By Adele Chapline Smith | OSV News
(OSV News) — If a videogame arouses concern, it’s usually because of internal factors such as the mayhem it depicts or the sexual content it includes. In the case of “Atomic Heart” (Focus Entertainment), however, not only do some dubious elements in this first-person shooter’s narrative warrant caution, so too does its possible connection to momentous real-world events.
Although “Atomic Heart” is set in an alternate version of the Soviet Union, the release of a game primarily focused on Russian military activity of any kind within days of the first anniversary of that nation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine registers as inappropriate at best and sinister at worst. Add to that alleged ties between this title’s developer, Mundfish, and the Putin regime and considerable wariness seems justified.
Players not already alert to these issues would likely be somewhat taken aback simply by the fact that the story’s protagonist, Major Comrade Sergei Nechaev, nicknamed Agent P-3 (voice of Alexander Lomov), is an operative of the USSR’s primary security agency, the KGB. Not the usual career choice of a hero.
According to the imaginary history at work here, the Soviets won World War II thanks to a breakthrough in technology achieved by scientist and inventor Dmitry Sechenov (voice of Dmitriy Romashin). This same development then led to social transformation and the establishment of a kind of paradise on earth.
But in 1955 terrorist hackers strike, plunging Facility 3826, the country’s foremost scientific hub, into pandemonium and endangering the ideal state of society. At Sechenov’s behest, P-3 is dispatched to control the resulting chaos.
The atmosphere of the world through which P-3 moves is remarkable for the striking balance it maintains between a sense of horror and feelings of suspense. Sechenov’s initiative has given rise to a race of robots who take on much of the work formerly done by human beings. The sight of their lifeless forms on the streets of the supposed utopia they helped to create is disconcerting and inspires unease.
Just how perfect, gamers are left to wonder, was this new Eden after all?
Even P-3 himself is shrouded in mystery. He’s a veteran of the global conflict but, perhaps as a result of his service in it, his memory is faulty. Thus his past life is, for the most part, a closed book.
While “Atomic Heart” is in these respects intriguing, it’s also objectionable in a number of ways. The intense showdowns in which P-3 engages, for instance, are often gory and some involve dismemberment.
Players, moreover, are given the opportunity to watch a real-life Soviet cartoon that turns out to be deeply distasteful. The sequence showcases blatantly racist caricatures of people of color and indigenous tribes.
Beyond the confines of the game itself, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, Alex Bornyakov, has urged that its distribution be restricted. Among other negative consequences, he noted that proceeds from its sales could potentially be used to fund the aggressive war against his homeland.
Catholic gaming fans in particular will want to bear in mind Pope Francis’ recent plea: “Let us remain close to the tormented Ukrainian people, who continue to suffer.” Foregoing the purchase of “Atomic Heart” could be an easy way to answer that heartfelt request.
Playable on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series and Windows.
The game contains graphic scenes of combat with gore, optional images promoting bigotry, partial nudity and occasional rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, material whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M — Mature.
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Adele Chapline Smith reviews videogames for OSV News.