The Callisto Protocol has been riding the hype train since its first trailer emerged. This apparent Survival Horror, from Dead Space’s creator Glen Scofield who has teamed up with former Visceral Entertainment developers, have driven this pre-launch hype train shown of an atmospheric and claustrophobic deserted space cruiser, intense action, disturbing enemies, and some of the most gruesome death animations in gaming. Glen’s new team of Striking Distance Studios and publishers Krafton’s hype train has had the media and fans on board for this Dead Space spiritual successor, but is it at risk of being derailed?
The Callisto Protocol ride beings with Jacob Lee, a freelance freight runner who’s delivering cargo to the infamous Black Iron prison on the moon Callisto. On entry to the moon, Jacob’s ship is boarded by terrorist group ‘the Outer Way’, bringing down the cruiser, which ends up having Jacob wrongfully accused and with the Outer Way leader Dani Nakamura imprisoned. As part of being imprisoned, Jacob has a CORE system implanted to the back of his neck, which is all but identical to how the player monitors their health in Dead Space. Jacob soon awakes to mayhem, finding himself trapped in Black Iron with prisoners and guards who have been brutally massacred by what seems to be humans infected by a virus that causes psychosis. The player will need to ally himself with other prisoners to find a way out of Callisto while evading the terrors within.
The Callisto Protocol ‘s horror atmosphere is quite spectacularly. Striking Distance Studios have captured that feeling of loneliness and dread and this is amplified by the ambient noises and bleak lighting that will have the player squinting at shadows wondering if that is an enemy of just their imagination.
The visuals are jaw dropping as Jacob traverses Black Iron Prison, and the attention to detail while traversing the claustrophobic corridors and vents gives the player a looming sense of dread. This causes the player to feel on edge, especially as they will encounter countless of pointless scripted jump scares that actually hurts the player’s health. The uninhabited, icy tundra outside Black Iron is also a beautiful place to look at and unnervingly portrays certain death. The visuals here make owning a Series X worthwhile.
The cinematics feature remarkable facial animations, maybe the best I have even seen. Familiar actors Josh Duhamel (Transformers) who plays Jacob and Karen Fukushima (The Boys) who plays Outer Way leader Dani both look remarkably close to their real-life selves, with expressions of concern and relief as believable as an actor shows on their respected movies and series.
The audio is also on point, with enemy moans and grunts offscreen keeping players on their toes. The thud of melee attacks on flesh is very satisfying and firearms sound beefy. All spoken audio from our main actors is great, presenting clear, concise and filled with emotion supporting the sense of dread that the game brings with it.
While the Callisto Protocol looks stunning, it has some issues. Playing on quality mode the frame rates were all over the shop with it constantly dipping below 30 FPS. Switching over to performance mode proved to be a much smoother experience, but at a visual fidelity cost.
The Callisto Protocol is also a very linear game. While this author does enjoy linear games and at the beginning of this, appreciated the claustrophobic corridors but the game offers no real need to go off the path. There are doors that can be opened and hallways slightly off the main path, but this is just to collect loot in the form of credits, health, ammo, salvage, GPR batteries and audio logs and not as a choice to attack an encounter from a different angle.
Salvage is collected throughout the game and is used to sell for credits and these credits are used at the reforger for its crafting services. The crafting system is quite simple. Players undertake minor exploring to collect a schematic to 3D print a weapon, players then can upgrade weapons to make it stronger, hold more ammo, add an alternate function etc. At the reforger, players can also upgrade their GPR (gravity gauntlet) and purchase ammo and health items.
The Callisto Protocol combat is going to be loved or hated by many. The melee combat is the meat of the combat, as players simply dodge attacks by holding the RS towards a side direction and then switch to the opposite direction with the next incoming strike and repeat until an opening occurs. Think Xbox One launch title Ryse but much worse. It’s a very unreliable system as it gets very frantic when the player is facing multiple enemies, which leads to frustration and plenty of death screens.
Jacob’s main weapon is the stun baton that can be upgraded to block and counterattack, and once the firearms turn up, a prompt to combo allows a ranged attack with a follow-up melee attack to sever heads and limbs. There are plenty of times stealth is required, so sneaking up and a quick shiv to the head does the job.
There are a few types of firearms including the pistol, automatic machine gun and shotgun. Traditionally the player will just change these to take down enemies, and some are best for different enemy types, such as the shotgun for bigger hulking enemies. Ammunition of plentlful and the player will never have an issue searching for it seeing this is an action game. While guns do feel meaty and solid to use, they are used as a secondary weapon compared to the baton.
Finally, there is the GPR that allows you to move objects and throw enemies. There are numerous imaginative ways to take out enemies, but the battery charge is slow requiring batteries to be changes very frequently. While it is cool to feel like a force wielding badass while throwing objects and enemies around, the limited use is not enough to make it meaningful.
As the player gets into the later levels of the Callisto Protocol the difficulty ramps up and combat collapses. The difficulty increase is not because of good design, but because enemies attack in numbers and as there is no enemy lock-on and a camera angle that constantly changes and automatically focuses on a new enemy. This making Jacob very vulnerable to attacks and creating many infuriating deaths.
Healing is also a problem due to its long animation sequence. This is fine in between encounters but once enemies crowd the player, it is all but impossible to heal and brings about another unavoidable death. Weapon switching between fights is also a very slow animation sequence, and like health, if players run out of ammo during battles, they are near guaranteed to be going back to the last check point. The checkpoint system is also a problem with some auto saves either being 10 or so minutes back after multiple encounters, or during mid boss fights where the player is already compromised.
The Callisto Protocol is R+ 18 and not recommended for those looking to get their teenagers a Christmas gift. The cinematic death sequences are brutal and rival the latest Mortal Kombat’s gruesome fatalities. There is no multiplayer and sadly zero reason to go back to The Callisto Protocol unless the player hunts achievements and wants to punish themself again.
Adam Potts, for Adam’s full profile click here.