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Review – Atlas Wept – Movies Games and Tech

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Atlas Wept isn’t what it appears to be. It looks like a happy, smiling romp with a few friends. Then something happened about three-quarters in that completely pulled the rug out from underneath me. Then it pulled more and more rugs until it had assembled a complete carpet shop. It’s one of Atlas Wept‘s greatest strengths. I never quite figured out where it was going and that kept me fully absorbed. Well, that and the completely bizarre imagery.

Atlas Wept wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s taking notes from Earthbound on one side and Undertale on the other, but works hard to stand on its own two feet. It doesn’t lean into the meta aspects of the latter or the… whatever it was about… of the former. Instead, Atlas Wept is a unique take on pain and identity, pushed through the filter of old-school RPGs. It has quite a few rough edges but I found the core experience to be enchanting.

Weight of the World

Atlas Wept‘s story is split into two halves. On the one, we have two kids, Hal and Lucy. They live in a country that’s constantly under attack from outside and being oppressed from within. There are themes of dictatorship and discrimination. Then they stumble on a strange, robotic dog-thing that whisks them away on an adventure. Sounds fun, but it quickly gets dark. On the other we have two more kids, Dezi and Charlie, who are living in a world where everyone is at the mercy of the ‘Grins’. These are strange, living smiles that forcibly make people happy, but ultimately brainless.

It’s a story that turns into a huge melting pot of different ideas. Themes that come up include trauma, depression, identity, transgenderism, racism, sin and death – to name but a few. I’d say ‘identity’ bubbles to the surface most strongly, as a large subset of the plot is the judgement of humanity, and the decision whether to reset it. It’s an interesting story, well told. I’d say Dezi and Charlie’s half has the edge, as their struggle feels the most real. The central point seems to be that negative experiences, like pain, confusion and loss, are integral to our identity as humans. To remove them is to remove part of what makes us, us.

It may be a little lacking in nuance, but I found Atlas Wept to be oddly profound. Some parts of it are incredibly on the nose, such as the aforementioned ‘grins’, but it allows Atlas Wept to make the points it wants to. The story is not afraid to get dark and to put its characters through hell – but they each show growth and are generally well-written, enough that it successfully lands the emotional gut punches. There are even some great little quotes. I think about one that came after Lucy mocked a pair of brothers for revering an old shovel as a sacred object. Their response was something along the lines of ‘objects don’t give us value, we give them value’. I’m butchering it, but I rather liked it.

Why Don’t You Smile More?

I liked this quote despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that it came from a giant talking drill. That’s Atlas Wept‘s second biggest strength. Its visuals are absolutely nutty and I love them. Character designs quickly go from regular people to giant dog-bees or strange, friendly slime beings. The visuals help back up the overall themes of identity. Everything looks nutty but they have their own identity. Then there’s the grins, who succeed in being thoroughly creepy. They are there to make people happy, but their betentacled bodies and overly large smiles show that it’s not going to be a fun ride.

But I’ve rambled about the plot and themes enough: how does Atlas Wept actually play? Well, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. Let’s take the combat first. This is probably the biggest Undertale influence. Combat is an active time battle system, where you wait for a little bar to fill before striking. The twist is that every spell – and every enemy attack – has a little mini-game attached. Do well and you max out (or dodge) damage. Enemy attacks are usually bullet hell based. They work very well in boss fights – and I’ll applaud any RPG system that allows me to influence damage taken – but it drags on a lot in standard fights. Continually dodging lasers every turn gets a bit repetitive, but I do like it overall.

It made for a tremendously exciting final boss fight, for one. It might get old for some, though. As can some of the rougher edges. The screen movement, for example, was a little laggy for me, which threatened to trigger my motion sickness. There were also a few graphical issues, such as text not fitting into the boxes properly. Other gripes include a pretty useless map screen and a very inconsistent soundtrack. Some combat songs were okay but a lot of the overworld tracks felt like second-long loops. They become whatever the opposite of an ear worm is. Ear parasite?

Atlas Wept – A World of Feelings

Atlas Wept also has a strange obssesion with mini-games, like playing a one-hit-kill bullet hell game on a minecart or blasting between cannons. They’re diversions but are not overly welcome, especially when the combat has us doing much the same stuff. Still, it didn’t detract from it that much. By the time they came along, I was already hooked. Atlas Wept only gets stronger as you go on, with the final quarter of the game being as interesting as it is bizarre.

It’s also worth mentioning that there isn’t much replay value here. I don’t mind though. Some of the key moments will stick with me, I think. Atlas Wept has a lot of rough edges – even the graphics might be difficult to recommend to someone who isn’t a fan of its influences. Still, it makes up for its deficiencies with the central plot and deep themes, and the unique design of its various characters. True, big scary grins may not seem like a very interesting villain on first glance, but hey, it works for clowns.

(Atlas Wept’s Steam Page)


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