Atomic Heart from developer Mundfish…
As a publisher, editor-in-chief or reviewer, how do you deal with a new, quite relevant video game that was developed by a Russian team that, in response to multiple requests – both from press representatives and from players via social media – has failed to sign off from the to distance Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine? In this special case, we have decided not to give a gaming fun rating – because we do not want to give a purchase recommendation that might be justified by the quality of the product.
Not a word about the Russian roots: This is how developer Mundfish introduces itself on its website.
First of all, the situation requires you to put the facts about Atomic Heart on the table: The game is the first work of the young studio Mundfish, which was founded in 2017. However, not in Cyprus like that official website of the team claims, but in Russia. Because 2018 and 2019 spoke News reports about the game on various websites by a Moscow studio – but now the development house is trying hard to hide its origins. The English version of the official studio website even speaks of “130 creative people from ten countries – including Poland, Ukraine, Austria, Georgia, Israel, Armenia, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Cyprus.” It is no coincidence that a country is missing, from which many employees and the founders come: Russia.
In the lengthy intro, you stroll through the alternative Soviet Union of 1955 – a seemingly happy, technologically advanced country.
The next point is the setting: Atomic Heart takes place in an alternate Soviet reality of 1955. After a leap in technology, the Soviets became world leaders in the field of robotics, creating a glossy utopia with flying cities, happy citizens and helpful tin assistants and circuits. Shortly before the glamorous start of the neural network “Collective 2.0”, which should enable the final connection between humans and machines, the robots on the test site 3826 go crazy – as a player character you travel there to check on things and to prevent that the reputation of the prestige Soviet project suffers. So far, so harmless – you could say a bit of BioShock with USSR chic. At the same time, the story and setting play down the real horrors of the unjust Soviet state: In the USSR, many basic human rights were restricted, torture and spying were the order of the day – in the game, the intact Soviet world is shaken by a tragic event, but the inhuman arbitrary state itself is not questioned. And although the game shows parallels to the (newer) parts of the Wolfenstein series in terms of stylistic exaggeration of a brutal regime, there is also a crucial difference here: BJ Blaskowicz has Jewish and Polish roots in Wolfenstein and fights against Nazi Germany. In Atomic Heart, on the other hand, you embody the Soviet one Major Sergey Alekseyevich Nechaevwho is commissioned by the Industry Minister to investigate an incident at a research facility.
It is of course difficult to say whether and to what extent any proceeds from the Atomic Heart sales will flow to the Russian state and thus ultimately also contribute to the financing of the war. However, there is information on the financing of Mundfish: With the graphics card leader Nvidia as the official hardware partner and the Chinese Internet giant Tencent as an investor, Mundfish lists two gaming celebrities on its website. The other two investor names there — GEM Capital and Gaijin Entertainment — are probably not familiar to everyone. GEM Capital is an international investment firm whose Russian founder Anatoly Paliy was employed by a Gazprom subsidiary for several years. Gaijin Entertainment – known for War Thunder – came under criticism in 2021 when the company’s paid ads were featured on the YouTube channel of a pro-Russian separatist in Donbass. Gaijin then left communicated through a speaker: “We do not support anyone politically, anywhere. We know nothing about politics and prefer to stay out of it. Our agency, which ordered an ad in the video in question, removed it, realizing that it could involve us in a political discussion Atomic Heart PC version available through VK Play, which is the gaming service of the Russian tech company VK (formerly Mail.Ru). VK, on the other hand, is said to have close contacts with the Kremlin VK CEO Vladimir Kiriyenko is even on the US sanctions list.
…and our consequences.
Statement yes, real statement no: This is how Mundfish reacted to the allegations via Twitter.
So the bottom line is that there are several vulnerabilities that justify, even necessitate, that we don’t treat Atomic Heart like a “normal” game. Mundfish’s lax only half-way statement on these allegations via Twitter read: “Guys, we’ve noticed the questions about where we stand at Mundfish. We want to reassure you that Mundfish is a developer and studio with a global team focused on creating an innovative game and serving it as a pro-peace organization is unquestionably opposed to violence against people. We do not comment on politics or religion. Rest assured, we are a global team focused on getting Atomic Heart into the hands of players around the world.” As a tester, I would like to say a few more words: Of course, there is no obligation to act courageously and to stand up for a good cause (here: the end of the Russian war of aggression) against the background of possible punitive measures. For me, in democratic Germany with its freedom of expression, this position-taking is relatively easy, in authoritarian Russia, where even criticism of the war or the army can lead to long prison sentences, things look different. So it’s not up to me to blame the developer for his silence – at the same time I can understand the wish of many players that Mundfish speak out and condemn the war. I, too, would have felt more comfortable with this entertainment product if I had known that its creators were on the “right” side. Because if the almost 365 days of war have taught us anything, it is that black and white have rarely been so clearly demarcated in a conflict.
Before we get to the Atomic Heart game review, one last caveat: we’re not calling on you to boycott the title or pointing fingers at you if you think it’s a fictional game you want to have fun with. At the same time, we hope that you now have all the important information you need to make the right decision for you on how to deal with Atomic Heart.