Hearing disconcertingly upbeat instrumental music in a wrecked government science facility is never, ever, a good sign. Ever. So when you start watching the trailer for the new FPS Atomic Heart (opens in new tab) and hear that jingle, just be warned: things are about to get messed up. In an alternate universe something’s gone wrong at a prestigious Soviet Union government facility, and you’re sent to find out what happened. There are plenty of things to blame for all the chaos: robot zombies, sentient water, malfunctioning robots, eerily alive bathtubs of blood… Mundfish, the creators of Atomic Heart, clearly know exactly how to disturb us. They’re subverting and exploiting numerous horror devices to create a game that’s sure to make your hairs stand on end, and that’s not just because of the weird science that’s in the air. Here are 9 things that prove it’s going to be unlike any horror game you’ve played before.
Is that…an apple or a wound on that head?
What the hell is this. Can someone please answer me? It looks like someone dressed up in a polar bear fancy dress costume and then had a bleeding apple stuck to their head. As its head lolls to either side in that brief glimpse, not only does it look like it has a disturbing lack of control over its limbs but its whiteness is unusual for any animal that doesn’t feel at home in extremely snowy weather. Plus the white hair makes that blood stand out even more, which obviously equals danger in our mammalian brains. Seriously, though, the fact that this… thing is so hard to categorize immediately makes our brains assume that if we can’t figure out what it is, we should probably assume it’s a threat. The fact that it only appears for a split second doesn’t make things any less unnerving either.
Why the hell does that robot have a screaming face?
Considering the front of this robot is painted to look rather jolly, you’d expect it to be some kind of harmless entertainment product. But no. On the reverse side a screaming face can be found with very sharp teeth and unseeing red eyes. Again: why? Having it look like a harmless entertainment product on one side but so sinister on the other sends mixed messages to anyone trying to work out why it exists: is it meant to scare children into behaving? Perhaps it’s some kind of alarm. Meant for a fairground. From our nightmares.
More deranged robots
Witnessing something that’s meant to help you turn deranged is a classic horror trope, and by golly is it effective. This robot looks like it’s meant to aid humans in some kind of way, (although I can’t immediately think of the use of rotating sharp implements). Its speedy head swivelling is a nightmare for anyone who prefers the slow, sneaky approach, as such rapid owl-like 360° movement could mean that it has a greater chance of spotting you sneaking up on it. Not a particularly welcome prospect to contemplate.
Zombie robots, no thanks
Zombies are bad enough. But zombie robots? No. No thank you, good sir. Animating the dead with robotics is a nifty twist on the typical reanimated corpse scenario, and seeing all that technology wired into flesh and blood makes it clear how malleable the human body is. The idea that our body can be invaded with wires and brought back to life against our consent isn’t something most people enjoy contemplating. Plus their features look twisted into some kind of sick rigor mortis grin. The space you see these zombies in looks like a white-tiled hospital, implying that they could be linked some sort of medical research – and with medicine supposed to help humans, it’s no wonder that seeing it warped into this kind of horror implies that the person orchestrating it all had a misguided idea of what ‘help’ looks like.
Water is your deadly enemy now
Ah, water. We so often take you for granted. It flows through our taps, showers, toilets, pipes… it’s everywhere. So having it as an enemy that can drown anyone in its path is troubling to say the least. The questionable experiments that must have gone on to turn water into something that isn’t too fussed about killing people raises questions at what they would have used that technology for… and whether something went horribly wrong or whether it was always supposed to target humans. Either prospect is pretty bleak. Also, how the hell do you fight water? Do you evaporate it to death?
Blood bathtubs are never good news
Draining blood from people’s bodies is alright if you have a dialysis machine on hand (don’t Google that if you’re squeamish). A bathtub full of the stuff with tendrils of it ominously moving around as if searching for a new victim isn’t. Why would you need blood to be outside of someone’s body? By the looks of it the facility could have been trying to use the blood to create creatures, as the outline of a horse is seen standing in the middle of a tub of blood. The blood also looks like it has a life of its own, just like the water floating through the facility. Being faced with something so inherently life-sustaining turning against you prompts the fear that the blood coursing through your veins could do the same thing. Not an entirely pleasant idea.
A surreal world
Among the obviously threatening flashes of robots going mad, zombies bashing at doors, and ominous glimpses of people drowning in the middle of floating water is a brief segment depicting a sinking world. Rather than this being a downright scare, the shift in tone from the repulsion of the bloody white creature to this disconcerting scene is enough to unsettle anyone watching because we don’t know what to make of it. With horror games our default settling is to scan for threats, but with this disarmingly peaceful (if bizarre) scene we’re unsure whether we should worry about being in danger or not. The uncertainty doesn’t help matters either.
Wires are also deadly and strangle-y now
Much like water, the wires that send electricity and information hurtling towards our screens and buildings are easy to overlook. Unless you’ve got tons strewn on your desk right now, it’s easy to forget that they’re laced through your walls and make pretty good garrottes. In Atomic Heart they’ve got a mind of their own and have taken a dislike to the staff working in the building. Those bodies are being hauled somewhere, leaving us wondering – again – why. Killing something just for the sake of killing is normal behaviour for most enemies, but when there’s a hidden purpose in their actions, things become a lot more sinister.
Should we be scared of a robot fairy ballerina?
Grinning, brightly-coloured robots are creepy even when they’re supposed to delight and entertain. Having them dancing along with the screaming-faced robots doesn’t do anything to increase their appeal. With a large mechanical fairy like that in the middle of a secret scientific facility, you have to wonder what its purpose is. Are they supposed to be appealing to children, or is its whimsical design just coincidental? Is it meant to attack us at some point? You know what: considering its size and inane toothy grin, I don’t even want to know.
If you’re after answers to the many questions I’ve posed, you can join me in eagerly waiting for Atomic Heart when it’s released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2019.