The putrefying corpse of Dead Space has been brought grotesquely back to life ahead of schedule in the shape of The Callisto Protocol. A true remake of the game may be resurrected from the tomb the following year. This spiritual successor to the science fiction survival horror series recreates the eerie blood-splattered hallways and space zombie-slaying hallmarks that were first established on the USG Ishimura in 2008. Additionally, the gore is injected with more awe than ever before thanks to some strikingly detailed splashes of blood and guts. Sadly, even though the dismemberment of mutants has never been more vivid, the flaws in The Callisto Protocol are just as easy to see. The almost eight-hour carnage is gratifyingly brutal, but it is never quite as amazing as the series that inspired it. This is due to occasional control annoyances, imbalanced combat, and a general paucity of creativity.
THE CALLISTO PROTOCOL REVIEW: SPECS
- Platforms: PC (reviewed) PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
- Price: $60 – $70
- Release Date: December 2, 2022
- Genre: Survival/horror
A disaster has befallen the Black Iron Prison facility that is located on the moon of Callisto, and the inmates are rebelling; not only in the sense that they have broken out of their cells and are causing a riot, but also because they have been infected by a mysterious virus that has transformed them all into twisted toxic avengers. The inmates are revolting not only because they have broken out of their cells and are causing a riot, but also because they have been transformed into Jacob Lee, a cargo pilot who was wrongfully imprisoned, must navigate a claustrophobic crawl through an extraordinarily well realized facility that is in ruin and invaded by lunar-based lunatics in order to discover the source of the resident evil and find a way off the prison planet. What comes next is a fairly linear gauntlet run, but thankfully the team at developer Striking Distance Studios has proven itself to be masterful makers of creepy corridors – rarely are any two passages ever the same, and each area is given a distinct sense of place, from the maintenance room decorated with dangling corpses that look like prison guard pinatas, to the frosted-over facilities that lie beyond the prison walls. What comes next is a fairly linear gauntlet
I was being held in the foul penitentiary that was part of the Callisto Protocol, where the level of danger was at its highest.
In the lead role, Josh Duhamel from the Transformers movies does an admirable job, as does Karen Fukuhara from The Boys as his main ally Dani Nakamura. However, the majority of the hopelessness and discomfort of the pair’s predicament is communicated through the impressive art direction and audio design. Because the third-person camera is fixed on Jacob at all times, you are able to get a good look at the sweat sheen on his scalp in the humid laundry area, the blood-splatter that soaks his coveralls after each brutal encounter, and the especially disgusting sewerage that coats his body after he is forced to wade waist-deep through waste management. Everything is thick and slimy in a way that can actually be felt, and the discomforting scrapes and sickening squelches that come from the darkness around you only add to the feeling. And while it’s become common practice for game designers to conceal the loading of new regions with the use of narrow spaces in the ground for players to squeeze through, in this case, those gaps only strengthen the feeling of dread rather than turning the experience into a chore. In the lowest levels of Black Iron’s dungeon, as Jacob inched his way through the revolting pus-boil and tendril-covered caves, his winces on screen echoed my own looks of unease as I watched him. I was being held in the foul penitentiary that was part of the Callisto Protocol, where the level of danger was at its highest.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first, though: The Callisto Protocol is essentially a Dead Space game, save for the fact that its developer, Striking Distance Studios, is led by Glen Schofield, who was also a co-creator of the Dead Space series. This is the elephant-sized mutant monster in the room. From the neatly minimalistic HUD that grafts Jacob’s health bar into the back of his neck like a phone battery indicator, to the stomping of crates and corpses to uncover precious resources, to the combat system that heavily relies on a battery-powered telekinesis ability that allows you to hurl objects around with a flick of Jacob’s wrist, everything about this game is minimalistic and streamlined, from the neatly minimalistic HUD that graft There is also evidence of a secret religious cult that appears to be engaged in some way with the outbreak, as well as instructions on how to kill opponents that have been left in blood and smeared on the walls. It does not include Isaac Clarke’s stasis ability and replaces his collection of weaponized mining implements with a more conventional arsenal of pistols and shotguns, but other than that, it has a very familiar feel to it. As someone who has played all of the Dead Space games, I found the campaign to be heavy on startling jump scares but light on any major story or gameplay surprises. This resulted in a game that was heavy on startling jump scares but light on any major story
At least in the first several hours of the game, The Callisto Protocol has a greater emphasis on close-quarters fighting than Dead Space did, which is the most notable departure from the horror-driven formula that Dead Space established. Because there are few weapons and ammunition to begin with, in order to eliminate each snarling cellmate, you will need to coax them into an uncomfortable proximity, dodge their clawing attacks, and then respond with a flurry of hits with Jacob’s stun baton. Dodging and blocking oncoming punches using the thumbsticks feels a little bit like ducking and weaving in a boxing game, only your opponent is less like Holyfield and more like “Holy crap!” It is gratifyingly weighty to bash their limbs off one by one and pound baton-shaped grooves into the skulls of their victims, and doing so feels satisfyingly hefty.
