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Atomic Heart’s Box Art Does A Huge Disservice To The Game

Atomic Heart made an appearance at The Game Awards last week, with a new, colorful trailer showing off its BioShock-meets-Soviet-era Russia aesthetic. In action, it looks like Wolfenstein: The New Order but set in the most stylish FPS world since Deathloop. The game might not end up being great — who knows? — but in action, it looks pretty interesting.

Which makes its box art a failure of massive proportions. If we judge box art on how well it sells what makes the game unique, Atomic Heart may have the worst box art I've ever seen.

This is it:

Yeah, that's right, the Soviet steampunk game is being marketed to audiences with a picture of a bearded White guy holding a gun. Even by the standards of video game box art, which is generally uninteresting, this is an abysmal failure.

For comparison, let's look at the cover art for Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which isn't even particularly good. That game's box similarly depicts a bearded White guy holding weapons. But, in this case, the bearded White guy is clearly a viking, with fur fringe around his neck and wrists, face paint around his eyes, braids in his hair and beard, and a raven on his shoulder. The weapons he's holding are era-appropriate axes. And, most importantly, there's a Viking longship in the background with shields mounted to the side and a dragon's head carved into the wood at the bow.

The guy on the Atomic Heart box art, by contrast, has little to distinguish himself. He's wearing the shirt of a military uniform, with Major Nechayev S.A. emblazoned on the pocket. But, if you see it from a few feet away, it looks like he's just wearing a gray button down shirt. His rifle has yellow wire running along the side, but without any context, that means nothing and isn't unusual enough to pique my interest in a world where gravity guns and portal guns and energy swords exist. The most distinguishing feature, a Soviet automaton with a red star on its forehead, is difficult to see in the dark red half of the art. There are small flourishes here, but unless you're really looking for them, this just reads as a White guy holding a gun.

The trailer, for comparison, opens with an image of a mustachioed skeleton, rock atop its head pointing out of frame, with other skeletons frozen in place in the background. Then, it cuts to a different skeleton spinning around on a merry-go-round, with a big red toadstool and cabbage behind them. Then it jumps forward to the action, as the player uses unique-looking weapons to defeat enemies in a sleek, brutalist environment. There's a shot of the character shooting at a tentacled robot with a dead whale beached behind it. What is that? That seems cool!

It's a short trailer, but it's filled with arresting imagery. And, yet, they went with a White guy holding a gun on the cover. It's somewhat understandable, because characters are often what sell players on a game. God of War Ragnarok's art shows Kratos and Atreus, ready for action. Death Stranding's art is Norman Reedus in a rain jacket, with a mechanical grabber thing in the foreground. The Last of Us Part 2's box art is just Ellie's pained, angry face. People respond to faces.

But, as the Assassin's Creed Valhalla box art shows, you can use the space around the character to sell what the game's core fantasy is. If all I had seen of Atomic Heart was the box art, I would think its core fantasy was being a White guy holding a gun. Lord knows, we have plenty of games about that.

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