Atomic Heist, a new game coming from Live Aliens, is attempting to carve out a unique niche in the crowded Xbox marketplace. Described as a top down, 2D, twin stick, sci-fi roguelike shooter (phew), the premise of the game is an interesting one.
Tasked with collecting a nuclear core from a space station that is overrun with enemies, the game opens with you finding and collecting the core. All that stands between you and victory are ten levels of bad guy crowded mayhem, and you only have the one life to do it. Oh, and did I mention that the core is leaking radiation so that if you go too slow, you’ll die of radiation poisoning? I pulled on my lead lined pants and tried to escape.
First up is a tutorial, and I would really recommend that you play through it, getting a feel for the controls, which are somewhat weird. Unlike a traditional twin stick shooter, where you tilt the right stick to fire, in Atomic Heist, the right stick aims, and you still have to press the RT to actually shoot the gun. It quickly becomes fairly intuitive, and soon you’ll be flying backwards and firing in front as you go, blasting the bad guys to splinters. If you fire with no directional input on the left stick, the ship will go backwards, so that’s always something to be aware of. The left trigger will drop a timed bomb at your current location, and can help if you are being mobbed by enemies.
Thankfully the ship you are piloting is also capable of carrying two types of ammo, and these can be switched between on the fly using “up” on the D-pad. It’s certainly helpful to have extra ammo types, as unlike most other twin stick shooters, the ammo that you can carry is limited, and as I’m sure you can imagine, being left in the middle of a level with nothing but harsh language makes life exceedingly difficult.
Luckily, as you kill enemies and shoot the crates dotted around, they can drop different types of ammo or refills, replacing your currently active ammo type with others that you find. These range from straight forward bullets to napalm and beam-style weapons, with some doing area of effect damage. A top tip is to keep your distance if you are using the AoE types, as the explosions from enemies can also damage your ship, adding to the headache of trying to stay alive. If all else fails and you can’t find any ammo anywhere, there will always be a top-up at the point where you first spawned into the level. Also worth bearing in mind is that if you break off combat and try to run away, the bad guys will chase you throughout the level, so things can get quite tense as you try to find something to throw at them to get them off your tail!
The enemies are a varied bunch as well, ranging from tiny guys who rush headlong and attempt to headbutt you into oblivion, to larger foes with stupidly powerful weaponry, spraying laser beams around the place. Obviously, the bigger enemies take a lot more damage, but in an interesting move, not every enemy type is affected equally by every weapon. If an enemy is resistant to an ammo type you’re using, they will emit yellow bubbles as you shoot them, which is your cue to try a different ammo type. A criticism here: these bubbles are not very visible, especially as you try to fly around, avoiding enemy fire and back pedalling to try and get some room to think. I feel that they could possibly have been made a lot more obvious, maybe using a sound cue to illustrate the point. These enemies can still be destroyed by using ineffective ammo, but as you’d expect, the amount of ammo required is vastly increased.
In addition to the ammo pickups that you can find, there are other things to find and collect. There are various ship upgrades, including ones that increase your rate of fire and others that make your ammo more effective. There are also stations that you can fly up to that will remove the radiation that has built up in your ship, but these are destructible, so clearing out enemies is best done from a distance, in case a stray round condemns you to a glowing death. It’s not immediately obvious what these stations do, and it very much comes down to a case of trial and error to see what does what. As a general rule, if it moves, it’s a baddie, if it doesn’t, you can usually feel fairly safe about approaching it. Red crates are, in the universal language of video games, explosive, and it’s no different here with them creating an AoE explosion that can destroy groups of enemies – but they will also severely damage your ship if you get too close.
This then is the entirety of the story mode, if that’s not giving it too grand a title. Explore a level of the space station, kill anything that you see, and then fly out of the very fetching blue exit door. There are shortcuts to be found, and Achievements linked to either using them or avoiding them, but Atomic Heist is mainly about flying, shooting, exiting, rinsing, and repeating. There is an Arena mode to be found and unlocked, which is basically a room with a seemingly infinite supply of enemies to shoot; it is up to you to survive. Killing enemies and performing actions also unlock new avatars so this does add to the longevity of the game a little, as does trying to unlock the other ships that are on offer.
Sadly, although the gameplay can be fun in short blasts, if you’ll pardon the pun, a feeling that you’ve seen this all before is never too far away. It’s a simple game, but it does get repetitive, and for me at least, the hook just isn’t there to allow for anything more than just plodding through. Atomic Heist is not a chore to play by any means, but it didn’t grip me and force me to keep playing.
Graphically, and again, it’s quite a simple game, with some good shooting animations and effects to see, but the sound is largely forgettable; just your generic kind of “space shooty” bangs and booms to report. There is certainly nothing on display here that is going to cause your console to break a sweat, but there is a kind of retro charm to the visuals that can be quite appealing.
All in all, Atomic Heist is good for a short session, and does offer some shooty thrills and spills. The repetitive nature of the game won’t be to everyone’s taste, and although the developers have tried to help with this by changing the layout of the station every day (the so called “Daily Mission”), they can’t disguise the sense of deja vu when you are flying and shooting. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it does lack the magic ingredient that will make you want to keep hammering away.