The Callisto Protocol is a survival horror game developed by Striking Distance Studios and published by Krafton. Ever since this game was first announced a lot of people were excited about it because it combined gorgeous visuals and a horror sci-fi aesthetic that people were missing after the Dead Space franchise died out. What made this game even more special was that a lot of the same people behind Dead Space are united under the same banner now with Striking Distance Studios and led by the creative genius of Glen Schofield (The mastermind behind what made Dead Space a classic).
Now that the game is finally here and it’s one of the few games that hasn’t been delayed multiple times, does it live up to the mark set by Dead Space, a game to which The Callisto Protocol is the spiritual successor to? to fully answer this question, we’ll break down this review into 4 categories, those being, Gameplay, Story, Graphics and Sound Design, and Replayability.
Let’s start off this The Callisto Protocol review with the game’s plot
The Callisto Protocol Review
You play as Jacob Lee (played by Josh Duhamel), a contract freight transporter working for the United Jupiter Company (UJC). He along with his partner, Max Barrow (Jeff Schine) are on another job ferrying one last shipment between Europa and the UJC-operated Black Iron Prison on Callisto. The game starts with them having a conversation about how this job will be their last and they’ll retire afterward. Boy, were they wrong.
Their ship then gets hijacked by Dani Nakamura (Karen Fukuhara) and her terrorist organization known as The Outer Way. He makes an attempt to sneak back to the cockpit while avoiding the intruders. Dani Nakamura shoots the door as The Outer Way closes in on him, forcing the ship to crash on Callisto. Jacob makes an effort to fly what’s left of the spacecraft in order to get it back to Callisto intact. He wakes up following the crash to see his partner, Max dead. Afterward, on the Warden’s instruction, he is brought to the Black Iron Prison after being saved by security head Captain Leon Ferris (Sam Witwer). Jacob is imprisoned against his will and has to register and be processed as inmate 532-521. A CORE device, the industry standard for prison staff and convicts, is implanted in Jacob’s nape by Dr. Caitlyn Mahler.
When Jacob wakes up following the procedure, Black Iron Prison is plunged into turmoil as inmates mutate into horrific beasts. In order to survive, Jacob must fight his way out of Black Iron Prison and discover the sinister and unsettling truths hidden underneath Callisto, with the help of fellow inmate Elias Porter. Jacob will need to modify his strategies to fight the swiftly evolving creatures while scavenging to unlock new weapons, gear, and skills in order to outpace the expanding menace and flee the horrors of Jupiter’s Dead Moon. He will use a special combination of shooting and close-quarters fighting.
This all probably sounds very intricate but the story is very basic and it lacks characters that make the story stand out. Jacob seems very unfazed by all the brutal horror that surrounds him throughout the game as opposed to someone like Issac Clarke from the original Dead Space(2008), who constantly reacts to the brutality and gore-infested alleyways. Whereas, Jacob after killing an inmate (very brutally might I say) in the opening minutes of the game, shrugs it off so casually. Keeping in mind he’s just an ordinary pilot, doesn’t make much sense how he’s so nonchalant about the events that take place in the game. The game takes roughly 15hrs to finish if you’re a completionist or 10hrs if you follow the main objectives only.
People are either gonna love or hate the gameplay here, this game is compared with Dead Space as its spiritual successor and you can definitely see the inspiration here, just like Dead Space, Callisto Protocol has no UI elements inventory, and health is shown on the character on what the game calls CORE on the back of Jacobs’s neck. The game also has the ability to stomp on fallen enemies for loot, with a heavy emphasis on dismemberment vis-à-vis Dead Space. The issue with Callistos UI is that it’s not very clear, you can barely tell how much health Jacob has during combat and that results in infuriating deaths. Not being able to listen to audio logs as you walk around the game is a big letdown here.
But there’s one problem here, where Dead Space so eloquently sets up its horror environment, making players nervous to turn around every corner and always check their surroundings, Callisto fails to do so, even though the environments are set up to make you jumpy, the game rather falls flat on its face. The main reason in my opinion for that is, that the enemies face you very linearly and get up close. That takes away from the horror element because keeping things at bay and attacking them from distance, not letting them get close is what gets the heart rate going. Here, that’s never the case. The game tries to get you with jumpscares that albeit get you at first, get really repetitive very fast to the point that players can predict when something is going to jump at you from around the corner.
