In 2018, Atomic Heart emerged into the world through the baffling haze of its trailers, in a frenzy of superscience hyperviolence. Through years of delays, Atomic Heart remained a compelling mystery: What's with all the Soviet killer robots? What's the story behind this warped USSR utopia? Why are those mannequins being so horny?
After years of speculating, Atomic Heart is released into the open, and not without controversy. For our full thoughts on the game beneath all those surreal combat trailers, be sure to check out our Atomic Heart review. While you're here, here's everything we learned about Atomic Heart's surreal Soviet dystopia in the run up to release.
When is Atomic Heart's release date?
Atomic Heart released on February 20, 2023.
While the release window was originally set and later confirmed as being in late 2022, an announcement that Atomic Heart would be published by Focus Interactive described the game as "initially planned for 2022." Around this time its Steam page changed from an explicit 2022 release date to the more vague "this Winter." But a trailer we finally confirmed Atomic Heart's exact release in February 2023.
Atomic Heart is a day one release for Xbox Game Pass.
Here's the latest Atomic Heart gameplay overview
Where earlier gameplay footage was content to show Atomic Heart's baffling combat violence and let us guess at the context, this latest gameplay overview is a change of pace: we actually get some stage-setting. In nine minutes of footage, we're pitched on Atomic Heart's alternate-history Soviet setting, and the reason why there are so many robots to shoot in all the gameplay trailers. (It turns out AI can turn evil. Who knew?)
We get a look at the different sections of the USSR superscience facility you'll fight through to stop an android apocalypse—and at plenty of cutscene clips featuring some iffy lip-syncing and bafflingly American accents. The overview continues with a survey of the kinds of enemies you'll fight, the powers and weapons you'll wield against them, and the upgrades you'll find to modify your equipment. We're also told that there's "a cool grenade launcher."
What is Atomic Heart?
An alternate reality Soviet-era first-person combat game with killer robots, clown-themed torture chambers, and grandmas trapped in flowing molecular gloop. Yeah, it's weird. Its combat is a mixture of shooting and melee with improvised weapons, and the scarcity of ammo means you'll want to sneak through some areas, too.
In revealed gameplay previews, between the maelstrom of things meeting violent ends, there are lots of combat options on display—all sorts of powers from the player's left hand, like telekinesis and ice jets, with equally varied weaponry in the right, including pistols, electrified rifles, and a pitchfork that's also apparently a big pair of scissors.
Our Atomic Heart preview tempered our hopes
After getting some hands-on Atomic Heart demo time in January, the impressions we gathered in our Atomic Heart preview weren't quite as high as we'd have liked. If you were hoping the raw weirdness of Atomic Heart's trailers would translate into a game of sober, psychological introspection on the history of Soviet socialism—as you should—you might want to start setting your expectations a little lower. Somewhere around the "quippy protagonist and repeated robot sex jokes" level.
While we weren't hooked by what we saw of the narrative, the humor, and playstyle options in the demo, we'll see whether the remaining 90% of the game redeems its first impressions when it arrives in February.
What's the story? The premise?
The devs say the story is a bit like an episode of Black Mirror—if the show were set in a warped version of the Soviet Union sometime between the '30s and '60s. As Mundfish CEO Robert Bagratuni told IGN, the USSR still exists in this reality, "but a technical revolution has already taken place: robots, the Internet, holograms have already been invented ... all these innovations are submerged in the atmosphere of communism, confrontation with the imperialism of the West and all the other inherent political and social aspects of the time.”
Robots have been mass-produced to help with agriculture, defence, timber production and simple household chores—and now they're starting to rebel. You play Major Nechaev, a mentally unstable KGB special agent codenamed P-3, and the government has sent you to investigate a manufacturing facility that's fallen silent.
On arrival it's clear that everything is, to put it mildly, royally fucked. Robots are out of control, once-dead creatures walk again, and traps have been set to ensnare any who enter. It's your job to find out what's happened and put an end to the chaos.
Somewhere between the murdering and madness is a love story, although we don't know how big a part it will play. Oh, and it'll have two endings even though the plot is linear.
Here's all the other Atomic Heart gameplay to watch
We've slowly accumulated a treasure trove of Atomic Hearts gameplay in the years since its announcement, most in the form of unsettling imagery and baffling combat violence. The release date trailer is packed with baffling, eerie, violent imagery. Massive facilities full of Soviet mannequins doing aerobics routines, flying men with fanged worms for heads, cyborgs doing lightning-hand high fives—it's all in there. And then a guy does middle fingers.
