Better Red than Dead
Atomic Heart by Mundfish is our reminder that we don’t deserve anything in this life. There are so many unique and fun ideas hidden within the beginning hours of the game that I was hooked! I wanted to see what was coming up next. Slowly but surely as I descended into the bunkers of the old Soviet scientists, I began to feel something was off. Not from the spooky atmosphere, no, but from the fabric that the game holds itself with.
We’re slowly presented with a combat system that would be right at home in any survival horror game, but then we’re told actually it’s an action based system and there are Souls-like unblockable parries. Okay… fine. Then we get introduced to the guns, which feel very underpowered across the board. And we think, “okay, hitting something wasn’t doing a ton of damage but having a gun surely should do the trick.” The answer is no. It’s just a bit faster.
Then we get raped by a robot.
Then we hear a funny line that makes you laugh!
Then we’re in an open world fighting cool robots!
Then we see the sex robot ballerina ladies!
The muck and mire begin to take hold of the game from all corners. It becomes more apparent that there’s nothing at stake anymore in the plot. The main character, P3, is an idiot who doesn’t understand a word anyone says. His talking glove(?!) Charles is just annoying, and just like the fairy Navi from Ocarina of Time refuses to shut up.
But then something stops the anger within, and there’s a visually arresting piece of art in front of us. It’s oozing red, writhing in muscle, tendons and blood and morphs into a cow or, even worse, a humanoid body that is trying to find human connections despite being a homunculus with a dog brain. It doesn’t know what’s wrong with its existence or what it is, and that’s actually a terrifying concept.
The game’s alternate history plot revolves around a sort of revolution that was elevated due to everyone in the society having skills that are “better than”. Many people in the society reached their peaks, becoming the best physicians, researchers, and doctors the world could ever know. Some people became scientists and artists, and this eerie mix of violent science and beautiful brutalist art mixes and disturbs us.
The unsettling nature fully lays across our minds like a wet blanket when we realize that the workers in this society are robots, people with no brains. Only destined to be the cog in the machine. The game reflects upon itself, and like a pseudo fourth wall we become aware that we’re just a cog in the game’s machine, too, and I’m just a cog sitting here writing review this for you. But then P3 obeys his evil communist glove because all he knows how to do is take orders, just like me and you, and the game never acknowledges it. It feels like it’s almost there in theme, but never sticks the landing.
After that settles in we’re hit with the reminder that this aesthetically beautiful, horrifically aggressive piece of anti-capitalist art isn’t actually that at all. Instead it’s a weak facade of an amusement park, begging to be played in. We read too much into it, this is just pastiche. Sadly, there, hidden within the dungeon of a triple A open world game lies a diamond that should have been shined and taken care of, not tossed aside like the “lesser thans” in the game’s own society. And that pains us.
Atomic Heart tries to be a vapid and fun shooter that takes place in the fallout of a communist robot uprising. But what it truly does, to me, is show the sad reality of what the developers had to overcome. Originally was the idea more potent? Who knows. Were they lea by investor capital to change their story? Who knows. Did modern Russian governance play a part in this? Who knows.
All that I know is I am not a fan of this video game.
This review is based on a Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the developer. It first appeared on the February 22nd episode of The SideQuest. Images and video courtesy Mundfish.