Geek Review: The Callisto Protocol
In the realm of survival horror games, you have the stalwart – Resident Evil – and a few others – Parasite Eve, Silent Hill – who have struggled to shamble along. Most recently, the Dead Space filled that gap, of a sci-fi horror series that started out strong, before getting gutted, though that was before the announcement of its remake. Still, there is a gap and it hasn’t stopped others from trying to well, survive and carry on the torch. Striking Distance Studio and Krafton’s The Callisto Protocol is very much a spiritual successor to the sci-fi series, and while there are horror highs to be had, the nightmare lows are also equally apparent.
With the Black Iron Prison facility on the moon of Callisto in disarray, the reason for the chaos is why we are all here. Prisoners infected by a mysterious virus that has transformed them into slimy monstrosities, it is the literal stuff of nightmares perfect for a survival horror game. Players step into the unfortunate shoes of cargo pilot Jacob Lee, trying to escape the horrors of the facility without losing his humanity.
Along for the ride is Dani Nakamura, who helps out Lee whenever she can. Josh Duhamel does a good job as the lead character, and so does Karan Fukuhara as Nakamura, but the majesty of The Callisto Protocol comes less from its motion capture, and more from the art and audio design that carries the heavy load.
Whether you are coming upon a dismembered corpse or the aftermath of an unfortunate falling out, you can almost feel like you are right there thanks to the detailed and sharp visuals. Add in those squishy, and frankly, uncomfortable audio effects and cues, and the fear gets cranked up a notch every time Lee has to navigate his way through the prison. Of course, it helps to have really scary things pop up every once in a while.
Having the likes of Dead Space creator Glen Schofield on the team of The Callisto Protocol obviously has its perks, especially when the generally linear nature of the game is punctuated by plentiful moments of utter terror and creepiness. Even with the variety of corridors that players will find themselves in, there is always something uniquely terrible about them, which is a testament to the craft of the developers.
While it can be a fun ride just to watch things unfold, the gameplay is still a big part of The Callisto Protocol, and if you have enjoyed Dead Space and its sequels, then the familiarity is bound to set in. That is not inherently a bad thing, as players get used to the minimal HUD, the environments, and all the activities that are required to make a safe escape. However, it also means that twists are seen coming a mile away, swapping jump scares for any real story development.
However, one of the bigger and definitely divisive changes The Callisto Protocol brings to the table is its melee combat. There are ranged weapons, but the scarce ammo means you will have to get your hands dirty ever so often, and it can be a frustrating experience, to say the least.
Melee combat often requires players to allow enemies to get within range, lure them into attacking, and counter after having successfully dodged their attacks. It is easy to stand still to let enemies close the gap, but the analog stick style of dodging will need some serious getting used to, especially with both sticks. It can lead to some awkward exchanges if you get frantic, and can lead to unwanted deaths if lessons go unheeded.
On the flip side, master it, and most enemies become target dummies for your melee combos, even expanding into quickfire kills with firearms further down the line. It definitely asks players to balance the risks and rewards in getting up close, but the way it is implemented could have used some more refining.
There is also a weapon upgrade system within The Callisto Protocol, making it possible for players to further enhance their favourite weapons with more ammo capacity, lesser recoil, or more awesome improvements like homing bullets and explosive rounds. Having expanded options is always a good thing when it comes to combating monsters, but there is something else that is more potent.
Lee can count on a useful companion in the form of the GRP, a gravity-controlling gauntlet that allows for some truly gory kills as most enemies and objects can be manipulated. Encounters that used to be daunting can be made much easier when you are flinging flesh monsters into explosives and other killing equipment strewn across the room. In some ways, it is a power fantasy come to life, but in The Callisto Protocol, its introduction also causes the survival horror aspects to be dampened, even with its limits.
Thankfully, The Callisto Protocol makes it fun by introducing a healthy supply of enemies that come in all shapes and sizes. There are the typical shambling types, explosive enemies that love to come in close, and other more exotic variants to contend with. At their core, they are all delightfully disgusting, and when they start getting regenerated into more dangerous creatures should you fail to finish them off adequately, the stakes are raised higher than ever.
The same cannot be said of the smattering of boss fights that can be found in the game. Despite the increased threat, they were never too challenging in asking players to figure out the right strategy to best them, and can be too straightforward for their own good.
In the event that combat is discouraged, stealth is not exactly a perfect affair in the game either. It can be a tad too easy to overcome these sections, even against enemies that are supposedly more sensitive to sounds and much deadlier. The situation is made more ridiculous when its allies do not even respond to their death knell, so make of that what you will.
Although The Callisto Protocol manages to hit some highs for the genre, it is unfortunately continually marred by issues that pop up beyond just the main gameplay portion. Aside from the previously mentioned dodging issues, controls can feel clumsy and clunky, particularly when you are trying to swap weapons quickly in a frenetic fight. Thinking you have swapped weapons but not knowing a dodge cancels that can have disastrous results. Having the animation interruptible makes it doubly hard to avoid danger while trying to mount a fightback.
Inventory management can also be a headache, especially when you are trying to make space for more important items rather than everything a chest has to offer. And whoever decided that listening to audio logs requires standing absolutely still should be fed to the monstrosities found on Callisto.
The Callisto Protocol promises a tight, horror experience, and it mostly delivers for its eight to ten hours worth of content. Whether that is enough for the modern gamer is up for debate, but in terms of pacing, it feels perfect for the things you’ll have to do to get to the end. There are not much outside of the linear story to chase down, and that will be good for some players, and bad for others.
In the end, The Callisto Protocol ramps up the atmospheric horror with plenty of visceral action, with the linear design helping to keep the focus on the main objective from start to finish. Although it can have trouble when it comes to empowering the player and losing its horror edge, the main issue remains the fact that we have all seen and done this before. Depending on your preference, that might just be exactly what you want, but the nightmare fades a little especially with the Dead Space remake on the horizon.
The Callisto Protocol is available on the PS5 via the PSN Store for $97.90.
A gory spiritual successor that perhaps fails to stand out on its own, The Callisto Protocol will feel largely familiar to fans of the genre for good and for bad.
Jake is a full-time trophy hunter and achievement gatherer on consoles, and part-time Steam Sale victim. He has a thing for Batman and awesome statues, and running out of space for both. Send help.Striking Distance StudioKraftonThe Callisto Protocol Summary