Atomic Heart review: Rage against the machines

Mundfish impresses in its debut with a unique and challenging first-person shooter.

Focus Entertainment

After being founded in 2017, Mundfish is making a strong first impression with its debut game, Atomic Heart. This single-player first-person shooter envisions an alternate reality where the Soviet Union was home to a secret program involving advanced robots and artificial intelligence that goes terribly wrong. It’s an excellent shooter that’s supported by some unique and creative gameplay elements.

Heart on ice

Major P-3 extending his hand.

Source: Focus Entertainment

Atomic Heart puts players in the shoes of Major P-3, a Soviet intelligence agent tasked with getting to the bottom of what caused the USSR’s robot companions to lash out and wage war against their human creators. As you attempt to figure out who’s responsible, the mysteries of the secret project unravel over the course of the game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Atomic Heart’s heavy themes of Russian nationalism made me uncomfortable at times. While I don’t believe the Cyprus-based development studio is trying to send a message with the game, it’s hard not to wince at the USSR parades in the streets or the pro-Russian material found within the game in light of what’s unfolded in Ukraine over the last year. It’s likely that this is just the most unfortunate timing, but it’s something to be cautious of if that could hinder your experience with the game.

Atomic Heart reminded me a lot of the Bioshock franchise with its alternate historical setting. The world is deeply fleshed out, and its anachronistic blending of advanced technology in the mid-1900s made for a truly unique setting. I often found myself stopping to examine the environment, listening to audio tapes, and everything else it took to learn more about the universe.

This atmosphere is also bolstered by an excellent soundtrack from Mick Gordon. There’s a wide range of music featured, and it only improves the experience whenever it kicks in. The tunes give a cinematic feel to battles, and make the quiet moments eerier.

No love lost

Player aiming down iron sights of a rifle at two robots.

Source: Focus Entertainment

While Atomic Heart would have been perfectly fine as a serviceable shooter, I was impressed by how amazing the gameplay was. Shooting feels impactful, and there are a variety of weapons to be discovered and crafted, each with its own unique feel. While it’s a shooter first and foremost, Mundfish cleverly mixes in some extra elements to combat. You have to constantly be moving and dodging in order to avoid the aggressive robotic enemies, and there are quick-time events that will trigger when your character is grappled or on the brink of death.

With ammunition being a scarce resource, I often turned to my axe to dispatch enemies. I love that it actually matters how and where you swing the axe. A well-placed swing can knock an enemy’s head right off their shoulders. There is also detailed dismemberment, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a laugh out of hacking the limbs off of enemies after clearing a room.

In addition to melee and ranged weapons, Major P-3 is equipped with a Polymer glove that lets him harness electricity and telekinesis powers. I felt like a god when I was able to use all of the weapons and abilities at my disposal in tandem, taking out enemies before they were even able to land a hit on me.

Tools of war

The upgrade screen in Atomic Heart.

Source: Focus Entertainment

Playing on Normal difficulty, Atomic Heart’s combat was pretty challenging overall. There were several sequences and boss fights that I had to redo multiple times, but it felt rewarding when I got into a good rhythm and overcame my foes.

Atomic Heart also has a pretty intricate crafting and upgrade system. As recipes are unlocked, you can craft new weapons and ammunition for them. These weapons can then be upgraded with attachments to improve accuracy, rate of fire, and damage. Crafting requires parts and other miscellaneous materials, which can be gathered from drawers, cabinets, and other containers. Atomic Heart also leans heavily into its RPG mechanics, with multiple skill trees full of perks that can be unlocked to improve Major P-3’s prowess in combat and stealth.

While adventuring through Facility 3826, there are a lot of locked doors and restricted areas. I was continuously impressed by the various puzzles that Mundfish threw at me as I attempted to open doors and disarm security systems. They felt like actual tests of pattern memorization and skill rather than the repetitive chore that puzzles can become in other shooters.

Although I found the robotic enemies to be creepy and formidable foes, I wish there was a bit more variety in enemy type. These humanoid robots make up the vast majority of the adversaries you face, and there isn’t much deviation from them.

The truth comes out

Boats on a river, balloons, and people standing in the streets.

Source: Focus Entertainment

Atomic Heart is undoubtedly one of the best first-person shooter campaigns I’ve played in years. In addition to rock-solid gameplay, the game offers an intriguing mystery and a robust upgrade system. It’s even more impressive when you remember that this is the first game from Developer Mundfish. Outside of controversial themes and a lack of enemy variety, it’s hard to point out any glaring issues with Atomic Heart.

This review is based on a PS5 copy of Atomic Heart provided by the publisher. Atomic Heart releases on February 21 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, and PS5.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Scream nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Atomic Heart
  • Satisfying gameplay
  • Clever puzzle designs
  • Intricate upgrade system
  • Intriguing story
  • Lack of enemy variety
  • Pro-Russian themes will make some players uncomfortable
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 20, 2023 5:00 AM

    Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Atomic Heart review: Rage against the machines

    • reply
      February 20, 2023 6:38 AM

      Holy crap, this comes out tomorrow??

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 6:42 AM

        I'm not even reading reviews, going in as blind as possible even though Youtube keeps throwing reviews and play thru vids in my face all morning!

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 7:45 AM

        Gamepass too!

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 9:26 PM

        Yes, right at the date of the beginning of Russian invasion last year. Which could be a coincidence but who knows.

    • reply
      February 20, 2023 6:45 AM

      I'm excited. I wonder what fps the console versions run at

    • reply
      February 20, 2023 8:58 AM

      Another review here - timestamped to the conclusion

      Says it's pretty bad. Bullet sponge enemies, no way to spring and walking is slow, kind of a mess overall and absolutely horrible writing, as if Claptrap was the main character (your character).

      • rms legacy 10 years legacy 20 years mercury super mega
        February 20, 2023 11:04 AM

        Oof, that makes me cringe. It's still free though, so I'll look at it. Won't make me a ussr fan regardless, sorry putin.

    • reply
      February 20, 2023 9:00 AM

      GManLives has both positive and negative things to say:

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 4:02 PM

        Yeah the game is exactly how I expected it to be.
        Looks great, strong beginning. Average gameplay that gets stale fast.

    • reply
      February 20, 2023 9:11 AM

      Reviews for this are all over the place. I can't remember the last game that got such high scores and low scores all at once

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 9:44 AM

        I'm starving for a decent fps, even if it's mindless I'm all in as long as the gunplay is ok

        • reply
          February 20, 2023 9:53 AM

          Did you ever play Tiny Tina's Wonderlands?

          • reply
            February 20, 2023 9:56 AM

            Not yet, waiting for a 70%+ off sale, just double dipped (steam) on borderlands 3 for $7 so I'm giving that a second shot on the nreal glasses

            • reply
              February 20, 2023 11:45 AM

              Borderlands 3 is going to be on ps extra in a few days

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 12:57 PM

        Battlefield 4 maybe?

        This game is great, but I can only play 5 minutes at a time - 90%

        This game is great, but I can only play 5 minutes at a time - 30%

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 1:43 PM

        Remember when IGN gave Prey a 4/10?

    • reply
      February 20, 2023 12:58 PM

      I read somewhere that PC version doesn't have ray tracing. Is this true

      • reply
        February 20, 2023 4:04 PM

        As reported by Rock Paper Shotgun, the pre-release build of Atomic Heart has no ray tracing options. When RPS reached out to Mundfish for an explanation, they were told that "the devs will be looking into implementing this post-launch."


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