Callisto Protocols combat is very basic, you either point and shoot or take the up close and personal approach. Here’s another problem with the game, the melee combat. All you have to do is wait for the enemy to strike and hold the right analog stick or arrow key(depending on which platform you play on) in either the left or right direction and strike with a counterattack. What the game fails to tell you is that it doesn’t matter which direction you hold the dodge button, because it’s always going to work. There’s no perfect timing for this either, just hold it until enemies attack and you’re good to go. The camera system gets annoying as multiple enemies jump you because the FOV is so low and up close to Jacob, you can never tell where the next hit is going to come from and that makes it hard to dodge. This gets super repetitive and mind-numbingly frustrating.
The only good thing is that the feedback on hits is just superbly done. The gore system in this game is just astonishingly good, with enemies losing multiple limbs in combat and Jacob getting covered in blood and guts *Chefs Kiss*. You can also pick up enemies and throw them into spikes or other environmental hazards placed so conveniently throughout the game world with a Kinesis ability or as the game calls it, GRIP.
Ranged combat includes multiple weapons, including and not limited to pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. You start off with a basic pistol and upgrade your way up that and eventually find different weapons scattered throughout the game. I appreciate the fact that if you miss the opportunity to pick up a weapon in a level, you always have the ability to pick it up later. Each weapon has multiple upgrade paths that you can take advantage of on a 3-D printer in the game, collect Callisto credits by picking them up scattered throughout the game, or stomp on fallen foes and watch as the blood-filled piñatas give away credit. You can also collect valuables and sell them at the store for credit.
Graphics and Sound Design
Right off the bat, I’m going to say that Callisto Protocol is one of the most gorgeous-looking games out right now. Built on the Unreal engine, this game hits the mark on ambiance, lighting, character models, and sound design. The particle effects, the fog, and the facial animations are all top-notch here.
Coming across blood-filled rooms with mangled corpses, and notes on the walls written in blood really helps capture the tone of black iron prison being an inescapable hell hole. Like we mentioned before it helps that the gore in this game is just on an entirely next level. The death animations in this game are just a visual spectacle to behold (not for the faint of heart). The music here is also pristine, perfectly encapsulating the overall hellish vibe Black Iron goes for.
The Callisto Protocol’s surroundings are typically gloomy or misty, therefore the sound design is amazing as well. 3D sound mapping lets you hear an adversary preparing to strike and recognize each variety of biophage by the various noises they produce. When you strike your target, Jacob’s weapons will crunch against the bones of enemies with a twisted crack and melt skin with a sizzle, which is a wonderful audio cue. The unnerving sounds of pained groans and industrial machines going off in the distance serve to keep you on edge and alert at all times.
However, all of this is ruined because of a terrible PC port (now fixed after several patches). When the game first released playing on the PC was a chore, due to severe stuttering issues caused by shader compilation. The devs have since fixed this issue but it’s no excuse to serve customers an unfinished and buggy product.
For our last part of The Callisto Protocol review, we’ll talk about if there’s much to do after you beat the game, long story short, there isn’t. With the inclusion of Newgame+, all it does is just give fans the opportunity to replay the game with a higher difficulty with all of the guns and upgrades you unlocked in your initial playthrough. Since the game is just linear and has no branching paths, you’re basically just playing the game again with nothing new. Not much replay value here since there aren’t any challenges, unlockables, or much of anything else.
The Callisto Protocol takes the audience on an extremely atmospheric and action-packed tour to a magnificent slaughterhouse in a faraway part of space. Its primarily linear layout eliminates backtracking while trimming the fat leaving enough guts and flesh for ripping and tearing. However, it often betrays its survival horror roots by giving the player too much power and making the combat scenarios up close and personal. Aside from the excellent and visceral combat, there’s not much to do in The Callisto Protocol and there’s sadly not much to do after you’ve beaten the campaign. Making Callisto Protocol a gory successor to Dead Space but only in that aspect.
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