Atomine is an isometric twin-stick shooter with minimalist wireframe graphics, procedurally-generated levels and a roguelite-style modular weapon upgrade and customization system.Background
Atomine was developed by Broken Arms Games from Italy. This seems to be their first Xbox port, as their other titles mostly are mobile and Steam titles (fantasy trading card game Kaboom Monsters
and contributing to numerous mobile motocross titles
). Interestingly, they have now changed course and are developing a Steam winemaking simulator
The Xbox port was later published by Mixed Bag Games, who have also ported to the Xbox Wheels of Aurelia
Atomine was originally released on Steam on May 4th, 2017. It later released for iOS in Sept 2017, the Nintendo Switch May 25th, 2018 and June 26th, 2018 for the PS4.
It released on the Xbox on June 22nd, 2018 for 9.99$ USD.
The game's lowest available price was for 1.99$ USD via Deals with Gold on March 17th, 2019.Story
The theme of the game is loosely based on the real life events of 2010, where the Stuxnet computer virus
was discovered to be targeting Iran's industrial systems and nuclear program and is considered to be one of the first examples of the use of a military cyberweapon.
The user plays as "Atomine", an updated version of the Stuxnet virus that is making another infiltration attempt at an unspecified military's nuclear weapon control system. The enemies the player encounters are supposed to represent physical embodiments of antivirus software and the 13 levels the player clears each represent a layer of the nuclear control system's defenses.
The premise is novel and provides some context for why the player must clear endless waves of faceless enemies.
However, the storyline is also barely integrated into the actual gameplay. The Stuxnet association is mostly limited to a few lines of voice acting during the initial game loading screen, the occasional voice prompt that a level of security has been breached on level end and a single anticlimactic phrase of onscreen text upon the defeat of the final boss.Gameplay
Atomine consists of 13 procedurally-generated levels with 4 interspersed bosses. The levels are grouped into fours, followed by an area boss. Once the initial 12 levels and 3 area bosses are completed, the player is tasked with clearing a single large, open arena-style free-for-all level before the showdown with the final boss.
Controls for this twin-stick shooter are as simple as they come. The left analog stick controls movement and the right analog stick aims and fires. Interestingly, the default controls are set up to fire continuously as right analog both aims and fires whenever engaged (I personally used Control Scheme B which decoupled the two, instead adding the Right trigger).
There is no tutorial beyond a simple "Move/Aim" graphic on the start of each run. The developers also decided not to include any explanation of game concepts, as there is no in-game encyclopedia nor popups explaining the rewards/penalties that may occur from some of the "shrine" rooms you come across. This oversight makes the gameplay seem cryptic at times, as I'm still unsure what the consequences of certain actions are despite investing 30 hours into the game.
Each "new run" begins with selecting a "Virus Version" character, which involve different preset loadouts of weapons, different speed and health pool stats and different passive bonuses or penalties (one character possesses the possibility of evading each attack, while another character glitches out your in-game weapon customization menu, limiting your control over style of gameplay). At the onset, only a single character is unlocked, version 1.0. There are seven different playable characters/versions that can be unlocked by successful runs, dying in certain ways and reaching certain milestones.
The levels are procedurally-generated, but always follow a particular template. The layout involves isometric square rooms always connected with narrow doorways. Each level starts with an enemy counter which must be reduced to zero in order to deactivate that level of security. When all enemies have been defeated, a portal to the next level appears. Levels range in enemy number from 5 to 60 enemies .
Almost every level contains a black "compiler" room, where the player is awarded a new randomized weapon module on your first visit. Players start off fighting enemies with their preset loadout, usually a single shot "Alfa" gun. New weapon mods can include new weapon types such as lasers, missiles and a strange slow moving, high damage black dot projectile known as the "Bubbleball". Awarded modules can also increase spread, rate or range of fire, along with adding new attributes like the ability to bounce bullets off walls or pierce bullets through enemies to damage foes behind them.
The initial pool of options is somewhat small, but expands with successive playthroughs. Players "mine" a Bitcoin-inspired currency called "AtoCoins" depending on how well they do on each run. These AtoCoins can subsequently be used between runs to unlock new weapon modules and passive bonuses to aid future runs. New unlocked modules are sometimes randomly awarded as well to the player at the end of successful runs or upon beating the final boss.
The roguelite elements come into play with permadeath on depletion of your health bar, which sends you all the way back to Level 1 for a new run with only the possiblity of new unlocked modules as consolation.Graphics
Simple is an understatement when describing how Atomine looks. Your character is a small cube and the enemies are all wireframe models. The camera is fixed. Levels are composed of interconnecting square rooms built from isometric blocks, all levitating on a white abyss, blank save for a few alphanumeric characters.
I think the style works and fits well with the premise that you are fighting your way through some sort of mainframe.Audio
The brisk action is accompanied by an uptempo electronic soundtrack that helps to pace your play. Perhaps inevitably, most of the music is drowned out by the sound of your blaster.Difficulty
As a roguelite, progression in Atomine is designed to be rooted in failure and trial-and-error.
Health is scarce initially. Health can be replenished by rare energy drops upon killing enemies or by curing health at compiler rooms when enough XP has been earned to move up another "Version".