If that doesn't satisfy you, there's more combat in the Game Awards 2022 gameplay trailer. And there are plenty of earlier gameplay trailers, too: at Gamescom 2022 we saw a gruesome Atomic Heart combat trailer which showcases bloodthirsty mutants, mischievous robots, the E3 2021 trailer featured killer robots and a ladle-bearing babushka.
Further back, Mundfish published a 7-minute gameplay and mini-boss fight video, and in 2020 a quick gameplay teaser showed off some of Atomic Heart's retro-tech environments. Just before that, we also saw some footage courtesy of Russian gaming service 4game who played four hours of an in-development build. And back in 2019, Mundfish released 10 minutes of Atomic Heart gameplay with both the shooting and melee combat, as well as the weird world.
Atomic Heart will support RTX
In January 2021, Nvidia shared an RTX trailer for Atomic Heart to show off ray tracing and DLSS support. As ever, Atomic Heart still looks stunning. It's a really quick look that appears to show off the museum area we've seen in past videos along with a bit more melee and supernatural power combat.
A tech demo of its RTX and HDR was briefly available, but you can still watch a video of the tech in action below. The team is particularly happy with how it improves lighting and shadows, and says performance is holding up well.
Atomic Heart system requirements
Atomic Heart's Steam page lists both minimum and recommended system requirements. You'll need at least an i5 4460 / AMD FX-6300 CPU, 6 GB of RAM and a GTX 760 or R7 260x to run it. The recommended specs are an i7 3770, 8 GB RAM and a GTX 1060.
However, there's a chance those are both placeholders: the game's website says it's "hard to tell exact requirements at the moment" (although it does say they'll be "modest").
Is Atomic Heart an open-world game?
It's not clear. The world encompasses "the entire Soviet Union—a vast circle, the borders of which reach the Arctic in the north, Altai Mountain in the south, and with plains, lakes and much more in the middle". Different areas of Plant 3826 will be spread "all over the map". You'll get some choice about the order you tackle them in.
In a 2018 interview, Mundfish CEO Robert Bagratuni told us that Atomic Heart was "conceived as an open-world game", but later declined to confirm that the map was fully explorable. When asked whether the world was seamless, he told Wccftech he couldn't yet answer. "Now, I can say that there will be many different biomes," he added.
We reckon it might be a series of connected levels spread out across a large map, Metro Exodus-style. It has a railway system to whisk you between different locations.
Atomic Heart will have a crafting system for makeshift weapons
Atomic Heart's weapons are makeshift, and you'll piece them together from "various metal parts, detached from robots or taken from the household appliances or fragments obtained during the game". It's not known exactly how the crafting system works, but the image above suggests there will be plenty of ways to boost your damage stats.
Weapons will include a railgun, a shotgun, an AK, something called a "meat grinder", and melee options like an axe and a hammer.
Will Atomic Heart support VR?
A 2017 teaser listed SteamVR and PSVR as release platforms for Atomic Heart, but Mundfish has since said the game won't get a full VR release. "There are no such plans now," it told Wccftech. "Maybe as we get closer to the game release, some elements of the game will be available in VR, but now it’s hard to say which and in what form."
Mundfish previously released a VR game called Soviet Lunapark VR that was set in the same universe as Atomic Heart, but it was removed from Steam. Anyone that had paid for Soviet Lunapark will get a free copy of Atomic Heart.
Atomic Heart development controversy
If you've been following Atomic Heart's development, you'll probably know that a bit of controversy bubbled up in January 2019 after a report—citing anonymous sources within Mundfish—told of mass layoffs and incompetency at the studio. A summary of the report, posted on a Russian gamedev-related Telegram channel (an instant messaging service), can be found on ResetEra.
The devs partially responded to these claims in a later interview with a Russian outlet. According to the (roughly) translated interview, they dispute the initial report, and say the game is far more polished than the Telegram channel claimed.
In its Wccftech interview, the team also moved to reassure fans about its development process. "[Our] experienced developers, who worked in large game companies like Ubisoft … are experts in making AAA games and complex subsystems such as online multiplayer, AI ecosystems, analytics and scoring systems and other complex and high-tech tasks," they said.
"Also, we’re working closely with Epic Games and we stay informed about all the latest technologies and UE4 features before they actually get publicly available. Our partners from Nvidia help us in graphics and performance optimization. So, for all the reasons described above our game is being developed at the highest technical level."
Mundfish has provided development updates infrequently, although a Discord post—copied and pasted to Reddit—hinted at more regular updates going forward. The team has also opened a new office in Moscow, the Discord post said.