Responses edited for clarity and length.
Russian developer Mundfish quietly released the first trailer for Soviet-era shooter Atomic Heart last week, and it drew a crowd almost immediately. As Joe said, at first blush Atomic Heart echoes games like BioShock, Nier: Automata and Stalker in its art and themes. A closer look reveals a dash of Destiny and some open-world inklings, to say nothing of the killer clowns and robots. Just what the hell is Atomic Heart? I spoke to Mundfish to find out.
"Atomic Heart was conceived as an open-world game," said Mundfish CEO Robert Bagratuni. "We want to enable players to choose the sequence of actions themselves instead of limiting them to a linear path. The world of the game is in fact 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. At the same time, the huge infrastructure of Plant 3826 and its underground facilities are spread all over the map. The key infrastructure elements are connected by railways. As for whether this is a shooter: in some places it is, it depends where you can find ammo."
So, Atomic Heart is an open-world first-person shooter set in an alternate Soviet Union where some seriously strange stuff's going down. The railway infrastructure Bagratuni touched on makes me think of Metro, which is another game for our already towering pile of speculative influences. But while some elements of Atomic Heart are undeniably similar to other games, what actually inspired its bonkers setting?
"There's no simple answer," Bagratuni said. "Artyom, the author of the Atomic Heart synopsis, has been working on the script for more than seven years. Since he and some of the other members of the team were born in the USSR, many ideas came from those times. Many are comparing it with BioShock and Fallout, but in fact we took the atmosphere from our childhood, from books we grew up on. Strugatsky, Lem, Harrison. That fantasy had a special place in the life of a Soviet citizen. And when all this is merged with the internet, robotics, the Soviet Union and food coupons, you get Atomic Heart."
Robotics, in particular, is a driving force in Atomic Heart's wild Soviet Union. "Plant 3826 was originally producing agricultural robots for working in the fields, gathering timber, protecting the peace and working at homes," Bagratuni said. "They were very popular in the USSR, so the machines were everywhere. There was a robot in every house, in every enterprise. Then they went mad."
In a blog post, the studio also mentioned "tales of the dead rising back up and walking among the living" following an experiment by one Dr. Stockhausen. So not only killer robots, but also bonafide zombies. And yet, as another blog post explains, Atomic Heart has a love story at its core. "Even the toughest times can't stop two loving hearts from embracing each other," it reads, referring to two employees from facility 3826. Bagratuni described Atomic Heart's protagonist as "crazy" but inventive, which leads us to Atomic Heart's crafting system.
"The main character's weapon is made in a post-apocalyptic manner," Bagratuni said. "He is crazy but he is not a fool. He can solder and work with technology. Weapons are assembled from various metal parts, detached from robots or taken from the household appliances or fragments obtained during the game. Almost everything on your path can be used as a murder weapon. The approach to close-range weaponry is the same: you use whatever you can find."
Mundfish is keeping Atomic Heart's mission structure and the specifics of its world close to its chest, but Bagratuni did address the confusion surrounding the studio's other game, Soviet Lunapark VR. "This is a VR arcade shooter which is not connected plot-wise or gameplay-wise to the main game," he said, "but the events of Lunapark are happening in the same universe and give the opportunity to see some zones from Plant 3826."
Think of it as a primer for Atomic Heart. Soviet Lunapark VR is scheduled to release later this month. Atomic Heart is listed for a 2018 release on Steam (Update: the Steam page now reads 2019) and Mundfish says they're hoping to share more precise information within the next three months.