More People Need To Talk About Atomic Heart, One Of Xbox’s Most Exciting Upcoming Games

Metro 2033 is one of the best single-player shooters ever made predominantly because of the material it’s based on. If you’ve ever read Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers or watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker – yes, the video game series from GSC Game World is also inspired by it – you’ll know that this particular era of Russian art is compelling, weird, and completely unique.

While both Metro and Stalker demonstrate concrete and actionable knowledge of their source material, Atomic Heart looks as if it knows what it’s up to but wants to go a step or two further. It’s post-apocalyptic Soviet absurdism, or in video game terms, Artyom Alekseyevich Chyornyj via Nier Automata. For every homage to the Zone there’s a sentient spider drone you’re able to stroke. Every dilapidated plinth is manned by a mannequin synth and every indulgence in the Weird is juxtaposed with… an old lady in a babushka scarf with an oddly nefarious ladle?

The brand new Atomic Heart trailer from the Xbox and Bethesda E3 2021 showcase earlier this week featured all of the above and more. Honestly, my favourite part was probably the banging Russian pop in the background, texturing milling synths (robots) with petalled chainsaws with belting synths (sounds) of a very different kind. I’m not sure the actual game will opt for a soundtrack this heavy, especially given that the aesthetic is invested in the kind of green and grey dilapidation typical of this kind of text, but I’d absolutely go for post-Soviet Doom except the djent is now t.A. T.u. (yes, that’s how it’s spelled, I hated typing it more than you hated reading it – at least they put out loads of bangers, innit).

Atomic Heart’s biggest asset, though, is its ambition. The sheer amount of weaponry on display really does evoke what, at least ostensibly, appears to be a Doom-tier investment in gunplay. The powers are comparable to the likes of Dishonored and Prey – speaking of which, check out why Arkane’s new game, Redfall, is going to be great – and the enemy design puts the likes of the aesthetically similar Fallout to shame. True enough, though, this is just a minute-long trailer, and it’s the first one we’ve seen of Atomic Heart in quite some time.

But prior to this new, polished slice of Atomic Heart, we’ve had a total of over 26 minutes of footage since 2017. Over the last four years, the style, music, and gameplay have remained consistent, but the level of delivery has repeatedly become higher and more professional. I’ll admit, I’m fairly disappointed that we once again didn’t get a release date, to the extent that I’d understand if people thought this is going to be yet another game that never truly launches. But we can see the improvements that are being made with each new reveal – it’s surely better than radio silence, and as the famous Shigeru Miyamoto adage goes… On top of that, the fact that Mundfish has now officially partnered with Microsoft for a day one launch on Game Pass is refreshing – surely a collab of that caliber is proof enough that this is a real game that will actually come out one day, eh? 

I’m just really curious about this game. I enjoy Classic Russian literature from the likes of Dosto and, to a lesser extent, Tolstoy, but the more recent texts and films that are less afraid to experiment with ideas pertaining to the apocalypse, the Weird, and the inherent integration of the two are much more intriguing. Traditionally, major Russian games have fared very well with choosing the correct parts of their source material to draw from – something that a lot of other devs, particularly in the English-speaking West, are a bit more hamfisted or “Ooooh look how clever we are” about.

That’s why I’m writing this, if I’m honest. Atomic Heart certainly has a fanbase waiting for it, and I’d like to think Mundfish will launch something as solid as what it’s presented so far. I have no doubt that going for an aesthetic that juxtaposes dissociation and ruin with the physics of the impossible is difficult and requires a lot of work, and that stitching a narrative of absurd threads together doesn’t come without its own trials and tribulations, but that’s why we need to talk about it. I’m curious about what most of the people who have yet to comment on Atomic Heart think, and I’m curious about when Mundfish will be ready to provide us with information other than the fact that a) it’s a game, and b) it’s coming to Xbox Series X/S and PC.

I’ve already said I love Metro and Stalker, as well as the texts they’re based on. This looks like a game that’s fairly tailor-made to my specific interests, which is why I care about it so much despite the lack of concrete details surrounding its development. As someone well-versed on this sort of thing, I can tell you it certainly looks good. That doesn’t always necessarily translate to something actually being good, mind, but it definitely has potential. I just hope we get more news soon, because to be completely honest, I was disheartened by the lack of a release date after such a strong trailer at the tail end of four years of ongoing buildup. Hopefully we hear more soon, eh?

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