Anybody who's ever played Irrational's BioShock Infinite will be immediately familiar with the opening sequence of Atomic Heart. You arrive at an 'idyllic' utopian city by boat — a city that happens to be floating amongst the clouds of a post-WW2 land dominated by Soviet science — before a short guided tour takes a turn for the worse. While Atomic Heart swaps Infinite's early 20th century Americana for a 1950s depiction of communist Russia, developer Mundfish wears its inspirations on its sleeve right from the get go. Unfortunately, Atomic Heart never truly builds on the solid foundations such an introduction sets up, resulting in an uneven adventure where the ideas behind its world are ultimately stronger than the final game that takes place within it.

Atomic Heart Review - Screenshot 1 of 5

Once the game's intro moves on from pure walking simulator to hectic first-person shooter, Atomic Heart settles into a rhythm pretty quickly. You'll regularly plunge yourself into underground facilities to progress the storyline, where various puzzle rooms and combat scenarios play out from a first-person perspective. These 'dungeon' areas are more puzzle oriented to begin with (although combat plays a part from minute one) before they absolutely become more shooty-bang-bang by the end of Atomic Heart's roughly 15-hour adventure.

Now, you may have seen pre-release material showcasing an open world full of aggressive robot creatures out to spoil the party. While such scenarios do exist in the game, Atomic Heart's structure is tough to wrap your head around. The 'open area' segments almost serve as stepping stones between the game's main dungeon-led missions, and sadly, they're a huge missed opportunity when you consider how intriguing the game's world is.

We're not saying we wanted a Ubisoft collectathon out here, but Mundfish just hasn't packed enough meaningful content into Atomic Heart's open world to justify much exploration before moving on to the next main mission. We did do a bit of exploration for the purpose of this review, and found little beyond some unnecessary combat encounters and resources for upgrading weapons or abilities. In truth, it wasn't worth wasting the resources needed to successfully navigate Atomic Heart's overworld beyond using it as a vehicle to head to the next main waypoint.

Atomic Heart Review - Screenshot 2 of 5

Having said that, if you're into your brutalist soviet architecture and how the game meshes this aesthetic with a high-tech robot-led society, then maybe it is worth a little bit of a wander from time to time. Again, you won't find much that the game's introduction and main missions don't already show off, but we really did enjoy just taking in the world of Atomic Heart every now and again. The game's retrofuture style is downright beautiful, and watching on as the world's suspended rail line snakes and weaves through the mountainous environment is a sight to behold. Just watch out for them sneaky robots, they ain't the types for a casual stroll among the hills.

Right, back to the meat of Atomic Heart's main campaign - its story-led dungeons. This is where you'll spend the majority of your time with Mundfish's adventure, and they're largely enjoyable if not a bit repetitive come your adventure's closing stages. The facilities typically take shape as multi-room dungeons featuring hectic combat sections, mini boss fights and some light puzzling here and there. The puzzles never really posed a huge obstacle for us — which we liked given the game's overall focus on shooting — and in fact they're largely omitted from the game's final few missions.

As for the combat itself, Atomic Heart's first-person shooting is enjoyable when everything works right. We found the early-game pump action shotgun useful throughout, and combining it with the game's freezing or telekinesis powers gave off some serious BioShock plasmid vibes. There are plenty of other weapons and abilities to get stuck into as well, and we could definitely see ourselves employing a fairly different approach to fighting when replaying the game.

However, there are a few slight caveats to combat. We ploughed through our adventure at a brisk pace and for large parts we didn't have the resources to craft new weapons or buy different abilities from the game's various vending machines. We scooped up as many bits and pieces we could find using our glove's very satisfying way of looting, but it might be worth taking a bit more time to scour every nook and cranny if you want to experiment with Atomic Heart's full arsenal.

Also, on console at least, some of the game's controls just simply don't work. Aiming down sight is completely pointless because some sort of aim acceleration throws everything off, and the fact that you can't adjust aim sensitivity on its own means there's no way to fix this issue at launch. Also, Atomic Heart features weapon 'cartridges' that apply a modification to your guns, and err, we found no way to actually be able to use these things. You find them, they appear in your inventory, but unlike the game's other items there's no 'use' or 'equip' option. We hope this is a bug that's fixed shortly, because it prevented us from getting stuck into the game's weapon mod system.

Atomic Heart Review - Screenshot 3 of 5

As previously mentioned, these dungeons are where Atomic Heart usually progresses its main storyline. The game's various cutscenes appear often here, and are impressively put together, giving the game a 'AAA' sheen throughout. Because of our overall intrigue with the game's setup, world, and the premise of its Russian robot apocalypse, we found ourselves suitably wrapped up in Atomic Heart's main campaign.

Even with our attention largely held throughout, the game's overall plot doesn't make that much sense beyond 'the Soviet Union pushes science too hard and the game's machinery starts to take over'. Your main character is wrapped up in all of this in ways we won't spoil here, but the plot is messy and we'd have preferred a much larger focus on what's going on in the world around us rather than the protagonist's own involvement. Oh, and get used to him — P-3 as he's known — shouting 'CRISPY CRITTERS' every time he's annoyed at something. Yeah, he does that a lot...

Atomic Heart Review - Screenshot 4 of 5

A quick note on the overall performance here; Atomic Heart is gorgeous and runs very well on Xbox Series X in our experience. We came across the odd stutter here and there, and we got stuck in the environment once or twice, but nothing major. Mundfish has done a great job at pulling all of this together on a technical level, and if the team can iron out those control issues we mentioned, it'll be an even more impressive feat in this regard.


So, yeah, where do we even start with summing this one up? A recommendation depends on your own interest with the world of Atomic Heart, we must admit. The game's premise remains intriguing throughout, and its main missions provide some great combat scenarios to get stuck into, especially when it comes to using powers and the skill tree system to create character builds. Yet, the game's overworld is largely skippable which is a huge bummer, and its main storyline does little to enhance the incredibly interesting world Mundfish has created. Atomic Heart is well worth a play for the immersive FPS fanatics out there, but it's wise to temper your expectations when names like BioShock and DOOM are being thrown around in comparison. Atomic Heart is a solid alternate-history shooter, but it takes a bit more than building an intriguing world to become a true great in the genre.