- Atomic Heart, Mundfish’s first marketable project, launched on 21st February 2023. The reception has been mixed, however, the game is fairly polished.
- Some criticism of Atomic Heart has been directed to its script and voice acting. While nothing to write home about, it’s far from being bad when compared to other releases in recent years.
- Atomic Heart has been subject to controversy due to its Russian imagery. While there was no bias in reception, the game has been impacted in a way due to recent events.
A videogame has several core pillars that build its immersive value and contribute to its experience. The script and voice acting are two of those pillars.
Atomic Heart, one of the first AAA games of 2023, has offered downright ridiculous dialogue and voice work up until now, with many lambasting it in terms of critical quality. However, is that genuinely the case?
2023 has been a mixed year thus far not unlike the review scores of Atomic Heart. For some players, it’s a solid start while for others it’s been average. Forspoken got the ball rolling, the Dead Space remake saw its launch, and Tango Gameworks shadow-dropped one of the icons of this year—Hi-Fi Rush.
With much more on the way, Atomic Heart was the next big checkpoint of 2023. While its reception was mixed, many have unanimously bashed the game for its dialogue and voice work. Opinions are the epitome of subjectivity but I believe one can draw an objective line or find a middle ground.
Atomic Heart is not an award-winning performance with dialogue that would move someone to tears. However, it’s not as cringe as some people have claimed it to be. If you’ve seen any of the player discourse on the topic, you’ll find that many feel as if the game is doing its own thing.
Atomic Heart’s Script Is A Meme Goldmine
The spectrum of criticism surrounding Atomic Heart focuses on several elements of the game. In terms of the script, it’s directed at either the sexual refrigerator or the protagonist being too tough and arrogant.
It’s because we’re playing as a defined character, not a proxy. Square Enix failed to create a protagonist that the player could relate to or be impressed by. Frey was genuinely unlikable due to her actions and behavior. When it comes to Sergey, Atomic Heart achieves something to a degree. It’s called humor and therein lies the problem.
At its core, dialogue is carried by voice work. The way you deliver your lines determines their weight. It either adds to the experience or subtracts from it. The script also needs to carry a certain amount of significance. If it’s entirely comical and filled with quips, then it’s just going to be a Marvel movie and carry the same flaws.
Another thing I find interesting is how people reacted to NORA‘s behavior. It’s ironic because the way NORA was thirsting over Sergey is similar to how people were thirsting over the Twins. They were part of the marketing, yes, but the fact is that the internet was swooning over attractive robots and it’s not the first time either.
Atomic Heart’s script has the potential to produce great memes. Regardless of whether that is good or not, one thing I can say is that people will remember it, at least for some time. It’s one of those things that just stick with you. Not because the experience was moving but because of the comedic and meme value.
Furthermore, the voice acting in this game is actually pretty good. Put Atomic Heart and Forspoken alongside each other and you’ll see the difference.
An Objective Base In A Subjective Space
As I said earlier, Atomic Heart hits the mark in terms of humor but that’s where the problem is. Humor is subjective. I’m sure there were many who saw people gushing over the Twins and asked what was so special about them. That’s because they didn’t have the same perception as others.
You can’t please everybody and Atomic Heart doesn’t have a compelling story at its core. It’s not bad but it’s also nothing special. However, this is Mundfish’s first marketable game and they’ve achieved a lot with this launch. It sets a precedent and can allow them to learn and improve from this experience.
While it’s not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, the quality of this dialogue and the voice work is solid. It would have been weird if every character in the game was like NORA.
The fact that this isn’t the case makes NORA’s antics an exception. Plus, listening to Sergey respond to it along with his famous “crispy critters” line is absolute gold. You can see the subjectivity here but the reality is, it could have been worse.
There are people who are actually enjoying Atomic Heart and its dialogue. Some even liked the English dub for Forspoken and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I read a comment about Hogwarts Legacy and the voice acting in it. The person said that the voice actors recorded those lines with a stuffy nose.
Opinions are subjective in nature. Look hard enough and you’ll find some of the most outlandish opinions and perceptions out there. Even though the product we consume is the same, our perception and the way our minds are wired determine our final impressions.
People will enjoy the things that pull them in. Things that they find attractive regardless of whether they are objectively bad or not. Another example besides Forspoken is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. A decent game but hardly anything new or groundbreaking.
Atomic Heart’s Unfortunate Launch Window
Given all of the factors and events surrounding Russia as a whole, the game’s launch window was definitely unfortunate. It’s a fact that we develop preconceptions based on the present and the past. People are able to separate the art from the artist so to say but there are those who can’t.
Atomic Heart is developed by Mundfish, a Russian game developer. Furthermore, it depicts a Soviet utopia in the 20th century. The imagery is clearly Russian but that’s not what causes the problem. Everything involving Russia that has happened in the last year left a mark on the game.
Now it’s clear that the game didn’t exactly suffer from that. There was no review bias and the performance of Atomic Heart from a technical point was like any other modern AAA title. However, due to societal changes and other factors, people did perceive certain aspects of the game differently.
Earlier this week, Atomic Heart’s developers issued an apology for a certain racist cartoon in the game. Some people on Twitter allegedly didn’t know why the cartoon was deemed racist. Moreover, Ukraine requested the game be banned from storefronts within the country and limit its distribution worldwide.
Furthermore, parallels were drawn with a Ukrainian politician due to the crown braid hairstyle of the Twins. Of course, given the times, Mundfish could have been more aware of its situation and been respectful. However, it’s a hairstyle that’s been around for centuries. It’s not necessarily throwing shade on Ukraine.
Straight up based the *** slave robots design off of Yulia Tymoshenko… The leader of the Ukrainian 'Batkivshchyna' political party pic.twitter.com/Y0hmef2xHB
— Dinka Kay | TENEBRIX (@DinkaKay) February 21, 2023
But then again, it can’t be set in stone since the developers never commented on it. They might have just glanced over it due to the nature of the argument itself. Considering they apologized for the cartoon, one can say that they didn’t really have any agenda but I digress.
As I said earlier, the events in these last twelve months created preconceptions for some people about anything that comes from that side of the world. Not everyone has the capacity to separate political matters from artistic ones. Especially when they are predisposed to believing certain things about what they see.
All this considered, the dialogue and voice work seems negligible at best. The game isn’t even the worst offender in this case. If you sat down to list games with the worst dialogue, you’d find a whole bunch of names. Atomic Heart doesn’t take itself seriously. While it may get redundant, it doesn’t lose its comedic value.
Mundfish & Its Potential As A Developer
Atomic Heart is the first marketable project from Mundfish and it’s set a great benchmark for the studio. I hate first-person games and they don’t seem appealing to me. Yet I found myself drawn to CDPR‘s Cyberpunk 2077. Invested a couple of hundred hours into that title.
This is the third time I’ve felt drawn to a first-person shooter game. By my standards, that alone gets Atomic Heart a lot of points. I didn’t expect it to be perfect because it isn’t. However, the studio seems to have potential and I want to see where they’re going to go as a developer.
The gaming industry today is very formulaic. Atomic Heart itself falls into that trap but we have to understand that it’s been in development since a few years ago.
As far as first projects go, Mundfish has put out a quality product. But that’s where it ends. From here on out, the studio needs to show its creativity and prove that it can learn from its experiences.
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