Atomic Heart is a game so at odds with itself even its protagonist keeps calling it out

Game development is hard. The process of putting things together, the collaborative effort across teams to make sure each respective part runs smoothly and then the nerve-wracking release window.

I’ve had the briefest glimpses behind the curtain when I’ve talked in interviews or met friends or from what I’ve read online. It paints a small picture, but enough for me to wonder how anything ever gets made.

Especially a game with the size and ambition as an Atomic Heart. A product that has been in and out of development hell, that has changed scope many times and at one point had plenty of question marks surrounding any sort of release date.

Now here it is, a game that has beaten the odds, survived and is releasing this week. It’s a massive moment for Mundfish and Focus Home, especially since Xbox locked it into Game Pass and have been collaborating on the marketing.

But perhaps the only thing more sad than a game never releasing and being lost to time is one that releases after years in development and just falls flat. That, unfortunately, is what we’re looking at here.

Atomic Heart is a mess. It’s a game that tries to do a bunch of different things but is almost always at odds with itself. From the narrative to the mechanics, the musical score. The game even manages to boast both a stunning and washed out visual style.

I could tell something was wrong quite early when the game’s opening minutes lost my attention very suddenly. One minute I was enjoying the views, soaking in the atmosphere, looking for clues in this vast world, listening out for stray conversations and looking to the skies. Then before I knew it I was looking at my phone.

At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on why. There was a strong Bioshock Infinite vibe about the early going, one of my all-time favourites. So I should be in love with the design and the world-building. Visually, it looks great and there was plenty to catch my eye. Why is this not clicking for me?

Then I realised the problem is with the protagonist, P3. This man-machine feels completely detached from this world, which I assumed was a design choice and was expecting that to feed into the plot. But it’s more than that. The constant downplaying of what to do in quests, the back-chatting, passive-aggressiveness and just general apathy about everything.

I’m going to guess the game is designed to be tongue-in-cheek and sort of lean into what Flying Wild Hog have done so brilliantly with Shadow Warrior. But here it had the opposite effect because it actually ended up being annoying and detaching me from the experience.

“Ugh, God, not another lever puzzle.” I kept hearing. ‘This again, siiiiigh’ And it drew attention to the fact that, yes, there was indeed another lever puzzle and I did have a set of similar tasks from just fifteen minutes before.

Of course we all know games tend to follow a set pattern and there is a level of familiarity about the process, whether you’re levelling up, unlocking a door, or finding a means of progression.

Games are definitely influenced by one another and that’s completely fine. Usually it’s about how well a developer can mask that or make it feel refreshing and different. Here, it doesn’t feel like Mundfish wanted to try. Either that, or they just completely misread the tone they were trying to put together because all it did was feed into the monotony.

Charles, the robotic glove on P3’s hand feels like a knock-off Wheatley from Portal and P3 acts like a wannabe Duke Nukem. There’s a certain chemistry about their back and forth banter and occassionally they do grab you back into the story and remind you there is some fun to be had here.

But the game’s tone just baffles me, because I really struggled to get a proper read on it or make sense of it. Coupled with a repetitive layout, overly familiar mission structure, constant back and forth and lack of any real engaging narrative hook just leave the whole thing feeling messy, unproportionate and sadly dull.

It also doesn’t help the game has a weird fascination with suggestive subject matter like robotic sex slaves and misogynistic undertones. The original trailers probably gave you a vibe of the kind of game that was being built here, but some of the lines in the game are definitely better off being left out entirely and frankly made my skin crawl.

I think this is Atomic Heart’s big problem, it often feels like a product of two narratives and both go at odds with each other more often than they should. On the one hand, Mundfish have built a relatively interesting world of scientific breakthroughs and technological marvels. Where a corrupt leader is celebrated, surrounded by a society indoctrinated and you’re the odd one out with an axe to grind.

On the other, they’ve got a protagonist who would clearly rather be anywhere else than there, making odd quips, watering the whole experience down. Sadly, that’s the person we’re spending most of our time with.

But it’s not just about narrative, there’s an odd, low-budget feel to the gameplay in general. Even on the lower difficulty settings, I found myself getting cornered by raving robots, punching and kicking me into oblivion. My weapons and abilities often felt ineffectual and unbalanced, and the enemies running at you are, frankly, bordering on the pathetic and uncreative.

The game’s visual aesthetic also really confused me because some character models just lack any sort of detail and the game regularly hiccups and stutters, yet there are some truly stunning setpieces and backdrops which absolutely bloom in 4K. Yet another disparity.

So, yeah, by now you’ve probably already guessed that not even Jensen Ackles can’t save this game from itself.


Atomic Heart wants to be many things but ultimately ends up being none of them, apart from being woefully apathetic about itself. Undoubtedly, years of delays, rescoping and restructuring have left us with a conflicted piece of work that most of the time bores, unsettles and is unable to stay tonally consistent for very long. One of the most frustrating, confusing games I’ve played in a long time. 


+ There seems to be an intriguing world built up around the game
+ Some cool abilities create some fun combat sequences
+ At times, it looks stunning


– The tone is all over the place and is often at odds with itself
– Glitchy, buggy and unbalanced combat
– Visually looks washed out at times
– Repetitive mission structure and design that even the protagonist continuously calls out.

Atomic Heart releases February 21 on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox Game Pass

Played on Xbox Series X

Code Kindly Provided by Focus Home

About the author

Brad Baker

Brad is an absolute horror buff and adores the new take on I.T. He also fancies himself as a bit of a Battle Royale master but never when anyone's watching.
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