I think it was the second time Atomic hearts (opens in new tab) protagonist uttered his quasi-catchphrase – a stunned “Crispy critters!” — that I was beginning to worry that my hopes for the game were misplaced. An FPS with RPG elements and plenty of immersive sim inspiration, it’s been one of the most intriguing games on my radar ever since the first trailer dropped back in 2018 (opens in new tab), following BioShock, Stalker, Nier – all pensive, ambitious and weird, really – and locating it all in a retro-future Soviet utopia gone wrong. Even the soundtrack for those trailers, featuring some of the most powerful implementations of Alla Pugacheva (opens in new tab) since the fall of the Berlin wall seemed to promise something confident and interesting. But now that I’ve done some hands-on with it, I’m afraid Atomic Heart might not be very interesting at all.

Pretty empty

Let’s start with the good stuff: Atomic Heart looks like big. Imagine the polished, pearly optimism we associate in our own reality with the 1950s, and transplant it into a world of towering Stalinist skyscrapers and measly helpful robots. A technological revolution has turned the USSR into a seemingly undisputed global hegemony in the 1955 game version, and everyone is having a great old time while an android workforce – whose designs range from standard creepy valley humanoid fare to shuffling pot-bellied things that make you think from that 2005 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (opens in new tab) movie – does all the actual work. The trailers didn’t lie, the game is really impressive visually creative.

An image of a Soviet city in Atomic Heart, littered with advertisements and propaganda.

(Image credit: Mundfish)

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But as exciting as Atomic Heart looks, I never got the impression that the game would ever find much participation about many of these things. As a game from a Russian studio that takes clear inspiration from BioShock, I had gone to Atomic Heart with high hopes for a unique historical reflection. But outside a few musty social credit (opens in new tab) jokingly, the game never really seems to take much interest in the actual Soviet Union as anything other than a source of instantly recognizable visual weirdness. Well, Pogodi! (opens in new tab) plays in the game’s safe rooms (an odd Resident Evil-esque touch), and random Soviet propaganda posters cover the destroyed halls of device 3826 (opens in new tab), but they only feel like Easter eggs to those of us nerdy enough to care. From what I’ve played, it’s disappointingly disinterested in historical Soviet socialism.

However, it is interested in comedy, which I can’t say I expected. Whether it’s the granny lugging a rocket launcher or the annoyingly horny gun-upgrading robot that turns every interaction into an elaborate joke about “inserting” materials, Atomic Heart is undeniably wacky. Much of the humor comes from the player character, Major Nechaev, and his AI companion Charles. The pair have a kind of comedic double play, with Charles, the exasperated straight man, facing off against Nechaev’s mocking protagonist. Before I had even played five minutes, I was innocently communicating with a phone booth and was stunned to find myself caught up in a scene where Nechaev asked a stranger on the other end of the line if they had Prince Albert in a can . Charles was not amused.

An image of Nechaev and Granny Zina from Atomic Heart.

(Image credit: Mundfish)

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Well, Pogodi! plays in the game’s safe rooms and random Soviet propaganda posters cover the ruined halls of facility 3826, but they only feel like easter eggs to those of us nerdy enough to care

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By wy9m6

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