Atomic Heist, as far as twin stick shooters go, isn’t too bad. In fact it’s actually quite fun once you get going, but the trek that it takes to gel with the game mechanics can indeed be daunting. The premise is your straightforward bog standard affair that we’ve all come to expect from games of this sort. Years prior to the events in the game, Earth finally made contact yet inevitably went to war with an alien race known as the Delotians. The kicker here is that while Earth assumed that the Delotians came to invade and conquer, they were actually fleeing from a greater threat.
You see, the Delotians had been at war for generations with a supreme alien race known as the Rhaokyns. Rather than lend a helping hand, Earth seemingly saw the Delotian race as a threat and handled them accordingly. Six years later and leading to the premise of Atomic Heist, the Delotian’s hunters, the aforementioned Rhaokyn, have finally arrived. The Rhaokyns have overthrown a nearby station and have seized what’s known as the atomic impulse core. This is where you come in, you’re tasked with retrieving the core before the Rhaokyns can lock down the station and use it to their advantage.
Atomic Heist supports random generation, meaning that each time you die or restart the game, you’ll have a new level layout to contend with. This should help to keep the game feeling fresh throughout, though, the design of the game is designed in such a way that each play-through looks the same. It merely felt as though I was being spawned into a different section of the station, rather than being treated to new and interesting sights. It’s quite like Race the Sun in this regard. Yes, an entirely different game with an entirely different scope, but the execution of random generation is practically the same; same shit, different life.
The game starts out by feeding you into a short tutorial in which you’re simply tasked with flying forward through a very short passageway to obtain your HUD, before flying back to escape through a hatch to proceed. This core format is pretty much the backbone of what lies ahead. You’ll spawn into a map and will be tasked with finding the level’s escape hatch. There’s a wide collection of enemy variants along the way, each of which tend to come with their own capabilities and vulnerabilities. There’s a neat little info panel on the right of the screen that will keep track of various actions, such as enemies killed and so on and so forth.
The controls behave fairly well, though precision is quite hard to master at first. Movement is achieved via the left stick, whereas aiming can be utilized on the right stick. Weaponry is tethered to the triggers, with the option to choose between bombs and traditional firepower. Station control panels will also aid you on your way forward as you can quickly dock and select from a range of modifications, including the ability to switch between normal-vision and night-vision. Upgrades will unlock at a regular pace, which is a nice touch. Fallen enemies will also regularly drop pickups that will bolster your fire rate, health and even occasionally reward you with new weapons. On top of this, players can stop off at additional hubs to grab some power-ups. These power-ups often prove to be a blessing and a curse, depending on which one you go for.
For example, you can apply a power-up that will grant you temporary immunity from damage following an attack, but this will cost you a 20 percent loss of ammo at the end of the level. On the flip-side there are some power-ups that come without any strings attached, such as increasing the chance of ammo drops. In any case, you’re typically given the choice between three power-ups in total, per-level, so the choice is always in your hands. Progression does indeed carry over from level to level, so it pays off to keep that in mind as you move through the game. Helpfully, the game will notify you once you have neutralized all of the Rhaokyn threats, leaving you free to carefully maneuver to the escape hatch without the risk of getting blown up.
That being said, there’s heaps of environmental hazards littered throughout. Explosive tanks, moving objects that will try to crush you and many other death-traps just waiting to ruin your good run. Despite the repetitive design of each level and the task of nailing precision, I have to admit that I have had a great deal of fun with Atomic Heist. The gameplay remains tense throughout and the allure to keep playing and better your run is present from the onset. It helps that there’s no shortage of various and interesting pickups to use against the equally as varying enemy pool. It’s also quite easy to die in Atomic Heist, a lot easier than I thought it would be initially. Don’t get me wrong, the difficulty curve is well struck, but you would do well to understand that this game doesn’t hold your hand. Not by a long-shot.
Enemies are capable of chomping up a considerable amount of health in just one singular attack. When you take into account that different types of enemies often huddle together, it makes for some truly ‘edge of your seat’ moments. Certain enemies will blast gigantic cannons at you, whereas others will see it fit to barge into you instead. Atomic Heist is described as a fast-paced shooter, but the truth of the matter is that this plays at its best when you put your strategic brain into action. Running into a room full of enemies will often result in a wipe, though peeping into that same room to see what threats lurk within and then tactically taking them out in the order that makes the most sense, is where Atomic Heist shines at its brightest.
Of course, the game can indeed be nuked however you like to play. It’s just far less taxing if you apply some forward-thinking beforehand. Still, however you take to the fields of play, the game proves to be gratifying regardless, for the most part. Touching up on the visuals, there’s not a lot to write home about. The design of the game is uninteresting and dull from beginning to end, which is arguably where Atomic Heist will split the crowd. It would have been nice to see more detail and diversity, but instead it just comes across very bland. The same can indeed be said about the audio, which doesn’t do much to bolster the overall experience. When all is said and done, this game will certainly please fans of the genre, though with that in mind, it’s far from the best of its kind.
Atomic Heist is a good game, but it would have benefited from some extra care and attention to its design. The lack of interesting and detailed environments pulls this game shy of greatness, especially considering the implementation of random generation. Still, the game manages to hold its own ground through its tense gameplay, heavy replay value and diverse pool of pick-ups and power-ups.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.