As you give a fatal injection of hot lead to each infected prisoner, the camera, which was already very close to the action, moves in even closer so as to truly emphasize the horror that is taking place.
Even as Jacob’s arsenal grows, engaging in melee combat is still a smart way to conserve ammo. This is because each successful combo string you land opens up a brief window to perform a “skill shot,” which enables you to automatically lock-on to a weak spot with your firearm and take them down in a few shots rather than using an entire clip. Because the already close-quarters camera pulls even closer to really emphasize the carnage as you give each infected inmate a lethal injection of hot lead, I found the risk-reward choice involved in getting up close and personal to be more enjoyable than trying to more safely pick enemies off from a distance. Getting up close and personal involved getting up close and personal with enemies rather than trying to more safely pick enemies off from a distance.
A GRP can be obtained
Unfortunately, once the GRP is introduced, that high level of tension isn’t able to be maintained in the same way. This gravity-defying gauntlet may surely make for some interesting combat engagements, particularly when used in conjunction with the different deathtraps and volatile objects that are helpfully positioned around each section. It is powerful enough to carry most adversaries into the air. You could walk into a room full of ghouls, pick one of them up, and impale him on a spiked wall. Then, you could toss another one into an exposed grinding mechanism. Finally, you could finish them off by hurling a saw blade through their midsection, and all of this could happen before they realized you were even in the room. It can be a lot of fun in a jailbreaking Jedi sort of way, and it often produces some gloriously gory results, but it also means that major threats are often extinguished too quickly, like you’re Indiana Jones bringing a gun to a swordfight. In other words, it’s like you’re bringing a gun to a jailbreaking Jedi fight.
Because GRP is an ability that runs out and needs to be recharged over time or instantly topped up with batteries should you have one in your inventory, I wasn’t able to rely on it as a crutch all the time. However, I did feel that it gave me the upper hand in the majority of enemy encounters, even when playing on the “maximum security” difficulty setting, which caused me to question whether or not I was the most dangerous monster lurking in Black Iron.
Due to the fact that the GRP is so strong, I didn’t see the need to put much effort into improving my weapons using The Callisto Protocol’s upgrading mechanism. I made sure to splurge on fundamental upgrades such as increased clip capacities and recoil dampening, but I never felt the need to scrounge up enough Callisto credits to purchase the more unique upgrades. Because, after all, the ability to throw the ever-present explosive canisters or pick an enemy up and drop them over a ledge is the only additional fire mode I ever truly required, what use are the homing bullets for the assault rifle or the explosive rounds for the riot gun?
In a similar vein, stealth sequences are unable to generate a significant amount of stress. In The Callisto Protocol, there is a dangerous blind subtype of the infected that appears about halfway through Jacob’s big escape. These infected are similar to the clickers that appeared in The Last of Us. However, despite the fact that they are said to have an enhanced sense of hearing, I discovered that it was surprisingly simple to murder them with a shiv right in front of other foes who didn’t seem to bat an eyelid – assuming they have eyes – despite the loud death squeals of their recently eliminated friends. The towering terminator-style security droids pose a far more serious threat because they can only be destroyed with a pinpoint headshot. If you miss the target, you will likely be quickly minced by their high-powered canons. However, for some reason, these truly formidable adversaries are introduced early on in the game but are not encountered again until much later on.
