Atomic Heart: Understanding Soviet BioShock

Looking into the details of the bizarre first-person shooter with Soviet aesthetics: retro cars, sgushenka, architecture and style, research facilities, and murderous robots from children’s cartoons

Moscow based game studio Mundfish is working on a promising first-person shooter Atomic Heart, which some call ‘’Soviet BioShock’’. So far, the studio has published a few trailers and teasers giving a short glimpse into the unusual world of Facility 3826 and technologies used in the game. For instance, Nvidia used Atomic Heart in last year’s RTX presentation. The longest trailer — in fact, a 10-minute gameplay video — was revealed only recently. The trailer showed several locations, enemies and gave an idea of what combat in the game is like.

While some moments may be clear to those familiar with the silver screen USSR or the Metal Gear Solid series, we’ll take a closer look at the display of Soviet and Russian features in the game to explain them to the fans not familiar with this concept.

Check out the latest trailer below:

Alternate timeline setting

Set in an alternate universe where the Soviet Union did not collapse and reached significant technological progress, Atomic Heart follows the story of a special KGB agent who investigates an incident at Facility 3826. The facility is quite huge as it spreads over the entire country and includes several biomes. So far, the trailers revealed a forest with abandoned complexes, underground facilities, a lake area, and a short glimpse of a polar biome.

The location of Facility 3826

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The map shown in the Soviet Television trailer
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The statue as seen in the recent 10-minute video
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The Motherlands Calls statue on Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd
 

As for the more precise location of the game, the Soviet Television trailer reveals that Facility 3826 is located in Kazakhstan, near Lake Zaysan. However, when the character approaches the cliff with the cable wire, we can see a huge statue in the distance, which looks like The Motherland Calls statue located in Volgograd, Russia. We can also see the same statue in the first official trailer, at the beginning of the video and in the closing sequence.

The closing sequence shows a map detailing the area around Facility 3826 but has numerous inconsistencies. For instance, the Irtysh River flows in Lake Zaysan, but there is no river on the sequence map. Several locations seem to be misplaced. There is no Krasnogvardeisk near the lake while it is a former name of the Bulakty village located in the south of the country, near its capital Astana. There are also a few other settlements going by this name across Russia, and one in Uzbekistan.

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Krasny les or Red Forest names two locations — a forest and a village, both located in the west of Russia near the Kuban River. Another settlement that is misplaced is Karkaly, which is situated in the opposite part of Kazakhstan. On the territory of Krasny les Kuzkina Mat or Kuzka’s Mother is found, which could be a reference to a famous quote by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev or to the Soviet RDS-220 hydrogen bomb also known as Tsar Bomba. Perhaps a similar kind of weapon is created in this area.

While the real-life locations and in-game ones should not necessarily be in the same place, the two maps revealed contradict each other.

The interior and exterior

In the video, we get a brief look at some buildings and the underground complex with its offices and laboratories. The on-surface part reminds of some rural areas and shows natural surroundings. The underground complex bears resemblance to Soviet research facilities and classic Soviet architecture.

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Such research institutes were scattered all across the Soviet Union hidden among endless forests. Now many of them are abandoned and scavenged by marauder and local citizens
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Having left the entrance area with broken vehicles and round saw robots, the agent comes to a small homestead with a house and a shed. In the yard, there are sunflowers and a few vehicles. In general, such a rural view is quite common. Old wooden houses are still to be found in many Russian cities while sunflowers are often depicted in paintings showing the countryside
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Soviet architecture seems massive and solid, and it’s often hard to tell whether you are looking at a scientific center, state department or theater
 

The interior of the facility is decorated with various posters and murals. The posters are typical Soviet propaganda. Due to a big amount of blur in the video, it is difficult to read all of them, but here are a few slogans:

  • Peaceful Atom — Robot’s Heart
  • Join the Builders of Socialism
  • Vavilov’s Research Guarantees High Crop Yield
  • Man Is Praised by His Work
  • Peaceful Atom — Country’s Mechanisation Foundation
  • What Did 10,000,000 Die For?
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The in-game posters look like typical propaganda posters from the Soviet period. They praise work, communism and achievements of Soviet people. This one, in particular, says: ‘’All power to the Soviets!’’, ‘’Science and communism are inseparable!’’ and ’’October opened the way to Space!’’

As for murals, they seem somewhat credible demonstrating industrial and agricultural power of the Soviet Union. Some of them show a drone and wheat, others show a worker and harvesters.

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These mosaics are scattered across Russia and former Soviet republics found on cinemas, scientific institutions and houses
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After dealing with the first android, agent P-3 approaches a booth with curtains. This is a ubiquitous decoration found not only at home but also at different institutes, ticket offices and even buses
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The round cabins of the cable-railway are similar to those of a Ferris wheel
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A few writings indicate the sections of the facility and warn about hazards. For instance, agent P-3 passes through the Pesticidal Area and Cold Laboratory. A warning sign says that there will be toxic substance ahead. Now, stalkers explore numerous abandoned research complexes and military bases left from the Soviet period
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So far, we got to see mostly the underground part of Facility 3826 leaving out recreation and staff areas of the complex. Anyway, if such locations are to appear in the game, they’ll probably look like Soviet health resorts, with tall ceilings, plasterwork and white columns
 

Legendary Soviet vehicles

While on the surface, the agent comes across a number of wrecked vehicles including cars and agricultural machines. These models may seem outdated, but they are still used and are somehow legendary. They could even be called symbols of the Soviet car industry.