Managing your health pool is key with conservative play, as even a mistake or two sends you all the way back to square one with permadeath. Selecting passive "Expansion" bonuses that increase your max health or increase the frequency of health drops is key to deeper runs.
Even still, the game seems terribly unfair at times. Some midgame enemies can easily steal 40-60% of your HP with a single hit in bullet hell situations, instantaneously ending deep runs where you were dominating thanks to fortuitous weapon modules.
The game markets itself as a fast-paced, run-and-gun experience, but almost all the game design choices work against reckless play. Small health pools, small rooms, constant bottlenecks, teleporting enemies falling directly on top of you and limited fields of view quickly teach players that YOLOing will be accordingly punished.
Early on, I found the best strategy was to creep through doorways activating enemies, only to retreat back to the safety of the previous room to funnel enemies to their death across bottlenecks.
The difficulty of the bosses themselves varies greatly with the weapon the player brought along with them. All four of the game's bosses employ some fashion of mass projectile dumps. Depending on the range and damage available with your weapon, battles can vary from anywhere from a few seconds to five minutes.
Even with developed skill, lots of advanced weapon unlocks and some lucky RNG drops on your side, clearing 13 stages and 4 bosses with one life is a tall order.
The game does have some exploits that circumvent the roguelite elements and can level the playing field in your favour. One in particular involves quickly exiting to the Xbox Dashboard upon death, allowing the player to continue from the same stage again upon reloading the game instead of having to start from scratch.
My first 3-4 successful runs required a few lives, as I was struggling to survive to the Level 12 boss, although I did achieve some clean runs once the most advanced modules were available.Performance
Atomine ran fairly well, save for fairly predictable framerate drops when too many projectiles were on the screen, particularly in boss fights.
There were some curious design decisions. There is a delay when hitting the pause button, so onscreen enemies still move for a splitsecond, allowing you to take damage.
Similarly, players can take damage while exploring in-game menus to select midlevel weapon customizations and passive bonuses. I died a few times while in menus selecting weapon components, which was infuriating.
I also noticed a bug where the player's health meter on the HUD would consistently glitch out and become unreadable upon continuing a saved game until I took damage.Achievements
Atomine has 38 achievements for 1000G.
It has a TA ratio of 2.325 and a 6% completion rate.
It personally took me just under 30 hours to 100% the game (I tend to be much slower than the TA estimates), and TA estimates hover between 12-20 hours.
The achievements are mostly based around
- progressing deeper into the campaign
- unlocking new characters ("Versions")
- equipping quite specific weapon loadouts which are hidden behind secret achievements
The main issue I have with the achievements is how much RNG they require. The playthrough and character based achievements are natural enough.
The problems arise in the late game once you've purchased or been awarded most of the unlockable weapon modules. Your progress and success paradoxically grows your pool of potential weapon module drops to be so large that the chance of receiving a single needed module decreases to less than 1% and the chance of receiving a desired combo in 13 chances in a single playthrough is very low. It took me over 3 hours and playing the same level over 100s of times just to get a single and final needed weapon module to drop for my final achievement.Discussion
In the end, I enjoyed Atomine. Unfortunately, it was also a case that I enjoyed it less and less the more time I spent with it.
I liked the premise, the gameplay and the music.
The fairly deep weapon customization system made individual playthroughs unique and allowed me to change my playstyle based on the tools I was provided.
My issues with Atomine mostly arise from design decisions. The complete lack of in-game explanation of the game's mechanics makes things unnecessarily cryptic. What does a Red orb room do and why does it sometimes steal my health? What does a weapon modifier do when it is labeled as R+ P- (increased Rate of Fire with less Precision btw)? I would sometimes unlock a new character with preloaded passive bonuses that were unlabeled, only to finally find out what the symbols actually meant days later when I unlocked a labeled module.
It was also infuriating to die from full health while offscreen in menus equipping new weapon combinations. It sucked some of the fun out of each level when you had to be paranoid that you weren't followed by anyone to the upgrade room.
Finally, I have mixed feelings that the programmers allowed exploits through menus and restarting the game that allowed levels to be repeated to circumvent permadeath and RNG elements. While it cheapened the experience somewhat, I'm not sure I would have had the fortitude to stick with the game for any longer than I did to accumulate enough perfect runs through the 13 levels to unlock everything. Similarly, the ridiculous amount of RNG luck needed by the late game to get desired combos to align was poorly designed and there is no way I would have stuck around longer than the 3 hours it took even while using an in-game Replay level exploit to redo it hundreds of times.
I picked up Atomine for 1.99$ CDN during the last Deals with Gold sale in March and felt I got great value for the choice. Even at the full retail 9.99$ base price, I think there's enough fun, challenge and depth here to give it a thumb's up.TL; DR
- Fun twin-stick shooter with a novel premise
- Cool soundtrack
- Challenging, but not insurmountable. Exploits are available if desired
- Good value, sometimes available for a few dollars
- Almost infinite weapon combination customization options allowing different playstyles
- Cryptic mechanics with zero in-game guides
- Annoying and questionable design decisions (able to take damage when paused, in upgrade menus and when warping through portals)
- Inexcusable framerate drops on bullet hell sections and boss fights in a game with mobile level graphics
- Late game weapon combo achievements way too RNG based and can easily take hundreds of tries to get the right drop