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21 Feb, 2023 17:11

Controversial Soviet-style ‘retrofuturist’ game tops sales chart

Atomic Heart’s “sublime utopian world” was accused of glorifying the USSR
Controversial Soviet-style ‘retrofuturist’ game tops sales chart

‘Atomic Heart’, a video game set in an alternate 1950s Soviet Union, topped the charts on the Steam digital sales platform upon its release on Tuesday. The title briefly held the number one spot despite not being available to Russian users.

Developed by the Cyprus-based studio Mundfish, ‘Atomic Heart’ managed to briefly dethrone ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ as the top-selling title on Steam, which is the biggest digital distribution platform for PC gaming. The new release soon slipped to a still-formidable second place in the charts, yielding to the overwhelming popularity of the Harry Potter franchise.

‘Atomic Heart’ is a first-person shooter that puts the player in the shoes of a KGB agent “in a mad and sublime utopian world” of an alternate history USSR, shown as a technological wonder of robotics, albeit with a dark conspiracy brewing. The game’s unique retrofuturistic Soviet dystopia aesthetic has been cited as one of its main draws, although the style has also opened the game up to political controversy.

Ukrainian YouTuber 'Harenko' claimed that ‘Atomic Heart’ glorifies the Soviet Union and the KGB, and called on Western players to boycott it. However, multiple American content creators discarded that notion, citing the subversive nature of ‘Atomic Heart’ as a commentary on Cold War propaganda. Some also criticized developer Mundfish – many of whose staff are Russian – for not taking a stance on the conflict in Ukraine. The developers tweeted in January that they “do not comment on politics or religion” and are a “global team.”

YouTube game critic Luke Stephens argued on Friday that boycott calls appeared to mean that “a lot of people are simply engaging in McCarthyism, dismissing this studio, because it has Russians working within it.” He added that this kind of logic was “a slippery slope.”

The game’s success on Steam cannot be attributed to Russian users, as the digital storefront suspended sales in the country in response to Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine. By EarthWeb estimates, there are around 11.5 million Russian users on the platform. Instead, ‘Atomic Heart’ is available for purchase in the country via a service called VK Play.

‘Atomic Heart’ was positively received by critics, with review aggregator Open Critic currently listing it as 74/100 and its Metacritic score standing at 75/100.

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