Let’s take a closer look at these vehicles.

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The first one to see is probably a blue VAZ-2106 Zhiguli, with a few red ones further on. This model was produced from 1976 to 2006 and is a common car even nowadays. Some drivers prefer to tune it by installing a racing body kit and darkening windows. The car, however, could also be one of its siblings since they have similar features. For instance, 2103, 2105 or 2107
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Another car is likely to be Moskvich-407, which we could also see in the very first video. This classic is much older than VAZ-2106 as it was produced from 1958 to 1963 and is considered a rarity now. However, you may still see it on Russian roads driven by older drivers or enthusiasts
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The bus is PAZ-672M, produced from 1982 to 1989 replacing the 672 model, which was first produced back in 1967. This bus also received a 4x4 variant to transport people to distant or rural areas with bad roads
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We also get to see a bulldozer and a tractor. Given the fact that the USSR had developed agriculture, the presence of these machines is quite understandable. The bulldozer looks like the legendary DT-75. This model has been produced since 1963 but hasn’t changed much
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The tractor is probably MTZ-80 Belarus, which has been in production since 1972 and hasn’t changed much either
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We also get a glimpse of what could be T-16M, produced from 1967 to 1995
 

Sgushenka

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At some point in the video, the character picks up a can of Sgushenka which stands for condensed milk. It is concentrated milk with a large amount of sugar — 54 g per 100 g of the product. Sgushenkga was a popular dessert in the USSR and is still commonplace nowadays. The cover was designed back in 1939 and is still pretty much the same. In the first trailer, the main character opens a can of sgushenka and drinks it, perhaps to restore his health. In real life, it’s not that white though

Sgushenka may taste too sugary to be eaten on its own, so it is often used to make sandwiches and desserts like the Napoleon cake. There is also a boiled version, which has a brown color and denser consistency. This variant is used for another kind of dessert — filled waffle rolls.

The song

When the agent reaches a malfunctioning cable-railway, we can hear a distorted song playing. This song, called Chase, featured in the 1966 action film The Elusive Avengers, which takes place during Russian Civil War and tells a story of a group of teenagers who lead a guerilla war against bandits. The portrayal of the main characters inspired many Soviet children and made the song an anthem of young patriots. In Atomic Heart, we can hear its children choir cover.

Russian scientists

In some of the trailers, a couple of names were mentioned, namely Ivan Sechenov and Nikolai Vavilov. These are scientists who had a great influence on Russian science.

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Following the attack of an android in the shack in the last trailer, the agent finds himself in the underground facility called Vavilov Complex as written on the wall. Nikolai Vavilov was a Soviet biologist, agronomist and geneticist. He studied crops and led almost 200 botanical-agronomic expeditions. However, Vavilov fell victim of Stalin repressions and died in prison in 1942. He was rehabilitated posthumously.

Interestingly, the name of the place, ‘’Vavilov Complex’’, looks too English despite being written in Russian since the structure of Russian sentences is different. A typical Soviet or Russian facility would be called ‘’Research Institute named after Vavilov’’ (НИИ имени Н.И. Вавилова).

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In the trailer, we can see Vavilov’s photographs on several posters saying that he is the ‘’light of the facility’’. Perhaps in the alternate timeline of Atomic Heart, Vavilov proved to be useful to the Soviet government and stayed alive. However, agent P-3 calls him an ‘’idiot’’ when looking at the posters, which could mean that Vavilov is somehow guilty of the incident or has a bad reputation for some other reason

The other name to meet in Atomic Heart is Ivan Sechenov. He was a Russian biologist and physio-chemist whose work had a great impact on studying the central nervous system, animal and human behavior. In the first trailer, Sechenov’s scientific center was shown Besides, Facility 3826 itself is named after the scientist as seen in the closing sequence.

It is not clear, however, how the developers used the scientists’ work in their game and if it directly led to the incident.

Robots

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In the game videos, we saw a variety of different robots, and while they may seem like something from Five Night at Freddy’s, gamers from post-soviet territories instantly remember their true childhood nightmare — Robohare.

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This robot appeared in the Soviet cartoon series Just you wait!, which is similar to Tom & Jerry and follows the story of the Wolf who tries to catch and eat the Hare. In one of the episodes, the characters come to the Young Technician’s Club where they find a robotic variant of the Hare. After being hit with a sledgehammer, the robot turns into an unstoppable destroying machine chasing the Wolf and crushing children’s spirit.

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The round-headed robot seen in several videos is called Belyash, which is a kind of fried meat pie. The description of the robot says that it is used for fitter’s work and welding in hazardous conditions, which is meant to reduce casualties

Cursing

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During the playthrough, the main character comments on what he sees and when being attacked by the enemies. And often, these are swearings. While most Russian swear words familiar to non-Russian speakers are limited to what one can hear when playing CS:GO or watching Ashley Olsen visiting Conan, there are many others. Interestingly, these expressions sound quite organic in the game. However, using them abusively may be considered too harsh.

As of now, Atomic Heart has no release date, but you can pre-order it for PC and PS4 on the studio’s website.