The Soviet Union. A name that instantly summons up a number of diverse associations, most of which aren’t that pleasant. Communist party, the space race, The Cold War, the arms race, superior military technology, dialectic materialism, uplifting slogans and daring five-year plans, a ruddy face that this Eurasian giant wanted to foist to the rest of the world. On the other hand, behind the frail front of this Potemkin’s Village, lurked extreme poverty, social repression, censorships, gulags, purges, raids, deportations and political fiascos to remind us once and for all what the real aftermath of the grand Soviet experiment was. Those who had the chance to witness this confusing madness might not exactly agree with our statement (and certainly not with our unique sense of humor), but the Soviet Union sure was an interesting country back in the day.
But, what would you say if all that could’ve been even crazier, given the proper circumstances? What would happen if Russia somehow managed to become a technologically advanced superpower light years before its time, with crazed robots, secret scientific facilities, and failed experiments just waiting to blow up in their face? Developed by a fledgling Russian studio called Mundfish, Atomic Heart is a game that will provide you with answers to all those questions.
Set in the alternative universe where the Soviet technological revolution had already occurred, this retro-futuristic FPS will offer us a very disturbing version of the 1960s Soviet Union at the heyday of the communist reign. It seems that the main effect that the developers are going for will be an extreme disparity between the radical technological development and the apparent immaturity of an unstable and corrupt political system which doesn’t know how to deal with all that seemingly unlimited power. This is one of the main ethical problems of the modern civilization ever since the U.S. nuked Japan, so it will be really interesting to see what amusing insights Atomic Heart will offer us in that department.
You’ll play as a KGB officer sent to investigate unsettling rumors about the facility Nº 3826, a factory which produces robots for all imaginable purposes, from agriculture to cleaning and catering. The phenomenal trailer that appeared recently shows brawls with an army of ingeniously designed robots and flying drones that are patrolling the surroundings of this industrial facility. The footage emits a strong vibe of Fallout, BioShock, Stalker and Metro 2033, which is certainly a good thing and suggests a certain sensibility and penchant towards bizarre and uncanny, with more than just a hint of depressive socialist atmosphere.
However, judging by the rest of the trailer, the storyline of the Atomic Heart will be much weirder than a mere robotic insurrection, with a number of moments that (at least at this stage where we know relatively little about the game) defy all logic and sanity. How else can we explain interiors splashed with some red fluid that suspiciously reminds of blood, with bathtubs filled with that same liquid from which enormous sanguine tentacles are sprouting? But that’s just an overture intended to warm you up a bit before the real descent into madness begins – facility is also infested by pitiful animated corpses of people that obviously died as victims of some gruesome experiment. Some other shots suggest that whatever is happening inside facility Nº 3826 seems to be spreading into the outside world, with strange spatial distortions and anomalies that affect whole areas. And all the while, the disturbing images from the trailer will be accompanied by the sounds of a particularly soppy version of Weary Sun Tango. What, in the name of all that’s good and holy is happening there?
Too early to say, I’m afraid, but developers had strategically dropped a couple of hints that might shed some more light on the whole thing. They mention that the facility Nº 3826 was a place where an infamous Dr. Stockhausen (a suspiciously German-sounding name, don’t you think?) conducted his gruesome experiments. Another bait is something they describe as “two loving hearts”, which apparently belonged to an enamored couple that worked in the facility at one time. Is there some bizarre love story on the horizon? That also suggests that the title of the game might not just be a catchy metaphor, but that it possibly refers to something that’s an integral part of the gameplay. Finally, it seems that the protagonist himself, our brave and upright KGB officer is actually a bit bonkers, to put it mildly. However, developers promise that his compromised mental state won’t hinder him in his task and that his unconventional way of thinking will even enable him to craft various inventive weapons from the robotic parts he scraps along the way. Besides ranged weapons, he’ll also be able to use basically anything that he lays his hands on in combat, so the same crafting logic will apply to close combat weapons.
It still hasn’t been officially confirmed, but it seems that the game might even be open world. Developers promise a huge map, a glimpse of which can be seen in the trailer, and while that still doesn’t exactly mean that it will encompass the whole motherland as some sources suggest, it is certain that the facility itself will be massive, with surface parts as well as a network of underground tunnels created to hide all its bizarre secrets from prying eyes.
In addition to the intriguing storyline (to say the least) and the authentic Soviet setting, state of the art visuals will be one of the strongest points of this Soviet Sci-Fi horror fable, with an impressive design of locations and enemies. The first will remind you of those once grand, but now just depressive monuments of abandoned commie ideology that were strewn across the former Soviet Union. Enemies will delight and shock you with their design, at the same time amusing and deeply unsettling, created to embody that conflict between modern and retro style, which was made famous by Fallout games.
As far as it can be deduced from the trailer, the feel of the combat, as you clash with robots and pull their electrics from their chests, or stab zombies, with torrents of blood surging from their putrid wounds, is unbelievably palpable and intense, recalling the effect that the first BioShock made when it appeared. We know that the developers had drawn inspiration not only from the modern classics of the FPS genre, but also from the works of popular Soviet Sci-Fi writers, such as famous Strugatsky brothers. Of course, their real-life experience of the collapsed communist empire is the crucial component that gives the whole project its maturity and legitimacy.
All this provides more than a solid foundation for a truly great game. In accordance to the overall sense of mystery that developers obviously promote, the release date of Atomic Heart isn’t yet specified, but we should expect it sometime during 2018. Mundfish is also developing another game set in the same universe as Atomic Heart, called Soviet Lunapark VR, so there are actually two games by this promising new studio that you should keep your eye on.