Hell in a Cell
That is not to imply that The Callisto Protocol does not provide a good array of adversary types for players to face off against. In spite of the fact that they are examples of fairly standard survival horror archetypes, such as standard zombies, suicide bombers that rush you, and spider-like creatures that scramble on all fours up walls and along ceilings, they all look wonderfully repulsive. This is especially true when you are making space jam out of their space guts. Fights with groups of agitated enemies gain a welcome sense of urgency once a regenerative ability is introduced not too long after the game’s release. This ability enables basic enemy grunts to transform into more resilient brutes if you wound them without finishing them off completely, and it will be available before too long. This is possibly best demonstrated by a late-game ride on an underground drilling platform, in which swarms of assailants rush upon you from all sides and you immediately gain power as a result of being lashed by the shards of flying rock. It’s without a doubt going to be one of the moments on the whole trip that will get your heart racing the most.
On the other hand, another aspect of the game that gave me cause for concern was the surprisingly slow “fast weapon swap” option. During the numerous battles against The Callisto Protocol’s twin-headed tank-like mini-boss, during which my ammunition stores were rapidly depleted, it consistently failed to meet my expectations and let me down. The animation of Jacob holstering a weapon and drawing the next is too long and can be accidentally interrupted. This means that there were many times when I’d start a weapon switch but immediately perform a dodge to evade an enemy attack, and then spring back up into a shooting stance to find myself still armed with the exact same weapon I was attempting to holster. Tapping left on the D-pad swaps out one equipped weapon for another, but the animation of Jacob holstering a Putting aside the clumsy control flaws, the few boss battles in The Callisto Protocol are frustratingly one-dimensional and never really blew my mind (although they surely broke Jacob’s head on multiple times).
The Callisto Protocol suffers from a number of additional minor issues that need to be resolved. It is annoying that opening chests causes the game to immediately take up everything that is contained within it. As a result, I had to repeatedly go into the inventory screen to get rid of the skunk gun ammo that I had not requested in order to make room. It is disappointing that the only way to listen to audio logs is while you are stationary with your head buried in a menu. In other games, such as Dead Space and BioShock, the audio logs act as creepy accompaniments to the player’s exploration of the world. And while it may have been a great idea for a jump scare the first time, by the sixth or seventh time it’s just plain annoying, and it feels like you’re being forced to endure the same repeated office pranks of an alien April Fool’s day. And while it may have been a great idea for a jump scare the first time, having a facehugger leap out of the locker you’re searching may have been a great idea for a jump scare the first time
After completing the main storyline, there is really nothing else to accomplish in The Callisto Protocol, despite the fact that the game has a playtime of eight hours and the pacing feels about correct for that amount of time. Although it appears that a New Game+ mode will be made available via a free patch at a later date, there are currently no interesting unlockables to speak of that might encourage repeat playthroughs, nor are there any alternative modes to try. This makes the overall package feel almost as sparse as a mattress found in a prison cell when it first launches.
In The Callisto Protocol, you will go on an intensely atmospheric and action-packed journey through a breathtaking abattoir that is located in a faraway galaxy. Because of its mostly linear design, it has very little backtracking, which means that it cuts the fat while leaving a sufficient amount of bone and gristle for the user to pull and shred. However, it also betrays its survival horror roots by frequently tipping the balance of power too far in favor of the player. And while there is plenty of murderous fun to be had using giant grinding mechanisms to make mulch out of mutants, such cheap thrills come at the high cost of puncturing any tension and dread that the tremendous art and audio design work so hard to invoke. Aside from the heavy melee fighting, there is also the overwhelming sensation that there is not a lot here that hasn’t been done before. Once the campaign has been completed, there is a disappointingly small amount of content left for the player to engage in. Therefore, The Callisto Protocol is a gruesomely gratifying spiritual sequel to the Dead Space series. However, in the end, it’s more of an eye-catching modern mimic than a terrifying new mutation.
- Amazing work on the sound design
- Absolutely stunning visuals
- Cool sci-fi setting
- Clunky melee fighting
- Limited environments
- Frustratingly Repetitive Boss Fights