Atomic Heart is one hell of an odd game, between its lust-crazed vending machine and a protagonist who’s tumbled out of a ‘90s shoot ‘em up. But its mustachioed, murderous Lab Techs are a different kettle of robo-fish entirely, and I’ve spent way too much time thinking about them.
Why? Because they resemble nothing so much as a bald, robotic Hitler, and it fascinates me in the context of the game’s world why you’d create such a thing. I’ve also started dwelling on Mundfish’s potential reasoning for putting them in Atomic Heart.
Admittedly, as a player, it’s an awful lot of fun to annihilate them. They serve as the game’s grunt-level enemies and, aside from one mini-boss variant, only use their fists. They’re clumsy enough that you can dance round them, smacking them in the back before they can turn their ‘tache towards you.
And rather than just collapsing, rag doll-style, they shatter on the ground — you might end up with a pile of scrap or an entire torso. The damage they take while they’re still standing is pretty impressive too. Hit them hard enough, in just the right way, and they end up with split faces.
But again, why do they exist? Even while I’m dispatching them, that still bothers me. Yes, this game’s alternate Soviet Union kicked Germany’s bottom in World War II, but these things are supposed to be lab technicians, not punching bags.
According to the Atomic Heart art book, it was given a human shape to “reduce the psychological impact on human employees.” Discovering that little tidbit just had me scratching my head even harder.
Could they be modeled on some other famous figure? The closest I’ve managed to come is Blakey from British 1970s sitcom On the Buses, but that’s a good 20 years after the game takes place. That said, if anyone wants to make them say, “I hate you, Butler,” as they attack, go right ahead.
What’s equally curious is that someone at Mundfish added an attack where the lab robots’ faces spring open, revealing the workings beneath. That might sound a little familiar if you’ve played the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, though that’s not to say Mundfish got it from there.
But the FNAF series, the movie Screamers, and so on get away with this because there’s a contrast between their relatively innocuous outer appearance and their nastier metallic guts. Whenever one of Atomic Heart’s Lab Techs — the Voyas — pulled this, I was rolling my eyes. Intentional or not, you were Robot Hitler 10 seconds ago; am I meant to find this more off-putting?
Likewise, when the upgraded Voyas smashed through a wall, I wasn’t quaking in terror, because of that round head with its stupid mustache. I don’t care how frequently you vomit laser beams; I can’t take you seriously with that facial hair.
Am I reading too much into Atomic Heart’s lab bots? Maybe. It’s also been suggested that the Twins, the game’s ballerina robots, are inspired by Ukranian politician and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Her hairstyle isn’t exactly unique — even Star Wars’ Princess Leia was rocking a similar hairdo at one point. So it may just be coincidence. But given the situation between Mundfish and Russia, you never know.
No one has a monopoly on little mustaches, as the late Charlie Chaplin (and Blakey) could attest. But it’s not Charlie Chaplin that springs to mind when I’m pummeling another Voyas or when one of them spawns in and tries to murder me with its laser breath in Atomic Heart. Maybe I just need to play something with more kittens in it.