Next to nobody had heard of Atomic Heart before it dropped a disturbing, explosive trailer in May 2018. It quickly became one of the most anticipated games we know the least about.
Its inspirations are varied: you'll spot flashes of Metro, BioShock, Nier: Automata and Stalker in its art and gameplay, while the world is a product of both Russian sci-fi and the experiences of the Mundfish dev team, some of whom grew up in Russia. But what do you actually get when you mix all of those influences together? Here's everything we know about Atomic Heart.
When is Atomic Heart's release date?
Developer Mundfish hasn't revealed a release date. The Atomic Heart website said a beta version was due towards the end of 2019, but the Steam page then shifted to listing the release as "TBA." The latest word is that it's "at the stage of polishing and final assembly", as of August 2021.
It'll be a day one release for Xbox Game Pass, and hopefully Game Pass for PC too.
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.
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 Atomic Heart gameplay you need to see
Mundfish tend to go a while between gameplay videos but when the show up they really show up. Atomic Heart gets weirder, wilder, and prettier every time we see it.
The E3 2021 trailer is particularly bizarre, featuring killer robots (and one with fruit inside its head), frozen explosions and other messing around with the laws of space and time, and a babushka who looks like she's about to beat somebody up with a soup ladle. It also shows the player using a glove to defy gravity, hack electronics, and shock those killer robots.
Mundfish released 10 minutes of Atomic Heart gameplay in 2019. It gives you a glimpse at both the shooting and melee combat, as well as the weird world. Mote the zipline ropes, the use of quick-time events, and the large robot enemy at the end of the video, who is presumably some sort of boss.
In summer 2020, Mundfish published a 7-minute gameplay and mini-boss fight video introducing the enemy Plyush. It starts off with the protagonist exploring a museum and clearing out less-threatening enemies before encountering a spooky mess of a boss.
In 2020 we also got to see a quick gameplay teaser showing some of Atomic Heart's retro-tech environments and a few really huge enemies including those wild drill snakes.
Just before that official teaser in 2020 we also saw some footage courtesy of Russian gaming service 4game who played four hours of an in-development build spanning five in-game areas, and has released a lengthy video detailing just about everything they saw. It's a slightly tough watch—being entirely in Russian with less than fantastic English subtitles—but it's good to see some gameplay.
The neatest bit discusses enemy ecosystems. The bee-like security cameras live together in a hive from which they'll emerge to hunt you down if you're detected by another enemy. Hacking or disabling these hives limits how many of the bee drones are active, meaning you'll want to plan your targets as you progress through an area.
There's also this cinematic teaser that depicts a cryptic conversation between what we assume is your main character and a shadowy figure on a screen. The trailer is only in Russian, but you can turn on closed captions to get the full picture.
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 will have PvP multiplayer—and maybe co-op too
Atomic Heart's story is designed to be played solo, but the devs say they're "thinking about co-op mode". They've kept schtum about what exactly they're planning.
They've revealed more concrete plans for PvP multiplayer. "If you are ready to challenge other players, a secret railway will get you to a special region meant for PvP battle," reads the game's website.
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.