification and improvement of your war tools. This overall package is supplemented by seemingly supernatural powers that you unleash with your left hand. The use of telekinesis and the like evokes strong memories of the plasmids from BioShock or the Typhon abilities from Prey.

BioShock gameplay meets Dark Souls difficulty level

Despite these little helpers Atomic Heart will always stay crisp, according to the developers. If you are facing two adversaries, it should be a real challenge. Not only do you have to evade cleverly, you also have to be careful with your limited ammunition. The standard difficulty level of the shooter-RPG mix offers a real hardcore challenge for veterans and Soulslike fans. The story mode, on the other hand, also makes the title entertaining for casual players, who can look forward to a wide range of bizarre weapons and opponents in addition to optional stealth passages. They mostly fall into the robot category, but in the form of boss fights they offer enough variance - at least in theory.

Can Atomic Heart keep what it promises? So far, only Russian game testers and influencers have been allowed to play the shooter-RPG mix behind closed doors. Source: Mundfish How smooth the whole thing will actually run is currently unclear. So far, Atomic Heart has seen little real shooter gameplay, most of the time only opponents were beaten. And since Cyberpunk 2077 at the latest, we should know: If developers deliberately do not show certain aspects of a game, that should definitely be a reason for skepticism. Especially since the few rifles on display sounded rather poor, many animations still looked a bit out of round and the hit feedback still left room for improvement. We owed the bloody finishers that Mundfish had promised in its updates. So we have to wait and see whether there is actually playful substance behind the crazy aesthetics.

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Rage against the Machines

There are still some questions unanswered when it comes to the story, even if the makers have now disclosed isolated information. Atomic Heart will play an alternative timeline in the Soviet republic sometime around the year 1955, at a time when the technological revolution has already taken place and has produced inventions like the Internet, holograms or robots - just with a communist touch. There you slip into the role of the mentally unstable KGB special agent P-3, who was sent by the government to investigate a factory for small mechanical helpers, around which things have become strangely quiet after a software error recently.

Protagonist P-3 does not collect XP and does not rise in level. But his weapons can be continuously upgraded. Source: Mundfish From the game world, we have so far mainly seen buildings, bunkers or laboratories and less open areas. Mundfish promises, however, that in addition to the factory itself, various other locations and biomes await you, all of which should be connected to each other by rail network. That sounds a bit like Metro Exodus: small open-world sandbox sections in which you can let off steam, connected to a central transport system. It also fits in with the fact that Atomic Heart is supposed to be a more linear game experience that also offers side quests and puzzles, but is "rather small" for today's standards, as Mundfish explains on its Steam page. The main story of the shooter RPG will therefore probably only take 20 hours, but it will offer enough replay value so that several runs are worthwhile. Collecting enthusiasts and lore fetishists in particular will enjoy the numerous radio transmissions and scientific documents that reveal more about the game world and what is happening there.

Nice trailer, no release

When designing them, the creators have based themselves on Stalker, the sci-fi series "Black Mirror" or the works of Stanislaw Lem. The result is somehow difficult to put into words: a completely surreal mix of Art Deco architecture, dystopian Soviet theme park and horribly failed technology experiment. What you can definitely say: Like in the first trailer from almost three years ago, Atomic Heart still looks breathtaking. The lighting, the visual effects, the animations - the Unreal Engine 4 gives a really impressive picture. And we're not only supported by ray tracing and DLSS technology, but also accompanied by a great soundtrack by Mick Gordon, the music mastermind behind Doom and Doom Eternal.

When we finally try the promising overall package for ourselves are allowed, but unfortunately that is still not known. One thing is certain: Mundfish's 30 permanent employees, some of them with triple-A experience, are working flat out to bring Atomic Heart to the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X this year. However, it remains to be seen whether this will actually work. The studio announced in a blog post from July 2020 that all the basic mechanics are working and that it is now only about fine-tuning the combat system and staging. However, when you look at the current job advertisements of the developers, including some elementary positions such as level designer, art director or 3D animator, it looks very ambitious. So it is quite possible that the RPG shooter mix will be a little longer in coming. But then hopefully at least what the crazy pictures have promised.

When it comes to level design, the developers at Mundfish use genre colleagues such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Bioshock, but also with other media such as the sci-fi series Black Mirror. Source: Mundfish.

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